Eritreans Express Shock, Concern After Lynching of Migrant in Be’er Sheva

Family and friends plan memorial service in Tel Aviv Tuesday night, as compatriots express fear for community’s future; Eritrea's ambassador to Israel asks Foreign Ministry for all information regarding the lynching.

Mutasim Ali

Eritrean asylum seekers were stunned by reports of Sunday’s lynching of Habtom Zarhum in Be’er Sheva. Videos showing a furious mob kicking and beating the wounded man following a terror attack quickly spread among the community.

“The community is in shock,” said Berhana, a 30-year-old Eritrean and one of the Eritreans’ leaders in Jerusalem. “The biggest shock is the civilians’ onslaught, not the security guard shooting him. You can understand police shooting him under pressure. You investigate that. But people attacked him rather than taking him to hospital. Community members feel he was attacked because he is a refugee.”

Berhana said the community is hoping for a very thorough investigation.

“The future really frightens me,” he admitted. “I fear more people will be hurt because of hatred. People are very depressed by what happened. We’re trying to calm people down. I’m afraid they’ll become anti-Israel.”

Meanwhile, Eritrea's ambassador to Israel asked the Foreign Ministry for all information regarding the lynching. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that the head of the ministry's Africa branch, Yoram Elron, told the Eritrean ambassador that a police investigation has been launched and that the ambassador will be briefed on its progress as soon as possible. The ambassador is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday with Foreign Ministry representatives as well as police officials, who will provide him with more information on the incident.

Zarhum had been living in Israel for nearly four years. A friend said he fled Eritrea after being forced into extended military service in the air force. He supported his remaining family in Eritrea from Israel. He had visited Be’er Sheva to extend his temporary residence visa and was on his way back to Moshav Ein Habesor, where he worked in a garden center.

Hundreds of asylum seekers held an impromptu memorial service for Zarhum at the Holot detention center on Monday. Although they did not know him personally, the inmates gathered at the facility and shared their thoughts.

“They told people what happened on Sunday, and said it was not intentional but a mistake,” another Eritrean, Afwerki, 36, told Haaretz. “But after we saw the video, it’s impossible [to think] that what happened was a mistake.”

He said the security guard may not have known at first, given the pressure. “You don’t know what you’re doing, but after that [Habtom] perhaps still could have lived,” he said. “He didn’t get any treatment in time. That’s what happened.”

Zarhum’s cousin and some friends gathered Monday in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, where they are planning a large memorial ceremony for him on Tuesday evening. The Eritrean embassy announced Monday that Zarhum’s body would be flown back to Eritrea for burial.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to recognize Zarhum as a victim of terror. “Despite our being well-versed in terror and suffering,” she said, “we had yet to see a horrifying incident such as this one, in which hatred played into the hands of those who seek to harm us and doubled the hurt.”