43 arrested as rioters hurl stones, bottles at police; Netanyahu urges calm, set to meet with community reps
At least 63 people were injured during a rally held in Tel Aviv Sunday that was attended by thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters to protest against police brutality and institutionalized discrimination.
Some of the demonstrators hurled stones, bottles and chairs from nearby restaurants after attempting to storm the Tel Aviv municipality building.
Mounted police used riot stun grenades and water cannon as well as pepper spray to disperse the crowd and clear nearby streets, but protesters kept returning.
Police said Monday morning that 56 police officers were injured during the clashes, 43 people were arrested and seven protesters were injured.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said dispersing the “riot” was difficult since it had no clear leadership.
“There is nobody to talk to,” he told reporters.
Police estimated 3,000 people took part in the demonstration, while media reports cited organizers as putting the number at 10,000.
Police sprayed the rioters with tear gas and water cannon as hundreds of infuriated demonstrators tried to break into the city hall.
There was some damage to property as protesters tore through several of Tel Aviv’s central locations, including the Rabin Square and Ibn Gavirol street.
Netanyahu urges calm, set to meet with community reps
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged calm, saying in a statement there is room for “making claims,” not violence and lawlessness.
The violent demonstrations on Sunday were sparked by a video clip that emerged last week showing two policemen beating a 21-year-old Ethiopian in his army uniform.
The apparent unprovoked beating of Demas Fekadeh, an orphan who emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia with his four siblings seven years ago led to widespread condemnation and highlighted issues of racism within the police.
Fekadeh told Israel’s Channel 10 news that he was riding his bicycle when he noticed two officers and asked what they were doing.
One the policemen approached him and pushed him off of his bike saying “I can do whatever I want” and threatened to shoot him in the head.
In light of increased tensions surrounding the incident, Netanyahu was set to meet Monday with Fekadeh as well as other members of the Ethiopian community.
Other public officials such as Police Commissioner Inspector-General Yohanan Danino was also expected to attend the meeting, as well as representatives from the ministries of Public Security, Social Affairs and Social Services, Aliyah and Immigration and Interior.
Sunday’s events began with a peaceful rally that started at 3:00 pm local time (12:00 GMT) at the Azrieli Center in the heart of the city and continued towards the Ayalon Highway, where protesters blocked Tel Aviv’s main traffic arteries during peak rush hour time.
Many of the protesters who joined the demonstrations earlier in the day claimed that after the Ethiopian community had suffered years of discrimination and racism, the time had come to make the Israeli public aware of their plight.
‘We are here to fight racism’
Yoav Gared from the city of Beit Shemesh told Israeli daily Ha’aretz: “We’ve come not only because of police violence, but also because of the racism in society here. We feel it in the workplace and in the neighborhood.”
“The important thing is getting the following message out to the entire nation of Israel: We will not stay silent any longer,” said the 26-year-old former member of the IDF’s Givati brigade. “We will not accept violence any longer – not from the police and not from anyone else. I personally have never been a victim of police violence, but I’ve witnessed other members of the community who have been.”
Maya Tzagay, a 19-year-old soldier, from Netanya, who was born in Israel toldHa’aretz that there are too many instances of racism against the Ethiopian community. “We kept quiet and kept quiet, and because of that, people who were victims of police violence ended up killing themselves,” she said. “The boy who was beat up last week, you can see on the video that he didn’t do anything. He was beaten up for nothing, and it’s really enraging.”
“What we’re doing now has nothing to do with what’s going on in Baltimore. They have their issues. We have ours. But we understand them – we both suffer from racism. There, it’s more extreme. People were murdered by police. Here they just got beaten up. Who knows? Maybe somebody was killed by police here, and we don’t even know about it,” continued.
“In any event, we will not be silent any longer. It can’t be that our blood is only good for fighting wars,” Tzagay told Ha’aretz.
In an interview with news website Ynet, 29-year-old Addis Sahlo recalled personal experiences of police brutality. “Me and three other friends arrived at a club and took a seat nearby to drink. Cops who arrived in the area asked us what we were doing,” he said.
Sahlo said that while they were talking to the police, there was a brawl not far from them that involved some young men of Ethiopian descent. “The cops ran over but they managed to escape,” he said. “The police officers, who were probably pissed off, came back in our direction, kicked out bottle and began cursing at us.”
The police officers blamed the brawl on the group, Sahlo said, calling them “stinking Sudanese.”
“They claimed out ethnicity is responsible for all the problems and that our women were sluts. And they started to beat us,” he recalled.