After four posts in a row on “the Situation”, as it is euphemistically termed, I had hoped that my next post would be about our concert last Friday in Haifa but, alas, it was not to be.
Friday was a long day, as I had to get up before 6 am in order to travel to Haifa, so I was planning on sleeping late the next day, Shabbat. However, you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men…
At about nine o’clock in the morning, I was lying in bed, between sleeping and waking, wondering whether or not to get up and take myself a cup of coffee, when the Sabbath-morning quiet was shattered by what appeared to be the sound of several gun shots, in rapid succession. Not long after that, the phone rang. I would not normally answer the phone at 9 o’clock on a Shabbat morning, but “the situation” being what it was, and in light of what I was certain had been gunfire, I gingerly picked up the receiver. At the other end of the line was my stepmother, with an urgent warning not to leave the house because there had been a terrorist stabbing at the synagogue just up the road and that, although the terrorist had been “neutralised”, there was a danger that he had an accomplice who might be wandering about the neighbourhood even as we spoke.
It later turned out that the stabbing had not been at a synagogue, but that an alert citizen had seen someone acting suspiciously and had alerted a Border Police patrol on the Armon Hanatziv promenade. The latter conducted a search and apprehended a suspect. They demanded to see his ID card and, while he was being questioned, he draw a knife and attempted to stab one of the policemen, who then shot and killed him. All this took place a few hundred yards up the road from where I live.
There were at least four other attempted stabbings that day, in Jerusalem and in Hebron. I got so jittery that, when I took down the garbage the following morning, I changed my flipflops for closed shoes in which it would be easier to run from a potential terrorist, and took my mobile phone and tear-gas spray with me – just to walk forty yards or so to the dumpster.
But far, far worse was yet to come. Yesterday evening (Sunday), a terrorist, who turned out to be an Israeli Bedouin, somehow managed to enter the Central Bus Station in Beersheba, armed with a pistol and a knife. He then opened fire, murdering a 19-year-old soldier, Sgt. Omri Levi (HY”D) and stealing his M16 assault rifle, with which he began shooting indiscriminately. A gun battle developed between the terrorist and security forces, during which, the terrorist was shot dead. But, in all the confusion, and fear lest the terrorist might have had an accomplice, like the terrorists who carried out the attack on the #78 bus in Jerusalem last week, an innocent man, a migrant from Eritrea, was mistakenly identified as a terrorist and shot by one of the security guards (himself, ironically, an Arab Israeli). As he lay wounded and helpless, he was attacked by vengeful citizens who, believing him to be a terrorist who had just participated in the murder of a young soldier and the wounding of at least 11 more people, vented their grief and rage by beating him mercilessly. He later died in hospital.
When I heard this morning of the death of Haftom Zarhoum, I wept as I have not yet wept since the beginning of this campaign of terror that has been waged on us since Rosh Hashana. I wept for a stranger, an African migrant who came here looking for a better life and who was caught up in a war which was not his. I wept for what we are in danger of becoming, through fear and confusion rather than through any innate evil. I wept, because, when our enemies succeed in turning us into a mob of wild beasts like themselves, who would lynch an innocent man, they win.