The below piece was pro­duced as a part of a Passover sup­ple­ment for Dwelling in a Time of Plagues in response to the idea of lib­er­a­tion from the plague of xenophobia.

Haftom Zarhum was twen­ty-nine years old on the morn­ing he arrived at the cen­tral bus sta­tion in Beer­she­ba. Four years ear­li­er, he had still been in Eritrea, doing the com­pul­so­ry, indef­i­nite mil­i­tary ser­vice imposed on its cit­i­zens. Zarhum fled Eritrea to Israel, crossed the bor­der from Sinai ille­gal­ly, and found work in a plant nurs­ery. He sent the mon­ey he earned to his fam­i­ly, who had remained in Africa. On Sun­day, Octo­ber 18, 2015, he arrived at the cen­tral bus sta­tion in Beer­she­ba on his way to renew his con­di­tion­al release visa.

Zarhum didn’t know that Muhan­nad al-Aqabi had come to the bus sta­tion on the same day, armed with a pis­tol. Al-Aqabi fol­lowed a nine­teen-year-old sol­dier, Omri Levy, into the restroom and shot him to death. Then he grabbed the soldier’s auto­mat­ic rifle and opened fire on the passers­by in the sta­tion, who ran for their lives. Haftom Zahum was one of them.

But Zarhum wasn’t only an inno­cent passer­by. He was also a Black man. And a for­eign­er. The secu­ri­ty ser­vices, see­ing him run­ning away, didn’t think twice before shoot­ing him. The inno­cent young man col­lapsed onto the bus sta­tion floor.

The bul­lets that entered Haftom Zarhum’s body were only the begin­ning. A crowd gath­ered around the fall­en man, call­ing for death to the ter­ror­ist, and the lynch began: they kicked him in the head and threw chairs and bench­es at his body. An Arab who worked in the cen­tral bus sta­tion tes­ti­fied lat­er that he’d sus­pect­ed the man being attacked wasn’t a ter­ror­ist, but he was afraid to say any­thing that might cause the angry mob to leave Zarhum and turn on him instead.

Haftom Zarhum was declared dead in the hos­pi­tal. The bul­lets had killed him. Two mem­bers of the lynch mob were acquit­ted in court. The immigrant’s for­eign appear­ance had mis­led them, the lawyers said, had made them think he was a ter­ror­ist. But Haftom Zarhum wasn’t a ter­ror­ist. He was mere­ly a for­eign­er. A refugee.

To down­load the full Passover sup­ple­ment, which includes ten authors and ten artists respond­ing to ten mod­ern plagues, please click here

Dwelling in a Time of Plagues is a Jew­ish cre­ative response to real-world plagues of our time. Col­lec­tive­ly, the com­mis­sions in this con­stel­la­tion of art projects around North Amer­i­ca grap­ple with con­tem­po­rary crises: the glob­al pan­dem­ic, insti­tu­tion­al racism, xeno­pho­bia, ageism, forced iso­la­tion, and the cli­mate cri­sis. Dwelling is gen­er­ous­ly sup­port­ed by CANVAS.

Ayelet Gun­dar-Goshen is the win­ner of the 2017 JQ-Wingate Prize for Wak­ing Lions. She was born in Israel in 1982 and holds an MA in clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy from Tel Aviv Uni­ver­si­ty. She has worked for the Israeli civ­il rights move­ment and is an award-win­ning screen­writer. She won Israel’s pres­ti­gious Sapir Prize for best debut. Wak­ing Lions, her first nov­el pub­lished in the U.S., has been trans­lat­ed into nine languages.