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מרכז לקהילה האפריקאית בירושלים

The Tragedy of Haftom Zarhum and its Aftermath

On Sunday night, October 18th, there was a terrorist attack on the Central Bus Station in Be’er Sheva. A young man stole Sergeant Omri Levi’s m-16 rifle, shot and killed the sergeant, and wounded 9 others. This is a story that quickly spread around the country, as everyone mourned the tragedy of the fallen sergeant. But there is another story that came soon after, but was rarely mentioned. That is the story of Haftom Zarhum, a twenty-nine year old Eritrean refugee, who was waiting for the bus in Be’er Sheva at the time of the attack. He was in Be’er Sheva that day to renew his work visa, waiting with some friends. When the shots went off, he ran, like many did, in an attempt to get to safety. But unlike all of the others, who ran as he did, he was mistaken for a terrorist and shot by a security guard. This didn’t knock him out or kill him, but he fell to the floor and was unable to move. The crowd, with the belief that he was a terrorist, surrounded him and brutally beat him. There were those on the side of the mob who tried to stop the beating, one who yelled that he was not a terrorist, but none prevailed in controlling the mob. Eventually, the paramedics came to take him away, though the crowd stood in their way and tried to stop them. Haftom died early Monday morning of his injuries.

* Picture: Times of Israel.

At first the guard who shot Haftom claimed that he yelled “AllaHu Akbar” as he was running, but there is no evidence to suggest that this was true. After the attack, once it had been realized what had been done, the authorities began to look for the mob that so brutally attacked an innocent and helpless man. There were videos that laid forth the entire scene, and people from the mob were identified. Originally it was thought that they would be tried for murder, but autopsy reports concluded that Haftom was killed by his bullet wounds, and not by the attack of the mob. Still, they are being charged with assault, aggravated assault, and/or attack of a helpless individual.

It was ruled that Haftom’s family was not eligible for security benefits from the government, but Yehuda Weinstein, Attorney General of the state, suggested that the family be given compensation. Hopefully the country will do right by then, even though what they do can never make up for Haftom’s family’s loss. Over two-thousand people came to Haftom’s memorial service, most of whom did not know him, but all of whom mourned his loss. There were two hundred Israelis who came to show their support. Many people got up and spoke about Haftom, most of whom didn’t know him personally. They spoke about the loss they felt, about the danger they felt in a country that treated them and their entire people as separate from the general population. Haftom’s death is an awful tragedy. Hopefully this tragedy will not be forgotten, and for Haftom’s sake, at least lessons will be learnt.

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