Their faces can be seen clearly. What they’re doing is also clear. Seemingly, the people involved could easily be identified. Yet two weeks after Said Moussa was attacked and badly injured on the Bat Yam promenade, only six arrests have been made – two following the report in Haaretz. Only three indictments have been served so far.
Warning: Contains graphic footage that may be hard to watch
Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum was present at the scene and captured the events on camera, from the moment Moussa was pulled from his car.
For a little under a minute, dozens of people kicked, punched, and threw anything they could lay hands on at Moussa. Haaretz’s analysis of Appelbaum’s footage concluded that about 20 of the people actively participating in the attack can be identified, plus there were others who were either masked, or concealed by hats or were photographed from behind. One man vigorously beating Moussa with a rod had an X mark on the back of his shirt. Not everybody hastened to leave after the event: Some of the assailants even posed, smiling, for TV interviews.
The video also shows and identifies dozens of bystanders who did nothing to stop the violence but settled for filming it, many smiling.
They may still be smiling. Although law enforcement was quick to point out how seriously they view the matter, how important it is to resolve this case, the results so far seem paltry – even though the organizations handling it are the Shin Bet security service and the police’s Tel Aviv District Central Command. Dozens of people who were involved in the assault and in disturbances on the Bat Yam promenade that evening remain at large.
The police deny allegations that they’re dragging their feet on identifying the suspects. It may be true that many days have passed, and it is true that the investigators have a lot of evidence: photos published in the media and footage captured by some of the people at the spot. But the situation is complex, they claim.
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A source with the police told Haaretz that there is a big difference between cropping photos and identifying suspects but stressed that more arrests are on the way. “We are hastening to make arrests without sufficient evidence,” he said. “We need to see who these people talked with beforehand, to find out if they conspired or just joined in spontaneously.” The police may turn to the public for help in identifying the suspects, he added.
So far there are three suspects, all residents of Bat Yam, one a minor. Another potential suspect was arrested on Saturday. The police believe they have enough evidence to press charges.
That night on the Bat Yam promenade has also produced other indictments: seven people (one a minor) were charged with looting and causing damage. Most of them have criminal records, but not associated with racism. Nor, say law enforcement sources, are they known to be associated with “La Familia” (militant far-right fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team) and they have no information about them. This actually applies to everyone charged so far, looters and assailants.
What evidence there is, indicates that this was no spontaneous incident. Nathaniel Benjamin and Lahav Nagauker-Ohanina, the two adults charged so far, knew the deal. Benjamin, who has two prior convictions for assault and a suspended prison sentence, was organizing things on WhatsApp groups earlier that day.
“May those stinking Ishmaelites be damned” he wrote. In another case, he added: “Guys, El Chapo (a business on the promenade) is Arab-owned as fuck … Arabs work there, and it is an Arab business, Guys, El Chapo.” Later that day rioters would target that business.
Nagauker-Ohanina saw what was happening on social media and took to the streets. He also spoke to the camera after the event, speaking with KAN 11 reporter Daniel Elazar about a quarter of an hour after the assault. “We went down to the streets to fight with Arabs, to show them they can’t fire rockets at us,” he said. “We are not kids anymore. We will fuck them up. We will beat them. If necessary, we will kill and murder them.”
He took the occasion to tell the reporter that he was prepared to be arrested. In his case, indeed he was.
Not so the person standing next to him during the interview, wearing a black shirt with an “Under Armour” logo. In other photos he can be seen beating Moussa brutally.
Another well-documented person is the detained minor. “We fucked him up,” he can be heard saying standing next to the bleeding Moussa, lying on the ground, shortly after the attackers had finished with him. “I fucked him up with my own hands,” the minor can be heard saying. Nagauker-Ohanina also filmed the outcome: “The son of a bitch is dead,” he can be heard saying in the clip he captured on his own mobile phone, showing the victim prostrate.
Both Nagauker-Ohanina and the minor were documented taking part in the other riots on the promenade as well. For example, stealing soda cans that the mob threw at store windows, and chanting “Death to the Arabs” outside the “Shawarma Sahara” restaurant, which was badly damaged. The evidence indicates that they attempted to follow up the chanting with action.
Another suspect is Yaakov Cohen, 32, from central Israel. He was arrested on Saturday. Cohen has no criminal record, but according to police he ran one of the WhatsApp groups that called for attacking Arabs. The investigation material presented to the court shows that he not only conducted, but also issued calls to harm Arabs and put this into practice himself: he physically harmed the wounded victim “very directly” and beat him when he was already unconscious.
It is worth dwelling on these calls on social media. Calls of the sort were passed onto police by members of the network research project (in cooperation with the public) “Fake Reporter” and the “Democratic Block” before the violent night on the boardwalk, when they appeared on a number of Whatsapp and Telegram groups. A message on the WhatsApp group “Demonstration 19:00 Bat Yam Promenade”, for example, said: “Today at 19:00, Bat Yam promenade, we meet at the roundabout, like on every Yom Kippur, and restore the Jewish honor of our people.”
In a chat the minor defendant had with a friend, he wrote, “Come equipped with what is needed, pepper spray, batons, fists, the more the merrier ... After everyone arrives at 19:30, we start marching towards Jaffa, turn their cars upside down, terrorizing them, burning mosques and everything is in the name of God.”
This was followed by plenty of other messages, and not of condemnation. Immediately after the beating, as the photos were being broadcast into every home, a Telegram user called Eve logged into the group “Jews do not remain silent”, which boasts 1,500 members. “Well done !!!”, she wrote. Another user named Mor added: “What joy, proud of you.”
One user challenged the rest and asked how they knew it was an Arab. A diagnosis soon arrived: “I’m sure you check for an accent before breaking somebody’s face,” said an unidentified user.
Although the attack emblemizes the violence that night in Bat Yam, there were other incidents. For example, a group of Jews made their way to a Balfour Street apartment inhabited by an Arab family. “Terrorists,” they shouted in the direction of the apartment, “you are taking over our territory,” “just wait for the police to leave and then we will get you,” and of course - “death to the Arabs.” Some, not satisfied with shouting, threw rocks at the apartment, breaking shutters and windows. The family father called the police ten times before the police arrived on the scene.
When they arrived, they arrested four young men, in their 20s, all known to the police, who have been charged. The Hotline 100 log reads “You can hear the fear in his (the father’s) voice as well as his repeated requests for the assistance of police officers in securing the apartment.”
One of the four defendants is Joseph Beilin, 20. He has two prior convictions mostly for property offenses, and has done time. This time, according to evidence in the possession of the prosecution, he was armed with a knife and an iron chain.
He was not the only one who came equipped with a weapon. Sahar Abergil, 19, had a knife, Omri Cohen, 28, came with a hammer and pepper spray. These two also have prior convictions, as does the fourth member of the group, Adiel Arazi, 23. He is already facing another charge, for violent assault. The prosecution attributes to all four offences of rioting and racially motivated intimidation.
Evidence from the investigation shows that Beilin told the police that he learned about the demonstration through social media: “They wrote that there was a demonstration and directed us to wear tassels and dress like Jews.” He confirmed that he knew that the demonstration was intended to hurt Arabs but said that this was not his goal and that he did not shout “death to the Arabs.” He said he took part in the demonstration “to express his opinion on the terrorism perpetrated against the Jewish people in the country.” He added that he found the knife and chain at the scene and picked them up for self-defense.
Abergil also tried to minimize the alleged premeditation. “I did not plan to come, I saw a lot of people, something is happening, I did not know there were riots and when I saw that there was a riot I wanted to go home,” he said, adding that he also found the knife on the spot and took it. “If an Arab approaches, I can defend myself,” he explained. Cohen and Arazi made similar statements about the lack of planning and finding the “weapons” at the scene.
What Arazi probably didn’t mention while being questioned by police are his posts on Facebook. For example, his appeal to Gilat Bennett, the wife of Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, in January 2020: “I have something to explain to you and your husband,” he wrote. “Even when they [the burglars] break into your home, they are still not terrorists. The terrorists are the Arabs that your husband Bennett is trying his best to make sure avoid the death penalty.”
There are additional charges too. For example the one that was filed against a person named Nagiel Yosef and a minor who was with him. Yosef left his house that evening with a loaded harpoon gun. Seeing policemen on Shai Agnon Street in the city, he dropped the rifle on the sidewalk and kept walking. To policemen who asked for an explanation, the minor replied: “We are going to fuck the Arabs, we are going to fish for Arabs.” The two were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit a racially motivated crime.
Another suspect is Moshe Shwatlo, who is charged with throwing rocks at the windows of an Arab-owned business and smashing some of the windows with a hammer - while the business owner locked the door and hid in the kitchen for fear of harm. Pepper spray, gloves and a balaclava were also found amongst Shwatlo’s gear.
Attorney Yarin Solash, representing Nathaniel Benjamin, told Haaretz: “The prosecutor’s office went too far in its decision to indict for racially motivated attempted murder. As a matter of fact, the accused cooperated from the beginning and presented a coherent and detailed account that is not contradicted by the evidence. The accused denies the charges attributed to him.“
Nagauker’s lawyer, from the Public Defender’s Office, said he would respond to the charges in court.
Advocate Hagit Rahmani, also of the Public Defender’s Office, who represents the minor accused of attack, commented that he is a minor with no prior criminal record “ who cooperated with the investigators and provided a version of the chain of events.”
The other defendants are also represented by attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office. Advocate Ofir Hagoel, who represents Yaakov Cohen, said: “This is a young man with no criminal record. He cooperated with investigators and gave a version of the chain of events, denying that he had any intention of racially motivated offenses. We are waiting for the police to conclude the investigation soon.” Attorney Eden Poltin, representing Adiel Arazi, said he denies the allegations and claims he had no intention of harming anyone.
Yosef Beilin’s lawyer, Beni Braki, said that he had not yet received the investigation brief and would only address the charges after he does.