Violent Clashes At Protest By Ethiopian Jews
Twelve protesters and 57 police officers have been injured in Tel Aviv after some of the most violent scenes in the city’s history.
Thousands of people gathered in the city centre to protest against alleged police brutality and racism following the emergence of video footage apparently showing an Israeli Defence Force soldier of Ethiopian origin being assaulted by police.
The footage, which was filmed on 26 April, shows officers forcing Damas Pakada to the ground and hitting him.
The officers alleged that Mr Pakada assaulted them first, but the video shows no sign of aggression on his part.
When senior officers saw the video, Mr Pakada was released without charge and both of the policemen in the video were suspended by their force.
Play video “Brutality Video Sparks Violence”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld has confirmed that one officer has now been fired.
The planned demonstration, which had been organised by the Ethiopian Jewish community, had started peacefully but turned physical after protesters overturned a marked police car in the city.
Authorities deployed water cannon, smoke bombs and horses in Rabin Square to disperse demonstrators as they chanted “a violent cop should be in jail”.
One demonstrator shouted: “Why aren’t we allowed to have a good life? If we are okay, this will mean that the Israeli people will be okay, too.”
Another protester, anthropology professor Dr Gadi Ben Ezer, said: “The discrimination of Ethiopians is going on everywhere and you have to stop it for our sake, not for the Ethiopian people’s sake alone, it’s us, it’s not them.”
More than 40 protesters were arrested by police.
Speaking after clashes between police and protesters, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying: “All claims will be looked into but there is no place for violence and such disturbances.”
Mr Netanyahu has said he will break off from negotiations on forming a new coalition government in the country to meet with Ethiopian activists and IDF soldier Mr Pakada.
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin has opened a meeting on the issue, referencing “the pain, distress and anger” among Israelis of Ethiopian origin.
He said: “The protesters, in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, revealed an open and raw wound at the heart of Israeli society. The pain of a community crying out over a sense of discrimination, racism, and of being unanswered.
“We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough.”
But he also warned: “Protests are an essential tool in democracy, but violence is neither the way nor the solution.”