Israel’s ‘mistaken identity’ embarrassments

Saturday night, an Israeli driver had a heart attack and lost control of his vehicle on busy Ben Yehuda street in Tel Aviv, ending up crashing into a restaurant and badly injuring two diners, who died shortly after from their wounds.

According to the wife of one of the restaurant owners, Shoshana San, who was an eyewitness, the driver was believed by restaurant-goers and others to be a terrorist. “They thought that the driver was not a good person, they beat him. He was unconscious”, she is quoted saying in the Jerusalem Online article. 

Let me translate this coded Israeli language for everyone. “Not a good person” means a Palestinian terrorist. The witnesses thought that the car ramming was an intentional Palestinian terror attack, so although the driver was already unconscious, they “pulled him out of the car” as Israeli NRG noted (Hebrew) and lynched him whilst he was unconscious.

Quite little seems to be said about this lynching. It is very toned down and mostly omitted in Israeli media coverage that I managed to glean in my search. Haaretz and Times of Israel, for example, reported about the accident on the day, stating that it wasn’t terror, and not mentioning the beating. “Six wounded; driver among the fatalities in incident unrelated to terrorism,” said Haaretz. .

We can be sure, that if this case had been a case of Palestinian terror, we would hear about this with great detail. But the drama has been dispelled: it is not terror.

But let us look at the Israeli violence in response to such “suspicions” of terror, where it is “mistaken identity”:

On October 18th, an Eritrean refugee, Habtom Zerhom, was mistakenly thought to have been a terrorist after a shooting at the Beersheba main bus station. He was lynched and died from his wounds shortly after. A video of the incident is to be found in this article, and I warn of extremely graphic content. Zerhom, after being shot, is held down under a chair, as an officer of the Israel Prison Authorities smashes a whole row of chairs on his head, to the cheering of a crowd. I have probably not seen a more violent video in my life. The crowd shouts “mehabel” (terrorist), “Kill him!” and “Break his head! Break his head! Son of a prostitute!”

Ynet reported that medics trying to evacuate Zerhom “ran into objection from the crowds at the scene, who blocked their way and called out ‘Death to Arabs,”Arabs out!’ and ‘Am Israel Chai’ (‘The people of Israel still live’).”

Yet it turned out that this was “mistaken identity”. The Israeli police spokesman said shortly after that it was “not clear if he is involved with the event or if he was shot due to his exterior appearance.”

Whilst it was still “unclear”, Channel 2 was reporting from the scene, where members of the mob were interviewed boasting about the lynch, saying how Zerhom was “dripping with blood” and how “fun it was to see”. That coverage by Channel 2 is embedded in this Hebrew Haaretz article. The mob can be seen around minute 30. In the Hebrew opinion article, Rogel Alper sends scorching critique at Channel Two and the news anchor Yonit Levy [my translation]:

“Yesterday (Monday) Channel 2 did not voice a word of apology or dissent concerning its behavior two days ago. No remorse. Yonit Levy reported on the lynching with her tiresome righteousness and ridiculous detachment. Is there no limit to the naiveté? Why do you act as if this has nothing to do with you? Only 24 hours earlier the murderers were celebrating on a channel that you are an emblem of. No soul searching? Habtom Zerhom’s employer at the greenhouses of Ein Habsor said that it’s a pity that a “minority” gives a bad name to the Nation of Israel. Which minority? Channel 2, with its million viewers, the speaking channel of Israeli mainstream, stood firmly two days ago with all of its might behind this minority, hugged it and united its flesh with the flesh of the Israeli nation. Zerhom was not able to speak because he was “dripping blood, dripping” and it was “fun to see”. Fun not only for the murderers in Beersheba but also for Channel 2 and its viewers.”

Whilst the case in Beersheba may show the brutality of Israeli response to suspected “terror”, the accident of last Saturday in Tel Aviv shows just how meaningless the “security claim” in a supposed “response to terror” can be. An unconscious man is further “neutralized” by a lynch mob.

One could wonder, if the driver turned out to be Palestinian, whether the accident would have turned out to be a “terror attack” anyway – disregarding the heart attack. We have a case to compare this with: on the 13th of October, Alexander Levlovitch was driving in Jerusalem in the evening and lost control of his car and hit a pole. Some witnesses said that stones were thrown in the area, but there was also a thread that the police were investigating, that Levlovitch had a heart attack and lost control due to that, not necessarily stones. As Ynet reported, “questioning of the other passengers suggested that the driver had convulsed before losing control of the car, and police decided to continue investigating the cause of the accident.” 

Whilst the event was placed under gag order, Netanyahu hurried to exploit it the next morning in order to convene an “emergency meeting” following the incident, to discuss “the war on stone throwing and fire bombs in Jerusalem and its vicinity.”

Whilst it seems possible that the cause of death was a heart attack, the possibility that stones were thrown and caused Levlovitch’s death was much more convenient for the propaganda of “war against stone throwers”.

Thus one could easily surmise, that if the driver last Saturday was a Palestinian (that is, a “not good person” as Shoshana San put it), he could well have become a terrorist – post mortem that is. A gag could be placed on the case, and although there would be evidence to suggest he simply died from a heart attack, the news could be construed to consider the accident another terror attack.

But it turned out that the driver was “a good person” – that is, a Jew. Now it’s clear why the subsequent lynching of an unconscious man is then toned down. It’s not good PR. You can’t possibly construe it to be “terror”. And if the lynching turns out to be not against the background of “terror” but simply out of “mistaken identity”, it begins to show a picture of gratuitous violence. And Israel doesn’t want that, because it needs the victim narrative. Otherwise, it’s just embarrassing.

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