Questions Continue to Surround Yoel Lhanghal’s Death
(October 13) A week after the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Yoel Lhanghal old in the far northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmonah, many of the circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear.
Lhanghal was laid to rest on Sunday, October 9, on the eve of Sukkot, in the cemetery of Nof Hagalil, the city in the Lower Galilee to which he came to live with his parents and five brothers and sisters after their Aliyah to Israel from Manipur less than a year ago.(A focus of B’nei Menashe immigration in recent years, Nof Hagalil now has, along with Kiryat Arba in the south, Israel’s largest B’nei Menashe population.) Hundreds of B’nei Menashe attended his funeral, at which he was eulogized by Rabbi Noam Krispil of Nof Hagalil and Rabbi Yehuda Koch, the headmaster of the yeshiva in Ma’alot at which he was studying while eagerly awaiting his army call-up. “You were,” said Krispil, addressing him, “a model of love of Torah, love of the Land of Israel, and love of your fellow man.”
Several of Lhanghal’s B’nei Menashe friends came to the funeral with placards bearing photographs of him, some saying “I wanted to be an Israeli soldier,” and others with statements like “No More Hoodlumism!” and “Jewish Blood Must Not Be Freely Shed!” Although the issue of anti-B’nei Menashe prejudice, and the possibility that it might have played a role in Lhanghal’s murder, were not publicly raised at the funeral, they were the subject of discussion in the B’nei Menashe community, as well as of accusations made by Lhanghal’s parents. “Yoel was a victim of racism,” Yoel’s father Gideon Lhanghal was quoted by the news agency Ynet at saying, while his mother Batsheva was reported to have declared: “It was because we don’t look like others. There was great hatred [behind Yoel’s killing] because he looked different.”
Yet although racist shouts were apparently heard in the course of the violence that ended with Yoel’s death, it is not clear that anti-B’nei Menashe sentiment was the cause of the outbreak itself. The police investigating the case, who arrested 11 suspects, most minors, and later released nine on bail, were skeptical. The argument between Yoel and his assailants that turned violent, the same Ynet article quoted them as saying, began as “a dialogue of the deaf, between a speaker of an Indian language [who did not know much Hebrew] and Hebrew speakers [who were not understood by him].” There was no original racist intent behind it, police said.
The basic chain of events that led up to the stabbing is not in question. Sometime between 11 o’clock and midnight on Thursday, October 6, Yoel and a B’nei Menashe girlfriend, who were visiting friends in Kiryat Shmonah along with several other companions from Nof Hagalil, had a verbal altercation in a park with a group of local youngsters emerging from a birthday party at a nearby club. The police were called and dispersed the disputants without making any arrests. Yoel and his friends, however, remained in the park while the Kiryat Shmonah group left, only soon to return armed with knives. A second confrontation now occurred, and in it, Yoel was set upon by a dozen or more youngsters and stabbed by several of them, as evidenced by the multiple wounds he received from different knives.
Yet many of the details of what happened remain murky. What led to the argument that resulted in the police first being called? (Different accounts have been given.) Were some or all of the youths involved, as has been claimed by both sides, under the influence of alcohol? Why did Yoel and his friends remain in the park after the police told everyone to leave? Did the group of Kiryat Shmonah youngsters who returned do so with the express intention of stabbing him? Had some of them been carrying knives all along, or did they go to get them before coming back?
The CCTV video of the fatal brawl (see our October 8 article “B’nei Menashe Youth Stabbed to Death”) contains many puzzling features, too. It shows a park with stairs descending from a higher level to a lower one, and the fight starting on the higher level, with Yoel being attacked by a large group of boys while many others run down the stairs and flee, apparently fearing the police’s return. Yet Yoel does not appear to have been injured in this scuffle, because in the next frame, all the boys who had remained on the top level are seen running down the stairs, too, Yoel among them.
It is only at the bottom that one views him fighting with someone, after which he is grabbed by two boys and held while others pile on and stab him. Yet why did he run down the stairs with his assailants rather than remain by himself at the top? And why, in the background, are some of the Kiryat Shmonah boys fighting among themselves? Were some trying to protect Yoel and exchanging blows with his attackers?
Presumably, there will eventually be answers to all these questions, if not soon, then at the trial of the accused stabbers when it is held. Whatever these are, they will not bring Yoel back to life or make his death any less tragic or less a blow to his family and a shocked B’nei Menashe community. But they may help to clarify some things – among them, the question of whether or not anti-B’nei Menashe prejudice played a significant role in what took place. If it did, some hard thinking will have to be done about how it can and should be fought.