The film makers interview six people who witnessed the attack. They play distinct roles in this tragedy: Daniel Harush (soldier – the victim), Lihi Levi (shop attendant – the nurse), Ronen Cohen (prison officer – the accuser), Moshe Kochavi (kibbutz volunteer – the moralist), Hosni Kombaz (fallafel vendor – the camera man), and Yotam Luggasi (soldier – the defender). Together, they gradually take the story forward, each adding his or her own perspective on and interpretation of the experience. The interviews are combined with surveillance footage from a number of cameras. By zooming in on specific images, the makers manage to edit a suspense narrative.
The film starts with a general imagery of people findings their way to and from the platforms, getting money from an ATM, and trying to keep track of their kids, while the radio announces a cheerful programme. All seems normal until we hear gunfire and see a young lady turn around and run, just before she is almost run over by a fleeing mob. From this point on, the exercise begins.
The witnesses recount in detail what they did and what they thought about the situation. Each interview is accompanied by surveillance camera images illustrating the story told. The narrative starts with Harush, who explains how he and his friend, en route to their army base, walked to the bathrooms. We see the various cameras catch them as they make their way.
He graphically recalls how he tried to calm his friend, tried to save another victim, and was himself shot by a police officer. Levi then talks about how she tried to attend to two other wounded soldiers, one of whom was the fatally wounded Omri Levi. She was sent away by a veteran paramedic. The surveillance footage now also shows another man being shot and getting a chair thrown at him.
Cohen is next and tells about his efforts to “neutralise” this “terrorist”, for instance by placing a row of seats over him. In his story, the first clues of an unfavourable ending emerge. Kochavi tries, quite unsuccessfully, to keep bystanders from kicking the severely wounded man, not to protect him – “He’s a terrorist and he needs to die” – but to save these “savage” people from corrupting their souls. He also describes bewilderment: the guy doesn’t look like a terrorist. Kombaz, who immediately starts filming with his phone and whose footage features in the film, immediately comes to the conclusion that they shot the wrong man, for three reasons: he wears slippers; there is no weapon; and he looks like a (Christian) Eritrean.
But, as a Palestinian, it is impossible for him to express this at the scene. Luggasi, finally, doubts it too, despite the fact that the security guard who shot the alleged attacker keeps confirming that he is the one. When the shooting restarts, he shifts his attention away from the shot man and eventually kills the real attacker. As it turns out, the man shot by a security guard was Eritrean asylum seeker Habtom Zarhum, 29-years old and unarmed.
A film like Death in the Terminal makes you think about the value of images.
The film concludes by a fast rewinding of the surveillance footage; starting from the blood stains on the bus terminal floor left by Zarhum’s injured body. Now the focus of many viewers will be on Zarhum and where he came from, before he was shot.
The images are cleverly cut and framed: it is not always immediately clear how one event – say the nurse taking care of a wounded soldier – relates to another – say the kibbutz volunteer keeping bystanders from kicking the alleged attacker. Images are framed so that we do not see specific events and details which are introduced or come to play an important role later on – such as how Zarhum ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so the makers measure out carefully what to disclose, when and by whom, reorganising the events and the related footage to suit the suspense narrative.
In contrast with the surveillance images – gritty and unfocused – all witnesses are interviewed in, what appears to be, the comfort of their own homes. This also contrasts sharply with the cold and anonymous bus terminal hall.
A film like Death in the Terminal makes you think about the value of images. Surveillance images make it possible to reconstruct events, but not to understand these. For that we need stories and individual interpretations of the situation.