A protester confronts a policeman during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on July 2 over the shooting death of 19-year-old Ethiopian- Israeli Solomon Tekah.
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
The thousands of young Ethiopian-Israelis who descended on Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Center on Tuesday night July 2 were in a militant mood, determined to get their message across: “This Stops Now!”
They blocked off the busy intersection, bringing Tel Aviv rush-hour traffic to a standstill, two days after 19-year-old Solomon Tekah had been shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in the Haifa Bay city of Kiryat Haim.
The Azrieli protest was one of dozens of simultaneous demonstrations across the country, as angry Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers took to the streets to vent their frustration at the 11th killing of a member of their community at the hands of the police in the last decade.
The busy intersection has been closed by different protesters on numerous occasions over recent years, but the participants, whether the disabled or LGBT protesters campaigning for surrogacy rights, inevitably dispersed after a few hours having made their point and causing sufficient disruption to make the TV news headlines.
On the night of July 2, there was anger in the air, fueled by years of perceived discrimination and police racism.
Eager to avoid confrontation, the police deliberately adopted a low profile, allowing the demonstrators to close off the Hashalom interchange and the main Ayalon highway, even though the resulting gridlock confined thousands of motorists to sitting in traffic jams for hours on end.
“A violent policeman belongs inside prison” and “Ethiopian lives matter” the protesters chanted.
Some drivers urged the crowd to be allowed through, claiming they needed medical treatment at hospitals or were on their way to a wedding. But the protesters rejected all such requests, saying young Ethiopian-Israelis suffer worse inconvenience every single day due to racism and being targeted by the police, and no one cares.
After 10 p.m., the protest turned violent.
A car that had been vandalized earlier in the evening after trying to break through the protesters’ cordon was torched. Some youths started throwing stones and petrol bombs at police, and similar clashes occurred at other protest locations across the country.
The policed decided to act. Mounted police galloped into the crowd, and before the demonstrators had time to regroup, riot police in full battle gear charged the crowd, throwing dozens of stun grenades and firing tear gas.
Central Tel Aviv had never witnessed anything like this.
Those motorists stuck in traffic jams – many of whom had expressed sympathy for the protesters despite the inconvenience they were suffering – watched in disbelief.
Eventually the crowds dispersed and the roads were reopened just before midnight.
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