Three months after the terror attack in Be'er Sheva’s central bus station, Haaretz has received video footage of the incident, revealing the series of brutal acts experienced by critically injured Eritrean asylum seeker Haftom Zarhum.
Zarhum was erroneously identified as the assailant and shot on the evening of October 18 by three members of Israeli security forces – not by the attacker, who killed a soldier and wounded about a dozen others, before being killed himself. Zarhum succumbed to his wounds several hours later.
The video exposes the violent behavior the Eritrean was subjected to by some nine Israelis, including members of the security forces, prison officials and soldiers both in uniform and in civilian clothes, who can be seen kicking and beating him. Only four of these individuals have since been charged for their acts.
The critical failure of the Magen David Adom emergency services is also revealed in the tape. Zarhum, 29, lay for 18 minutes on the floor after being shot, without being attended to and although he was among the most seriously injured, before being evacuated by the MDA staff – who had arrived at the scene some 10 minutes beforehand, according to the clip.
Only 16 minutes after Zarhum was shot did a policeman go over to check the critically wounded man to see if he had explosives or a weapon on him, before allowing MDA personnel to evacuate him.
The clip shows that errant shots were fired at Zarhum from outside the terminal, at the outset of the incident, during which the terrorist, Muhannad al-Okbi, a Negev Bedouin, stormed the waiting room armed with a pistol and knife, sowing confusion and panic.
After a few seconds a security guard is seen shooting Zarhum as well. The police say that a female soldier apparently fired a bullet at him, but this is not seen in the video clip.
Felled by the bullets, Zarhum lay injured on the floor. Just 17 seconds after he was shot, a bus driver is seen, in the video, throwing a chair at him. The driver, who has not been charged for his actions, apparently boasted the next day on the NRG Hebrew website that he had "protected" Zarhum.
Subsequently, the asylum seeker, who was seeking an extension on his permit to remain in Israel, was attacked with a rifle butt to his head, kicks to his body and head, and another chair was thrown at him. He was spat at and photographed by passersby as he struggled to breathe.
The clip also shows Israel Prison Service personnel repeatedly hitting him with a bench. State prosecutors accepted the testimony of the IPS warden, who claimed they used the bench to keep away the crowd; no charges have been filed in the interim.
By contrast a policeman is seen kicking Zarhum as he lay under the metal bench. When a citizen in a yellow shirt is seen trying to stop him, the officer pushes him away, knocking him over. The yellow-shirted young man, perhaps the most commendable person in the entire incident, can be seen fighting off the crowd, as people tried to vent their fury on the injured Eritrean. The young man was pushed and hit but refused to yield to people wishing to harm Zarhum.
At one point, about four minutes after the first shots were fired, al-Okbi emerged from the washroom where he was hiding and started shooting again. One could have assumed that the crowd would have realized then that Zarhum wasn’t the terrorist but his beating and the commotion around him continued for many minutes.
In response to accusations against it, MDA has asserted that security officials in the terminal initially thought that Zarhum was the attacker and prevented emergency personnel from treating him. The minute it was possible to approach him, it stated, he was among the first to be evacuated.
The emergency service, the Israeli counterpart of the Red Cross, added that its personnel operate according to professional standards and do not discriminate when it comes to those it treats.
In response, Physicians for Human Rights said that the video shows how inflammatory political sentiments have "eroded" medical considerations. In a statement, the group said that "despite the promise of the director of Magen David Adom's 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.
"We cannot ignore the deterioration in ethics and values, from which the medical community is not immune. We shouldn't think that these are only isolated cases, or that a promise by the directors is enough to prevent its repetition," it said.
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