An Eritrean migrant died after being shot and beaten to death by an Israeli mob when he was mistaken as an accomplice in a terrorist attack in a growing force of Israeli civilians urged to take the law violently into their own hands.
Haftom Zarhum was an innocent bystander during Sunday bus station attack in Beersheba administered by 21-year-old Mohannad Al-Aqaby, an Arab Bedouin citizen of Israel. The attacker armed with a rifle and a knife killed an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Omri Levi, 19, and wounded 10 people. Amid the chaos, the gunman was shot dead by police, but an Israeli security guard mistakenly shot the African asylum seeker believing he was an assailant in the attack. An enraged mob subsequently stomped on and cursed at Zarhum’s bleeding body as he lied on the floor. The senseless brutality was captured on cell phone video (warning: graphic content) that has since circulated online. An Israeli soldier is seen kicking Zarhum in the head while another man is seen throwing a bench over the 29-year-old. A man is holding a chair over the refugee’s body, yet it remains unclear if he is trying to protect Zarhum or pinning him in place to endure further beating. Zarhum later succumbed to his injuries in a hospital.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed to Al Jazeera Zarhum was "misidentified."
"The man was hit by bystanders and individual civilians who were in the area. Police are looking into it now and have obtained the CCTV footage of the incident," Rosenfeld said.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis against vigilantism after the attack. "We are a law-abiding country. No one must take the law into their own hands," he told officials.
But rights groups calling for justice, believe lawless momentum is already brewing with Israeli civilians.
"The death of an asylum seeker at the hands of security guards and an angry mob is a tragic but foreseeable outgrowth of a climate in which some Israeli politicians encourage citizens to take the law into their own hands," said Sari Bashi, Israel-Palestine country director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Israeli authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attack. Israel faces acute threats to public safety, but vigilantism will only lead to more innocent people being harmed or killed.”
Amnesty International Israel agreed the lynch mob was a sign of vigilantism, adding it was a clear act of racism.
"Zarhum was shot by an Israeli security officer, targeted simply because of the color of his skin. He was a victim of racism and xenophobia who just happened to be at the scene of a terrorist attack. After being shot and wounded, Israeli civilians then set upon and attacked Zarhum, beating him to death,” the rights group said.
"It is the responsibility of the Israeli government and security forces to stop and to prevent civilians from taking the law into their own hands, and to eradicate the security forces killing of suspects without a fair trial."
Yet in response to increased violence and unrest in the region, politicians have indeed encouraged their citizens to abide by their own rules.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat encouraged his gun-owning residents to carry their firearms with them in case of a knife attack.
In response to stabbing attacks by Palestinians, Israelis have felt the urgency to take their safety — and the law — into their own hands. Yet what has resulted is thoughtless vengeance that only exacerbates the unrest and PTSD-fueled violence in the war-torn area.
The impulsive shooting of an innocent man and the careless, vindictive mob that ensued proves that Israeli-Palestinian violence has escalated so intensely it now extends to even those uninvolved in the conflict — just standing on the sidelines.
Banner photo credit: Reuters