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Institutionalised racism is the price paid by Israel’s third class citizens

July 9, 2019 at 3:36 pm

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]

Palestinians these days are fond of circulating on social media a scene from an old Israeli comedy which shows a group of Hamas fighters who could sneak through a tunnel into enemy territory and kidnap an Israeli officer in order to exchange him for Palestinian prisoners. Although things go smoothly, the whole operation is a flop. Why? Because it was dark and they could not see that the officer was dark-skinned. When the group leader realises that the prisoner is of Ethiopian origin, he knows that all their efforts are for nothing.

Then the group enters into a long discussion on how to convince the Israelis to exchange him for fewer Palestinian prisoners, but end up convinced that the Israelis will give them nothing in return for him, and even he will not believe that the Israeli army and government care for him. They only have one problem; what to do with this good-for-nothing prisoner, without hurting his feelings. They finally decide to release him.

The officer does not believe that even Hamas does not want him and tries to convince his captors that even though he is a dark-skinned Israeli, he is valuable because he is not a mere soldier, he is an officer, and an important one. They are not convinced. One of the group tells him that he should thank God he is not a Druze. He asks them for a lift but they refuse to drop him to the separation line, and ask him to run, for Israeli soldiers are good at running.

Such comedy is not uncommon in this decades-long conflict. People on both sides like to produce and watch it, maybe because people tend to be more honest with themselves when they are laughing. Although such video clips are meant for self-criticism, they are in many cases used as propaganda to ridicule the enemy and boost one’s own self-confidence.

READ: Years after the blood dumping scandal, Ethiopians are still resisting racism in Israel

Last week, an Israeli police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Solomon Teka, a young Ethiopian Jew, triggering widespread protests which blocked public transport in major cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, reminding people of the Arab Spring. Foreign media showed some Ethiopians declaring their support for Palestine and changing their religion to Islam, in a rebellion against the state of Israel, which they describe as rotten to the core. They are, in almost every respect, treated as third class citizens by the state.

In a move to utilise the Ethiopian-Israeli protests, a Palestinian comedian from Gaza called Ali Nasman wrote a comic song, making fun of Israel’s racism towards its dark-skinned citizens. For the video of him singing it, he blackened his face and was joined by of a group of dark-skinned young Palestinians to mock the way that Ethiopian Jews are treated in Israel. He is seen with a little boy taking a bus, and a white policeman forces them off, calling them “black scum”. Nasman then reminds us how Israel neglected an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier captured by Hamas.

To fan the flames, the Hamas military wing revealed that Israel has never demanded to discuss the case of the missing soldier, Avraham Mengistu, when the issue of enemy prisoners is mentioned. It has been like this ever since his disappearance; he has been omitted from the negotiations file completely.” Mengistu’s family accuses the Israeli government of double standards based on racial discrimination.

19-year-old Solomon Tekah, a black Ethiopian Jew, was killed when the off-duty Israeli officer fired at him – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Now the head of the committee appointed by the Israeli Ministry of Justice to investigate Teka’s killing, Keren Bar-Menachem, has told the young man’s family that, “The ballistic report shows that the off-duty policeman who shot Teka shot toward the ground, and the bullet ricocheted and hit the 18-year-old’s chest.”

This time, the dead man is an Israeli Jew, not a Palestinian, so things are supposed to be different. Sweeping official racism under the carpet will not be possible. Next time that Netanyahu wants to boast in front of his AIPAC benefactors in the US about making a homogeneous society out of diverse colonial communities he will have to think long and hard if he is to be honest. Institutionalised racism against Ethiopian Jews marks the failure of the whole Zionist colonialist project, because racial discrimination is inherent in the whole ideology underpinning the colonial-settler state; just ask the Palestinians, for they know that this is all too true.

As Israeli-American activist Miko Peled has said, “Supporting Zionism and Israel is supporting racism and violence. Supporting the Palestinian struggle is supporting efforts to replace racism and violence with justice, freedom and equal rights.”

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.