Protesters blocked major highways and battled with police in clashes that were described as “unprecedented” on Tuesday night.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
Solomon Teka, 18, a member of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community, was shot to death on Sunday. But the country only began to feel the repercussions on Tuesday. Following his funeral in the city of Haifa, protesters swept the country, blocking major highways and battling with police in clashes that were described as “unprecedented.”
By Wednesday morning, police had arrested 136 people. Over 50-100 policemen were wounded. Five people were taken to the hospital in moderate condition. Nineteen vehicles were damaged, including a number of ambulances.
Protests took place in Tel Aviv, Afula, Haifa, Kiryat Ata, Netanya, and other places. Protests are planned throughout the week in conjunction with shiva, an initial Jewish mourning period, reports say.
Police were surprised by the force of the protests, Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said in an interview with the Ynet news site on Wednesday.
“The policemen in the area said they do not remember violence like yesterday: throwing Molotov cocktails, trying to set fire to police stations, throwing large stones at police and attacking ambulances, paramedics and fire trucks,” Erdan said.
However, he said the police would not allow the road-blocking to continue again, though he was short on specifics as to how the police could prevents thousands of people from descending on Israel’s highways and junctions, saying only that the police would act quicker and with greater numbers next time.
Anger has been building among Ethiopian Jews for years now over perceived discrimination by the police. It finally boiled over after Sunday’s shooting.
The community says the shooting was a cold-blooded killing. “We didn’t come to this country for them to murder our sons,” said Solomon’s father at the funeral, which hundreds attended.
The policeman who fired said he was an imminent danger, but his version is contradicted by at least one eyewitness who said the policeman was about 90 feet away when he fired and that Teka posed no threat.
The bullet, according to police, was fired at the ground as a warning shot and bounced, striking Teka in the chest. A coroner’s report bears this out, reports say.
Accident or not, there have been enough incidents of “over-policing” that Ethiopians say they don’t feel safe in Israel. Community activists often say that the police are “light on the trigger” when it comes to Ethiopians.
A relative of Teka, Itay Ashatu, told a major Israeli daily, “It’s hard to be black in Israel and walk around feeling secure.”
“Parents aren’t afraid of road accidents or terrorists, they are afraid of policemen. There’s no faith in any system, there’s no justice,” he told the paper.
Sunday’s shooting follows closely on the heels of another in January, when 24-year-old Yehuda Biadga was shot and killed by police while he wielded a knife on the street.
A former combat engineer in the IDF, his family says he suffered from post-traumatic stress. They warned the police of his condition and ironically hoped they would protect him, reports said at the time.
That killing, too, led to protests though not of the level seen on Tuesday.
Israeli politicians made appeals for calm. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the demonstrators, said, “I know that there are problems that still need to be resolved. We have worked hard and we must work harder to solve them, but I ask you for one thing – stop the roadblocks. We are a state of law. We will solve the problems together while respecting the law.”
President Reuven Rivlin also called for calm, tweeting “We are brothers and sisters. We came here, all of us, to our homeland, which is home for every one of us, and we are all equal in it.”
Some activists within the community also said it was time for restraint as their message was received. “We all experience daily hardships of racism everywhere and we made a lot of noise,” said one activist, website Walla! reports. “But if we want to lead real change then it cannot be in a way that will lead to fatalities in demonstrations, too.”
There is also a question of whether the violence is effective at convincing average Israelis of the justice of their cause. “My mother was stuck for four hours trying to get to a family wedding. She never got through and got home at 2:00 a.m.,” one Israeli told World Israel News, “I’m for the Ethiopians. But there’s a limit.”