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Ethiopian-Israel protests in Israel: Threats of escalation and police menace

Security forces take a protester into custody during a protest against the killing of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin, who was killed by an off-duty police officer, near Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 03, 2019. [Oren Ziv - Anadolu Agency]
Security forces take a protester into custody during a protest against the killing of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin, who was killed by an off-duty police officer, near Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv on 3 July 2019 [Oren Ziv/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli protestors of Ethiopian origins, also known as Falasha, gathered on Wednesday to protest against the death of Ethiopian-Israeli teenager, Solomon Teka who was shot by a police officer in the Kiryat Haim neighbourhood of Haifa earlier this week. Haaretz quoted one of the demonstrators saying: “We should not allow a quick return to normal life, to Instagram and Facebook. People here are isolated from reality and do not realise that a boy died because he is black.”

The Police Investigation Department is investigating the officer who killed Teka, on suspicion of unintentional murder. However, Channel 12 reported today that according to their inquiries, the officer fired on the ground, but the bullet diverted and hit the boy’s chest.

Channel 12 added that Netanyahu called leaders of the Falasha to an urgent meeting today. However, they refused the invitation and demanded that the Israeli Prime Minister come to them.

Israel witnessed rallies yesterday as protesters blocked main streets, most notably the network of Ayalon streets in Tel Aviv, which constitutes a central traffic circuit in the city. The demonstrators also closed the beach road, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, near the town of Netanya, in addition to another main street in the Israeli capital and the Kiryat Ata junction in the Haifa Bay. Other demonstrations broke out in several locations.

Clashes took place between the police and protesters, who burned rubber tires, two cars and damaged other vehicles. The police stated that 111 policemen were injured when demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them. The communiqué did not mention injuries among demonstrators, as one of them was hit by a car while blocking the street. The Israeli security forces also arrested 136 protesters and fired sound bombs, while employing violent methods to disperse the mobs.

Security forces take a protester into custody during a protest against the killing of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin, who was killed by an off-duty police officer, near Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 03, 2019. [Oren Ziv - Anadolu Agency]

Security forces take a protester into custody during a protest against the killing of Solomon Tekah, a young man of Ethiopian origin, who was killed by an off-duty police officer, near Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv on 3 July 2019 [Oren Ziv/Anadolu Agency]

Netivei Israel indicated that the cost of damages in streets across the country amounted to nearly one million shekels, including the destruction of a light signals’ system.

Israeli TV reported, Tuesday evening, that there were strong feelings of anger among demonstrators. A protester stated:

“The problem is that they do not consider us as human beings, and this starts with the white people who do not want their son to play with a black boy in the public park, and that goes on with the police who treat us according to the colour of our skins first. We cannot hide our skin colour.”

The protesters asserted that they all have close relatives, neighbours or co-workers who were subjected to racial discrimination.

Netanyahu, Rivlin and the police call demonstrators to remain calm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President, Reuven Rivlin, called on the demonstrators to stay calm. Netanyahu said in a video: “I know that there are problems that need to be addressed. We have worked hard, and we should work harder to solve them; however, I ask you one thing: stop blocking the streets. We abide by the rule of law, and we will not tolerate this demeanour.” Netanyahu announced that he would hold a committee meeting about the Falasha, later today.

Rivlin also asserted: “We have to stop and think together how to continue from here. We have to finalise the investigation into the death of Solomon, and we must prevent the next murder, the next physical abuse, the next humiliation. We are all committed to that.”

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For his part, the Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan, claimed that activists among the demonstrators called for inflicting injuries on police officers, while even talking about the intention to shoot police elements. He added that protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police stations.

While demonstrators called for new protests this afternoon, Erdan stated that “the outcome of last night’s clashes could have been worse if demonstrators had been injured or killed. Police officers have to work as quickly as possible and use their resources to prevent street blockage and violent demonstrations.” According to the Israeli official, the police tried to talk to protest leaders, “however, the young protesters did not listen to us.”

The Israeli police force announced this morning that they are allowing protesters to close main streets of the country. The police statement indicated that “blocking streets is prohibited by law and harms a wide range of drivers. The security services have been contained and restrained from committing violations against the demonstrators in an attempt to allow them to express their opinion; however, the Israeli police will not allow the blockade of main streets throughout the country in a way that seriously affects the citizens of Israel in general and street users in particular.”

Activists published a list of places where the demonstrations will take place this afternoon, including central locations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Afula and Haifa Bay area.

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