+972 Magazine, October 23, 2015
Hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese nationals gathered in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park Wednesday evening to mourn Habtom Zerhum, the asylum seeker who was shot and severely beaten Sunday night during a terrorist attack in the Beer Sheva bus station.
They lit candles and wept.
Desale Tesfay, 35, from Eritrea, explained to +972 that the gathering also served as a moment for members of the community to come together and talk and support one another.
Mourners expressed shock and anger at the accidental killing of the innocent man, who was mistaken for a terrorist and shot by a security guard. Some, like Tesfay, also criticized the Israeli government, calling on it to formulate a meaningful policy to help asylum seekers.
Speaking quietly during a moment of silence, Tesfay reflected on Zerhum’s life and violent death.
“He’s a human being who ran from [Eritrea] because there’s no democracy there,” Tesfay explained. “He was a young man who didn’t do anything wrong, he went to renew his visa and look what happened to him.”
Tesfay left Eritrea in 2008 after he was forcibly conscripted to the Eritrean army for eight years, for very little pay and with no end in sight. “It’s a dictatorship, that’s why we left. If it was a democracy, we wouldn’t be fleeing.”
When asked if Israel is also a democracy, Tesfay laughed long and hard.
“Yes, there’s democracy here, as they say, for their people [the Jews]. But for the refugees?”
Tesfay, a father of two, points out that his children cannot receive Israeli citizenship even though they were both born here. His visa stipulates that he does not have permission to work. And, when Tesfay arrived in 2008, he spent six months in Saharonim prison, without trial.
He added that while he has not been summoned to Holot, the desert detention facility where Israel sends asylum seekers, he feels like he is “still in prison.”
“It’s like the government put a long string here,” he said, pointing to his ankle. “I go to work, I come home and [otherwise] I don’t move.”
“Now, today, we are supposed to go to jail again,” he said, referring to Holot. “It’s not how things should be. We don’t deserve jail. What did we do? We requested [protection] as refugees.”
Tesfay said he does not fear for his personal safety after what happened to Zerhum. But because he has no rights in Israel, he added, he feels he must accept whatever happens to him “quietly… even if someone comes to kill me.”
Next to us, the mourners began to wail again.