Jerusalem (CNN) The Ethiopian Jewish soldier at the center of a viral beating video that has sparked protests across Israel says he supports the anti-racism demonstrations, but condemns the violent clashes that erupted.
Cpl. Demas Fikadey, 21, told CNN he was a block away from his house in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, when he tried to cross the street. Fikadey says an officer stopped him from crossing, then grabbed his bike and cell phone. Fikadey says he urged the police officer not to use force, but by then, another officer had joined in.
The video shows the two officers push Fikadey to the ground and hold him down for approximately one minute before allowing him to stand up. The entire incident is caught on a nearby security camera, but the video has no sound.
“There’s no way to explain the feeling,” says Fikadey of the moment he was pushed down. “Only God and I know how I felt. First of all, it’s degrading because you’re a soldier — a soldier who is serving the country. You’re giving all of yourself, and it’s degrading.”
Israeli authorities say both officers have been dismissed, and the incident remains under investigation.
The video, posted online on April 26, set off protests across Israel from the Ethiopian Jewish community, which numbers approximately 140,000 people. In Jerusalem on Thursday night, nearly 1,000 demonstrators gathered for a largely peaceful protest. Small clashes occurred toward the end of the protest as the numbers dwindled.
Another protest followed on Sunday afternoon in Tel Aviv. Hundreds of protesters blocked off major roads, snarling traffic during rush hour. For hours, police and protesters showed restraint, working not to escalate an already tense situation.
But when the protest moved to Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv, clashes erupted. Protesters smashed shop windows and damaged police cars. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse the crowd, as what was a peaceful afternoon became a violent evening.
Authorities and Ethiopian leaders urged restraint, but it was well past midnight when the final protesters left Rabin Square. Police say 57 officers were injured and 43 protesters were arrested.
“I am for the demonstrations, but I am against violence, whether it’s on policemen or civilians,” Fikadey told CNN. “Nobody should get hurt. It’s a pity. But I am for the demonstrations. I am completely for them.”
The protests were not just about the video, but about what Ethiopians see as years of discrimination at the hands of police and authorities. The video was the tipping point. Fikadey and community leaders met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to ease the unrest in the community and begin to address the bigger issue of what Ethiopians see as discrimination.
“(Netanyahu) expressed interest in us, in the family, and the community,” says Fikadey. “I hope as prime minister, he will now do the right thing.”
After the meeting, Netanyahu released a statement saying he was stunned by what he saw in the video. He also commended Fikadey’s service in the Israel Defense Forces and his calls for restraint.
“I heard you say you are against violence. This is an important thing. It is a saying of a leader. You are a model soldier, and you give an example to many others,” said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said he recognizes a much bigger problem than a single viral video of a beating. “We also need to act in the realm of education in order to change the norms of society. There is a deep problem here that needs to be solved. The outburst is the result of a definite deficiency. We are fighting against it.”