Eritrean migrants in Israel
Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST


Mulugeta Tumuzghi said he couldn’t breathe for 10 minutes on Sunday night when he first heard the tragic news – an Eritrean asylum seeker, like himself, was shot and beaten to death after he was mistaken for a terrorist during an attack in Beersheba.

Even after he caught his breath, he said he still couldn’t find the words to make sense of it.

“The only reason I can think this happened is because of racism. There were other people who weren’t soldiers or police who were running around then too, why him? He had nothing in his hands, why him?” Tumuzghi, a veteran asylum seeker who’s been in Israel for eight years but hasn’t received refugee status, said he spoke to other Eritrean friends all day on Monday, and they were afraid, sad and at a loss for words.

“I’m very afraid now. I don’t know what people could do. They could kill me and then say it was a mistake.”

The killing of Haptom Zarhum, 26, sent ripples through the African migrants community in Israel, which numbers around 50,000, most of them from Eritrea. On Facebook, migrants posted photos of an impromptu memorial ceremony held on Monday at Holot, the desert detention facility built by the state to hold African migrants.

A number of Israeli NGOs that have for years worked with asylum seekers spoke of a dark day for the country, wherein asylum seekers learned that not only could they, like all Israelis, be attacked by Palestinian terrorists, but could also be mistaken for attackers and killed by Israelis.

Zarhum was ruled dead at Soroka University Medical Center on Monday, the morning after he was shot and incapacitated by a security guard at the station who mistook him for a second attacker. As he lay on the floor, he was beaten by a number of assailants who cursed him and kicked him, as well as at least one who tried to crush him by dropping a bench on him.

Reports in the media stated that after he was taken from the scene, a mob shouting “death to the Arabs” blocked the ambulance from taking him.

A relative who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Monday said Zarhum had been in Israel for around three years and eight months, and that he lived on a moshav in the Eshkol Region, where he did agricultural work. He was in Beersheba to renew his work visa, and had traveled to the bus station with two migrant friends, who also fled during the shooting, the relative said.

Anat Ovadia-Rosner, spokeswoman for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said Monday she believes the killing was “linked to the incitement we’ve seen against asylum seekers that sees them described as a security threat to Israel.” She added that while she wasn’t sure what role racism or incitement had in the shooting of Zarhum, she does think that “with the lynch, [when] they kept hitting him after he was down, I don’t think they would do that to someone who wasn’t African.”

The pro-asylum seekers NGO “ASSAF,” in a statement on Monday, called on the authorities to investigate the mob killing, during which Zarhum “was cruelly beaten because of the color of his skin.”

They also called on the state to take responsibility for the killing and to ensure that his body is flown back to his family in Eritrea and that compensation is sent to his loved ones.

The killing also had an impact on Ethiopian Israelis, who over the past several months have held a series of protests about what they say is widespread racism and discrimination in society, and unfair treatment by police.

One of the leaders of the protest movement, activist Inbar Bugale, wrote on Facebook on Monday, “It’s curious why they decided to shoot the boy last night and why they thought he was a terrorist… he wasn’t armed, he was on his knees.” She continued “his [skin] color is the only thing that caused him to look suspicious.”

If he had been an Ethiopian Jew people would have reacted more negatively but that “because he was just black and not Jewish, it was just a mistake!” she said.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post