On Monday, the police announced that they would try to identify who was involved in the lynching of Habtom Zerhom in Be'er Sheva, but would not investigate them for murder or manslaughter.
Why? The police say that according to the information they have, Zerhom was already dead when he was beaten up (from the shots fired at him earlier), and therefore the police will at most make an effort to clarify that citizens must not take the law into their own hands.
But the terrible snuff videos which documented the event show something entirely different. In any event, there is no way of knowing how Zerhom died and what killed him without an autopsy, if at all. The police have simply found an easy way out, not wanting to deal with this hot potato.
The police and State Prosecutor's Office know that this is at least a case of suspected murder, if not actual murder. Zerhom was lying on the floor, wounded. He posed no risk to anyone. There is no and can be no justification for harming him. Even if he were an Arab, there would be no justification for that. And even if he were the stabber or the shooter, it's would still be murder.
When it comes to covering up murder cases against Arabs, the police stand on stable historic ground. Israel's legal system has done it repeatedly over the years. In 1955, Meir Har-Zion, a Unit 101 fighter, and three of his friends murdered four innocent Bedouins in the Judea Desert in a blind act of revenge for the murder of Har-Zion's sister. Then-Prime Minister Moshe Sharett and Justice Minister Pinchas Rosen demanded that they would be prosecuted, but to no avail. Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion and IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan successfully thwarted this attempt.
In his despair, Sharett wrote in his journal: "I'm dumbfounded by the essence and fate of this people, which is capable of such subtle sensitivity, such deep love of fellow man, a sincere ambition for the fine and noble, and yet produces from the ranks of its finest youth young men who are capable of murdering a human being in a clear mind and cold bloodedness by thrusting knives in the bodies of defenseless young Bedouins. Which of the two souls scampering between the pages of the Bible will defeat its rival?"
Sharett left behind an emotionally moving journal, but the legacy was shaped by others. The perpetrators of the Kafr Qasim massacre in 1956 were put on trial but were pardoned by the president a year later. The murders of prisoners of war from the 1956 Sinai War and 1967 Six-Day War were not investigated. Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan pardoned those who massacred PLO prisoners in Operation Litani in 1978. Other POW murder affairs in the same operation were never investigated. President Chaim Herzog, the father of the silent opposition chairman, pardoned the members of the Jewish Underground from the 1980s.
The lynching in Be'er Sheva was created on the background of an atmosphere of helplessness: The perpetrators come from nowhere, without "terror infrastructures" and without headquarters of handlers which can be bombed and assassinated. There is very little that can be done against them. The unruly behavior leads to declarations by politicians and right-wing commentators that "an Arab with a knife must not leave the scene alive," as if it hasn't been proven repeatedly that this will not convince the next perpetrator.
This is the same perception that former Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom saw before his eyes when, in 1984, he ordered his subordinates to smash the skulls of the two terrorists who remained alive after they hijacked the bus in Line 300 affair and commandoes stormed it to free the hostages. That affair indeed cast a heavy shadow on the organization and its leaders, but only because of the cover-up attempts - the conspiracy to blame Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Chief Infantry and Paratroopers Officer Yitzhak Mordechai for ordering the killing of the two Palestinians. Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir wanted to investigate the more serious crime - the murder itself, but came up against President Herzog's clemency wall.
The uncensored videos circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp in the past three weeks document many other lynching cases. In one of them, a teenager Palestinian terrorist who just tried to stab someone is seen lying on his face as two people are riding on him and all the other are punching him from all directions with their hands, legs and poles they found in the area. No one will question them either.
When the police's senior command states that "whoever stabs Jews is destined to be killed," and the acting police commissioner justifies the shooting of terrorist Asra Zidan in Afula when it was clear that she no longer posed a danger, they are encouraging their people and the citizens to take the law into their own hands and rephrase the rules.
Ehud Barak referred to Israel as "a villa in the jungle." This metaphor should be changed. The jungle is not just seen from the villa's window. It is within us, its tenants.