Israeli-Ethiopian protesters return to Tel Aviv to rally against police brutality, racism

A couple hundred demonstrators participant in relatively calm protest compared to violent outburst seen weeks earlier at Rabin Square.

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May 18, 2015 20:36
3 minute read.
ethiopian protest

Demonstrators in Tel Aviv gather to protest racism and police brutality, May 18, 2015. (photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)

have not been met, Ethiopian- Israeli protesters returned to Tel Aviv on Monday, demanding solutions to what they say is systemic discrimination in Israel in general and abuse at the hands of police.

“We’re here to show that the protests didn’t achieve any results and that we’ll continue. It’s been 30 years and our demands haven’t been met,” activist Inbar Bugale said Monday.

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She added that the fact that the Israel Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino fired the police officer seen beating Ethiopian-Israeli IDF soldier Damas Pakada in a video that sparked the protests did not sway demonstrators, saying “He needs to be in jail, not fired.”

Bugale has been cast as a leader of the movement. On Monday she was trailed by a film crew throughout the protest and at a press conference held by activists last week in Tel Aviv she was one of only two that spoke, and was the one to issue the group’s list of demands. These included dropping charges against all those indicted during the rioting two weeks ago, the jailing of the offending cop, and a comprehensive state plan to deal with the problems facing the Ethiopian-Israeli community. She also called for organizers to cancel demonstrations planned for this week to show solidarity with the police, calling them “incitement.”

The protests two weeks ago in Tel Aviv deteriorated into a level of mayhem that had not been seen at a protest in the city. Rioters at Rabin Square threw bottles and rocks at police, who fired stun grenades and deployed water cannons, while sending officers charging into the crowd on horseback. By the end of the night dozens had been arrested and at least 40 people were lightly wounded, more than half of them police.

This Monday’s protest was a far cry from the scene that gripped Tel Aviv and the country weeks earlier. Only a couple hundred protesters took part, and rather than blocking off the Ayalon Freeway for two hours during peak traffic, they blocked Rothschild Boulevard, well after rush hour, and later a portion of Ibn Gvirol Boulevard.

Tel Aviv policemen were out in force nonetheless, and in the afternoon the district issued a statement saying it was “well-equipped for any attempt to break the law and disrupt public order” and that they would arrest those breaking the law and seek to expedite the legal process against them.

Large contingents of YASSAM riot police were seen deployed across the center of town and plainclothesmen congregated in large groups at cafes up and down Rothschild Boulevard and elsewhere.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Rothschild Boulevard, protester Avraham Yayo said that, as bad as police brutality is, it is just a symptom of a wider series of social failings regarding the Ethiopian community in Israel.

“The police are only part of a series of problems dealing with racism and all people who suffer from racism in Israel need to be here with us,” Yayo said, adding, “No one will silence us, we’re done being nice.”

The latter was a common theme, repeated in the chants of “no more, this is a new generation,” the implication apparently that the younger generation born and raised in Israel knows that they have to make noise if they want to be heard.

Rahamim Elazar, 57, said he agree with that assertion. A veteran Ethiopian Israeli who arrived in 1974, he was an activist at protests held by the community decades earlier and is today a broadcaster for Amharic programming on Israel Radio.

“They know their rights and they know that to get something they need to demand it,” Elazar said of the current generation.

He said also that in his day there were clashes between protesters and police, but that the current generation comprises native-born Israelis who enjoy the nightlife, where they encounter police more, creating more chances of friction.

Though it was on a far smaller scale, the protest brought to mind somewhat the social justice protests of the summer of 2011, which were also centered on Rothschild Boulevard. The protesters borrowed some of the chants, including “The people demand social justice” and also added their own twist, calling on Israelis comfortable at home to “get down off your balcony, racism is out of control.”

In comments made Monday, Danino said that the police are holding a “fruitful” dialogue with leaders of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, “whose purpose is to draw them closer and improve the trust between police and the community.”

He added that police are listening to all of their grievances and that “some of them are justified.”


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