Israeli State's Attorney Offers Community Service to Asylum Seeker's Lynchers

The prosecution is offering a plea bargain to four Israelis who attacked Haftom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker, after he was mistaken for a terrorist in Be’er Sheva in 2015

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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Security footage of the attack
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

The prosecution is offering community service in a plea bargain for four Israelis who attacked an asylum seeker after he was mistaken for a terrorist and shot in Be’er Sheva in 2015. Only one, David Moyal, 33, accepted the offer, which remains contingent on the approval of a relative of Haftom Zarhum, who was 29 when he was killed as a result of the shooting. Under the agreement, Moyal will be convicted of a lesser offense and perform community service.

On October 18, 2015, a terrorist opened fire at the Be’er Sheva central bus station, killing a soldier and wounding 10 other people, and a mob attacked Zarhum, mistakenly thinking he was the terrorist. A security camera filmed the violence to which Zarhum was subjected by nine people, including members of the security forces, prison officials and soldiers both in uniform and in civilian clothes.

Four were charged for attacking Zarhum as he lay on the ground dying after being shot by security personnel: Moyal, Evyatar Damari, soldier Yaakov Shamba and prison warden Ronen Cohen. Moyal was filmed throwing a bench at him after Zarhum had been shot.

The coroner’s report concluded that the four had caused Zarhum serious injuries, including a broken nose, but that it was the eight bullets that were fired by three different people that caused Zarhum’s death.

Zarhum had traveled to Be’er Sheva to renew his work permit. The terrorist in the mall was identified as Muhannad al-Okbi, 21, an Israeli citizen from a Bedouin community near the Negev town of Hura.

Under the plea bargain offered, Moyal, who had worked at a shwarma sandwich shop at the bus station during the incident, will be convicted of abusing a helpless person. The penalty under law is up to seven years in prison. The original charge, of aggravated assault, carries up to 20 years imprisonment. But if the plea bargain is approved, Moyal won’t do a day behind bars, after the prosecution agreed to community service, the extent of which will be determined by the court. Moyal’s defense lawyers will also be able to demand that Moyal’s conviction be set aside.

Earlier, Moyal’s lawyers had rejected a suggestion to reduce the charge to assault causing material harm to a helpless person, which could bring five years’ imprisonment. The arbitrating judge in the case, Yoram Celkovnik, suggested the prosecution reduce the charge to assault causing material harm, carrying a sentence of just three years, but the prosecution refused.

“In general, the arrangement speaks for itself,” said Eyal Hadar, lawyer for Moyal. “I think it gives a better, more faithful representation of the reality at the time, and I am glad the state arrived at that realization.” The prosecution declined to comment.

In November, Be’er Sheva District Court threw out the main piece of evidence in the case, the security footage showing the defendants beating Zarhum. Judge Aharon Mishnayot did not expound on his ruling against the tape, but earlier, the defense lawyers had claimed the police obtained it without authority, and did not document it properly. Two weeks later, the court reversed its position and ruled that the evidence was acceptable.

In June 2016, a Prisons Service tribunal decided against charging prison warden Hananiya Shabbat for involvement in the mob attack on Zarhum.

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