Eritrean man was lynched by Israelis in uniform, new video shows

Members of the Eritrean community in Tel Aviv mourn during a memorial ceremony for Eritrean asylum seeker Haftom Zarhum, 21 October 2015. He was beaten and shot to death on 18 October by a mob that wrongly took him to be a gunman who had attacked a bus station in Bir al-Saba.

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Warning: This post includes video of extreme violence.

On 18 October, 29-year-old Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum was severely beaten and shot to death by a vengeful mob of Israeli soldiers, prison officers and police in and out of uniform, security camera footage recently obtained by the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz has revealed.

The mob mistook Zarhum, unarmed and injured, for the gunman who had opened fire moments earlier at the central bus station in Bir al-Saba (Beer Sheva), a city in the south of present-day Israel.

The gunman, a 19-year-old Bedouin Palestinian citizen of Israel named Muhannad al-Okbi, killed an Israeli soldier and wounded approximately 10 others, mostly Israeli security personnel. He was ultimately shot and killed by Israeli forces.

Zarhum had traveled to Bir al-Saba that day to apply for a permit so he could stay in the country. He was on his way home when the bus station was attacked.

The newly released footage opens with a station security guard shooting Zarhum as he frantically crawls on the floor, presumably to seek safety.

Seventeen seconds later, a man Haaretz identified as a bus driver is seen hurling a chair at Zarhum.

The next day this same bus driver told the Israeli news site NRG that he had “protected” Zarhum from the lynch mob.

With each passing minute, the footage shows more Israelis, some in uniform, joining in the attack, kicking Zarhum in the head, throwing heavy furniture at him and spitting on him as he writhes on the floor, bleeding.

One man wearing a yellow shirt is the only person who is seen pushing back against the crowd to protect Zarhum and for that he is assaulted.

All the while, onlookers chanted for his death, shouting “mehabel” (terrorist), “Kill him!” and “Break his head! Break his head! Son of a prostitute!”

As the lynching was in progress, the real gunman, who was holed up in the bathroom, began shooting again, but the crowd continued beating Zarhum.

Israel has refused to grant Zarhum official recognition as a victim of terrorism, which would allow his family to receive benefits, on the grounds that he had “entered the country illegally.”

Disturbing pattern

The lynching of Zarhum fits a disturbing pattern of street executions of Palestinians over the last several months, propelled by inflammatory rhetoric from Israeli leaders who have openly encouraged vigilantism.

Israeli forces have killed more than 150 Palestinians since 1 October in what has been condemned by human rights groups as a “shoot to kill” policy.

More than 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in the same time period.

Israel claims that the majority of slain Palestinians were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis.

But rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using deadly force as a first resort against alleged Palestinian attackers who posed no immediate threat. In other cases, Palestinians were not attempting to attack anyone when killed.

Israel has reacted angrily to calls from Sweden’s foreign minister for an investigation into the pattern of killings.

Denial of medical treatment

Forensic analysis found that Zarhum, though savagely beaten, died as a result of eight gunshot wounds fired by three different people. However, it remains unclear who besides the security guard shot him.

Despite the severity of his injuries, medics from Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency service, did not evacuate Zarhum until 18 minutes after he was shot, even though they had arrived to the scene 10 minutes earlier.

When medics finally evacuated Zarhum, they “ran into objection from the crowds at the scene, who blocked their way and called out ‘Death to Arabs,’ ‘Arabs out!’ and ‘Am Israel Chai’ (‘The people of Israel live’),” according to Ynet.

Magen David Adom told Haaretz that Israeli security officers prevented their medics from treating Zarhum because they believed him to be the attacker.

However, the indictment against the four Israeli mob participants states that Zarhum was the last of the wounded to be evacuated to the hospital, despite his injuries being the most severe.

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel all but accused Magen David Adom of complicity in the killing.

In a statement to Haaretz, the group said that “despite the promise of the director of Magen David Adom that treatment is based on medical considerations alone, without judging the wounded for their actions preceding their injury, the teams on the ground are influenced by the public atmosphere. The statements of irresponsible politicians are eroding medical ethics.”

Indeed, the denial and prevention of medical aid to suspected attackers wounded by Israeli forces is routine practice.

Before December, Israel Medical Association guidelines required treating victims before alleged attackers regardless of the severity of injury, a clear violation of the principle of medical neutrality.

That changed last month after a petition by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel compelled the association to publish new guidelines instructing paramedics to triage first aid based on the seriousness of the injury, even if it means treating an alleged attacker first.

Dubious justice

While Israelis are rarely, if ever, held accountable for violence against Palestinians and African refugees, every so often there comes a killing so shameful and embarrassing to Israel’s image that some face-saving action is called for.

The graphically documented lynching of Zarhum appears to be one of those cases.

Even so, only four of the nine Israelis caught on video beating Zarhum have been indicted, on charges of aggravated assault, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

The shooters who fired the bullets responsible for killing Zarhum have not been charged.

David Moyal, a restaurant worker in the bus station, was charged with throwing a bench at Zarhum. Yaakov Shamba, an Israeli soldier, was indicted for kicking Zarhum in the torso while he lay on the floor, pinned under a bench. And Eviatar Damari, described only as “a young man from Netivot,” is being prosecuted for kicking Zarhum in the head multiple times.

Ronen Cohen and Chen Shabat, both prison officers, repeatedly tossed a metal bench at Zarhum. Cohen also allegedly kicked Zarhum in the head and assaulted a bystander who tried to stop the mob violence.

Cohen was indicted with the others, while Shabat managed to convince the state prosecutor that he threw the bench at Zarhum to protect him from the mob. He may even keep his job with the Israel Prison Service.

“The state prosecutor accepted this claim, noting that Shabat did not go on to kick Zarhum in the head as Cohen did,” reported Haaretz.

The bar doesn’t get any lower than that.




I can't look. I can't even read it all. Eritreans who make it to Israel to ask for political asylum have extremely good reasons for doing so and have been through hell before reaching the country. What was done to this man is utterly unbearable.


Henceforth the formal distinction between guilt and innocence will be known throughout the land as the Shabat/Cohen Rule. Both men assaulted the fallen victim using a metal bench. Ah, but only Cohen went on to repeatedly kick the man in the head. Ergo, Shabat goes free, and Cohen stands trial.

Lesson- when you're carrying out a racist murder, don't be excessive.


As an Eritrean living in America, this is really hurtful. Eritreans and Ethiopians see Israel from the Biblical text. They think Israels are the chosen people of God (what a joke). I tell them the supposedly holly books like the bible, Quran and Tora are just a bunch of stories to control people, now our people belived in these stories now they paying the price. A large majority of us know that we are all GOD in disguise. I commend one person on the video trying to help the victim, may God bless you for doing the right thing and not being fooled by racism etc. It is shameful, they don't even think for a second when did you see a black person in Israel who committed a suicide attack, obviously this was an anger they took out on a refugee. Arabs and Eritrean don't even look alike, so how can they mistake this man for a terrorist. The Ethiopian Jews should fight for their African brothers and being this people to real justice. He could have been an Ethiopian Jewish. Why did the Ethiopian Jews even go to Israel, why would one go to a war zone. Why are the Eritreans go to Israel, don't you know it is a war zone?


I can attest that this is the consequence of Zionist APARTHEID.

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek's picture

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized.