A protest against racism and police brutality led by Ethiopian Israelis became violent in Tel Aviv on Monday night, as police and protesters clashed, leaving several people hurt and resulting in at least 17 arrests.
It is unclear exactly how the clashes started, but they began outside the Landwer Café on Ibn Gvirol Street across from Rabin Square.
About 200 protesters were gathered on the street next to the café, and at some point began crowding the premises, which was full of diners. Police pushed in, a fracas started, and protesters began throwing plastic bottles and other projectiles at police, as glasses and plates began shattering on the pavement.
The arrests and clashes continued into the square, though by around 9:30 things had calmed down and a group of protesters began holding a vigil in the square, saying they wouldn’t leave until those arrested by police were released.
The clashes began at the same spot where a protest was held in late April against police brutality and racism, during which dozens of people were arrested and dozens more injured, the majority of them police.
The clashes on Monday came at the end of a peaceful protest march, during which hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters walked through Tel Aviv to protest against racism and police brutality, hours after police issued the findings of an internal police committee on issues related to the Ethiopian-Israeli community.
Protest leader Meni Yaso said that for his community, nothing had changed since they first took to the streets in the protest in late April, after video emerged of a police officer assaulting an IDF soldier of Ethiopian descent.
Yaso said that he and others were particularly irate and insulted by the decision by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein last Sunday to close the criminal case against the police officer who was caught on tape assaulting soldier Damas Pakada, saying that he had accepted the recommendations of Justice Ministry investigators that Pakada had used force and that the officer had acted correctly.
“What happened with the attorney-general last week proved that we must keep protesting.
All of Israel saw the violence used by that cop, and this [Weinstein’s decision] was a decision made against an entire segment of the population.”
He added that while Weinstein’s decision most directly affected Ethiopian Israelis, “racism is a ticking time bomb for all of Israeli society.”
A couple of hours before the protest began, the Israel Police sent out a press release saying that a special committee they set up in April along with members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community had issued its findings on number of issues.
Police said that the committee had checked around 300 cases involving juveniles who had complained of mistreatment by police during their arrests.
Police said that they found no evidence of discrimination or infringement of rights in any of those cases, though they added that in 64 of the cases they determined that there was no reason to continue the criminal cases against the juveniles in question.
Police said the committee also determined that Amharic speakers should be deployed at every police station or office in areas with high numbers of Ethiopian Israelis. In addition, they said the committee set the goal for police to increase by 50 percent the number of Ethiopian Israelis who serve in the police force, a goal to be met by 2019. They currently number 663, or 2.3% of the police force, according to police figures. That is slightly higher than their percentage of the general population, which is around 2%.
At the march on Monday, the protesters first gathered across from the Azrieli Mall on Kaplan Street, blocking the road in both directions. They then made their way by foot to Rabin Square.
Before the march began, protesters gathered in a park on Kaplan Street, where speakers related stories of abuse suffered by them or relatives at the hands of police. In each case, they finished their remarks by saying, “This is our country; we have nowhere else to go.”
Shahar Mula took the floor and said that racism “isn’t something only the youth feel; we all suffer from it. It’s time for all of the Israeli public to do something about it, and the change starts at home.”
Last Tuesday, MK Abraham Naguise (Likud), an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, said in a Knesset committee meeting that Israel should open a parliamentary inquiry into police treatment of Ethiopian Israelis and immigrants in general, saying that the Ethiopian community in Israel has lost all faith in the establishment.
Protesters said Monday they will continue their efforts until they see results on the ground, and that more protests should be expected.