JERUSALEM – The killing of an Eritrean man who was shot by a security guard and then beaten by an Israeli mob that mistook him for an Arab attacker has prompted soul-searching in Israel and raised concerns about racism and vigilantism amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Haptom Zerhom, who was in his late 20s, was killed during a deadly attack in a bus station in the southern town of Beersheba by an Arab armed with a gun and a knife, who killed an Israeli soldier and wounded nine people before being shot dead by police. It was among the bloodiest of a series of Palestinian attacks over the last month.
The seemingly random violence has put Israelis on edge, but has also raised concerns about revenge attacks.
The targeting of Zerhom, along with previous attacks on Arabs and at least one dark-skinned Jew mistaken for an Arab, have injected race into the discussion. "Just because of his skin color," was a headline in Israel's daily Yediot Ahronot. Some other reactions to the killing:
"We are in the midst of a continuous struggle, I think it's obvious that we win it but this sometimes causes friction between civilians and the centers of the attacks. People at the scene of these incidents should evacuate the area and allow security and rescue services to work. We are a state of the law, no one should take the law into their own hands" — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"It is a disgrace to Israeli society. Those that carried out the lynch need to be found and brought to justice, they need to sit in prison, they need to pay heavily for barbaric behavior that has no room in Israeli society. Even if it was the terrorist himself, by the way, after he was shot, after he was neutralized and lying on the floor, you need to be an animal to torment him," — Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu's former national security adviser.
"I understood from people he was a terrorist. If I would have known he wasn't a terrorist, believe me, I would have protected him like I protect myself... I didn't sleep well at night. I feel disgusted," — an Israeli identified only by the first name Dudu, speaking to Israel's Army Radio.
"Some kind of line was crossed here where we passed from alertness and response to causing harm and you could say lynch. You could say harming someone who was injured. Even if he was a terrorist and he was one who attacked, it is not right to harm him," — Israel's southern district police chief Yoram Halevy
"It was horrific, the lynch mob in Beersheba, the Eritrean migrant or asylum seeker who was wounded and on the ground. You saw this mob, and they are squishing him with the seats. It was horrible, regardless of who he was, what he did, whatever. They don't address the fact that they are creating a mentality of lynch mobs and of course feeding the culture of hate and racism." — Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.
"You do what you have to do so that nobody gets to him, and it doesn't matter if it was a terrorist or not, it was a man lying on the ground that couldn't move. I couldn't sleep at night from seeing him, his blood. It doesn't matter who it was, he is a human being at the end of the day." — Meir Saka, an Israeli passer-by who tried to protect the Eritrean.