By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Around 1,000 Ethiopian Israelis gathered outside national police headquarters in the capital to protest the beating of IDF soldier earlier this week.
‘You do reserve duty…so do I…I was in [Operation] Defensive Shield,” shouted a protester at a stern Border Policeman. “We conquered Jerusalem and united the city, for this? To build a racist police state,” asked a middle-aged woman to 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!”
More than a thousand protesters arrived in the capital on Thursday to demonstrate against the Israeli police. The event was triggered by a film earlier this week that showed two policemen in Holon assaulting an Ethiopian IDF soldier in an apparently unprovoked attack. The Israeli police condemned the assault when the video emerged and suspended the officer pending an investigation. But the video comes on the heels of other reported beatings of Ethiopians, 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” announced a protest at four in the afternoon.
The protest which began peacefully turned violent in the evening when the protesters began to throw stones and glass bottles at police. Two police officers were injured by stones who were trying to disperse the protest using tear gas.
The Jerusalem municipality said it would not allow the protesters to continue to disturb the peace.
Channel Two reported that eight protesters were injured in the confrontation with police. The news outlet reported that the demonstrators were attempting to march towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat arrived at the protest to try to defuse tensions.
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 that attended those events to protest here?” 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 block 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 protestors 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 kesim or religious leaders from Yavne, came to show support. Kes Adisu said he knew of many examples of youth being beaten by police.
“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 police who did it must receive prison time.” His friend, one of a handful of non-Ethiopians present agreed, “it’s a racist society.”
Other onlookers, such as Haredim and Arabs who had gotten out of school in Sheikh Jarrah, agreed that society must confront the problem. “They did it to Moroccans, we are with you,” said a driver who, despite being stuck for an hour in traffic, felt solidarity.
At the large intersection of Levi Eshkol and Route 1, former Knesset Member Pnina Tamano-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,” Tamano-Shata said.