Violence erupted in downtown Jerusalem on Thursday night, as more than a thousand Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters clashed with police in a protest against the beating of an Ethiopian soldier earlier this week.
Ten demonstrators and three officers sustained light wounds, and two protesters were arrested, police said.
The protest, which moved from Israel Police headquarters in Sheikh Jarrah to Agron Street, near the Prime Minister’s Residence, was triggered by a video that showed two policemen in Holon assaulting the soldier in uniform in an apparently unprovoked attack.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said clashes broke out after demonstrators refused to disperse while blocking a public artery.
“After receiving announcements that they must leave, the demonstrators continued to march, forcing police to disperse the crowd using forceful means,” he said. “The protesters began throwing rocks and bottles at police while trying to fend them off.”
Two of the three officers who were wounded were taken to the hospital, five of the wounded demonstrators were hospitalized, and Magen David Adom paramedics treated several others on the scene, Rosenfeld said. Two men accused of throwing projectiles at police were arrested and remain in custody, he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for calm following the protest.
“I strongly condemn the beating of the Ethiopian IDF soldier, and those responsible will be held accountable,” he said. With that, he added, “it is forbidden for anyone to take the law into his own hands.”
Netanyahu said that the immigrants from Ethiopia are “dear to us,” and that the state is making great efforts to ease their integration into society.
“We will continue to do so in the next government as well,” he said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said, “It is important for us listen to them. They are people who are very frustrated; and this is a red flag for Israel.”
The mayor had rushed to the junction of Agron and King George Avenue upon hearing that violence had broken out between protesters and police at 8 p.m. Rocks were strewn on Agron as the protest moved nearer to the Prime Minister’s Residence on nearby Smolenskin Street.
As hundreds of demonstrators gathered and tried to reach the residence, roads were blocked off and border police formed a line in full riot gear. As the violence subsided, Barkat stood in the middle of a youthful crowd and tried to listen to the activists’ complaints.
“No one cares about us, we go to the army, our blood is the same blood, but they beat us,” one woman shouted. Others complained of years of racism and feeling abandoned in society.
“He [Barkat] will go to bed tonight on a nice pillow, but no one will remember us,” a man wearing an ‘I Have a Dream’ T-shirt shouted, recalling Martin Luther King Jr. The protesters were joined by some haredi men, men and women from a communist student group wearing red shirts, and others from the neighborhood.
“Is it worth it that my brother fought in Shejaia in Gaza last summer, but my cousin could be killed by you police tomorrow?” a woman asked the officers. She had arrived from Kiryat Gat and claimed that police had purposely shot tear gas at the legs of protesters earlier in the evening.
Others shouted for Police Insp.- Gen. Yohanan Danino to resign and chanted, “Put the police [who beat the soldier] in prison.”
MK Rachel Azaria (Koolanu) said she attended the protest to support the Ethiopian community.
“I’m here to support the demonstrators who came to demand fair and just treatment by the police,” she said. “There is a lot of anger at the way the police are acting.”
More than 1,000 protesters had arrived at Israel Police headquarters on Thursday afternoon.
“You do reserve duty… so do I… I was in [Operation] Defensive Shield” in the Gaza Strip last year, a demonstrator shouted at a stern border policeman.
“We conquered Jerusalem and united the city, for this? To build a racist police state?” a middle-aged woman asked the officers.
The sun was beating down on their faces as dozens of people behind them blew whistles and chanted, “Police state! Stop the violence, stop the racism!” President Reuven Rivlin expressed shock at the assault on the soldier.
The police condemned the attack, suspending the officer and a Civil Guard volunteer suspected of the assault pending an investigation.
The video comes after other reported beatings of Ethiopian Israelis, and a feeling that violence is being meted out to the community by authorities.
Facebook was abuzz during the week about confronting the violence and a campaign called “Struggle against police violence” set the protest for 4 p.m.
Getahun Kobi Tefare, who brought a bus of activists from Yavne, noted that most of those who attended were Ethiopians born in Israel. “You don’t see the other communities in this country here… We just celebrated 67 years of independence, but where are the cultural figures who attended those events now?” He said he was shocked to see the video of the soldier being beaten: “I never saw something like that since I came to Israel in 1991.”
As hundreds more mostly young people, holding signs against racism and some carrying Israeli flags, joined the activists, they moved to obstruct Route 1, the major artery connecting Jerusalem to suburbs north of the city. They blocked the light rail and traffic backed up for kilometers, but police did not disperse the protesters for three hours. Police commanders urged their men to show restraint.
Mazal Yalo, a young woman from Beersheba, said she had served in the police during her army service.
“Some police are good, and there are Ethiopians in the police force, but we need to clean out the garbage in the department.”
Two kessim (religious leaders) from Yavne came to show support.
Kes Adisu said he knows of many cases of police beating youths. “We came to say, ‘Enough to violence and racism, we want equality,’ just like Moroccans and Yemenites demanded.”
An Ethiopian soldier who came from the Negev with another man from his unit felt he had to do something.
“I protect the country, we don’t deserve this, we are Jews… the policeman who did it must receive prison time.”
His friend, one of a number of non-Ethiopians present agreed, “It’s a racist society.”
Newly elected Ethiopian MK Dr.
Abraham Naguise (Likud), who attended the demonstration, said he would work to solve the issue of police violence at the highest levels of government.
“There is justifiable anger about police violence against the Ethiopians in particular, and against Israeli civilians in general,” he said.
“I will address the issue in order to solve the problem at the roots, going to the highest levels, including the prime minister. The protest was entirely legitimate in a democracy, and was carried out exclusively within the law without any violence. Violence is not our way, and is contrary to the Ethiopian heritage,” Naguise said.
Other onlookers, such as haredim and Arabs who had gotten out of school in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near police headquarters, agreed that society must confront the problem.
“They did it to Moroccans [in the past], we are with you,” said a driver who, despite being stuck for an hour in traffic, felt solidarity.
At the major intersection of Levi Eshkol Boulevard and Route 1, former Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamanu- Shata gave an impromptu speech to those gathered. “Where are the Knesset members? Look at your friends, you all have a future, but the police must take responsibility [for their actions].”
Source: The Jerusalem Post