Four Israelis Indicted in Lynching of Asylum Seeker in Be’er Sheva

Indictment charges IDF soldlier Yaakov Shamba, Israel Prison Service officer Ronen Cohen, Eviatar Damari and David Moyal with aggravated assault, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Eliyahu Hershkowitz

An Israel Defense Forces soldier, a prison officer and two other men were indicted Tuesday in Be’er Sheva District Court for the mob beating and shooting death of bystander Haftom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker, at the city’s central bus station in October.

The indictment charges IDF soldlier Yaakov Shamba, Israel Prison Service officer Ronen Cohen, Eviatar Damari and David Moyal with aggravated assault, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The State Prosecutor’s Office decided not to indict Chen Shabat, a prison guard who was also involved in the incident, after his pre-indictment hearing.

The killing occurred during a terrorist shooting attack at the central bus station. The terrorist, Mohannad al-Okbi, a 19-year-old Bedouin from Hura, entered the station armed and opened fire at people. IDF Sgt. Omri Levy, 19, of Moshav Sde Hemed was killed and 10 more people were wounded. Upon hearing the gunfire, and as the event was unfolding, the station’s security officer shot Zarhum, wounding him, thinking he was connected to the terrorist. Zarhum later died from his injuries. Zarhum, 29, had come to Be’er Sheva to apply for a visa and was at the bus station on his way home. Film footage from the scene showed that after he was shot, he was attacked by other people who were there.

The indictments follow an investigation overseen by the attorney general, and were filed with the approval of the state prosecutor, after all of the suspects were given a pre-indictment hearing.

According to the indictment, Moyal, who works at a shawarma restaurant in the bus station, picked up a bench and hurled it at Zarhum as he lay on the floor bleeding. Several other people pulled Moyal away, but afterwards, Shamba, the soldier, kicked Zarhum in the torso as he lay sprawled on the floor, barely moving. After that, Damari, a young man from Netivot, kicked Zarhum in the head.

At this point, according to the indictment, several police officers from the Yasam special patrol unit arrived and moved people away from Zarhum. But shortly after that, further gunshots were heard coming from the terrorist, Al-Okbi, who was in another part of the bus station, and the police officers, as well as several soldiers in the crowd, rushed to the source of the gunfire.

A few people remained near Zarhum, including prison officer Cohen and prison guard Shabat. The two took a bench and threw it at the prone Zarhum. Another bystander pulled the bench off him, but Cohen and Shabat picked it up again and threw it at Zarhum again. Then, as the bench lay across Zarhum’s upper body and he was barely moving, Cohen kicked him in the head. Then Damari kicked Zarhum in the head again.

When the passerby who pulled the bench off Zarhum beseeched Cohen to stop beating the Eritrean and take the bench off him, Cohen pushed him hard in the chest and chased him off. When the police and Magen David Adom personnel began arriving, a number of people in the crowed tried once more to hurt Zarhum by kicking him in the upper body, and another soldier, who has yet to be identified, also beat him in the head with a rifle butt and kicked him in the head.

The state prosecutor decided not to bring an indictment against Shabat, but his file will be given to the Prison Service with a recommendation that he face a disciplinary hearing. Throughout his pre-indictment hearing, Shabat’s lawyers argued that the throwing of the bench was meant to protect Zarhum from the crowd and not hurt him. The state prosecutor accepted this claim, noting that Shabat did not go on to kick Zarhum in the head as Cohen did.

The indictment also states that although Zarhum was one of the most seriously injured people at the scene, he was only evacuated to the hospital after all of the other wounded had been taken away. He was pronounced dead at Soroka Hospital. The indictment specifies that, based on the pathology report, the actions of the four caused injuries to Zarhum, some severe, including a broken nose. However, the forensic analysis also found that Zarhum’s death was caused by eight gunshot wounds, from three different shooters.