Thousands gathered to protest police brutality against the Ethiopian-Israeli community, blocking the Ayalon highway during a demonstration in central Tel Aviv Wednesday.
The protest was called after Yehuda Biadga, 24, was shot and killed earlier this month after he rushed at a police officer. Biadga’s family said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The police officer who shot him was put on leave last week, but police said that he felt a fear for his life and that the decision to shoot was unrelated to Biadga’s heritage.
Demonstrators gathered in the Azrieli Junction marching towards Rabin Square, and some went on to the Ayalon Highway to block traffic.
Some chanted “violent cops belong in prison” and “Erdan go home,” a reference to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. Demonstrators carried signs with messages like “Racism? Not in my country,” “enough violence,” and “police are murdering Beta Yisrael,” a name for the Ethiopian Jewish community. Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata called the protest “a just struggle for equality and against racism and discrimination.”
The protest’s organizers seemed intent on making it clear that their problem is not with Israel as a whole.
“We have no other country,” one speaker, who was not introduced by name, said into a microphone. “This country is wonderful. We don’t have a problem with the country, we have a problem with the police. They are against our community.”
Another said “it doesn’t matter whether we’re Ethiopian or Moroccan or Russian or American. It doesn’t matter where they came from, our parents suffered from antisemitism abroad. We came to Israel to be free, and then we found racism here, among us. We must uproot it from Israeli society.”
A group of Keisim – religious leaders in the Ethiopian Jewish community – took the stage at Rabin Square, and one said that they are “proud Jews and Zionists. We are proud of your behavior in the demonstration and to be part of Israeli society. We will fight racism peacefully like our fathers taught us.”
Protest leaders repeatedly called for the demonstrators to stay together and avoid violence.
Zehava, a demonstrator from Hadera, told The Jerusalem Post that she wants the police to investigate Biadga’s killing, which she called murder.
“Mothers are afraid to call the police,” she said. “They’re supposed to protect us, but the results speak for themselves.”
She lamented that “no one pays attention or listens” to the Ethiopian community. “They close their doors like it has nothing to do with them. We came here to make our shouts heard.”
Zehava wore a shirt with a drawing of Avera Mengistu, the mentally ill Israeli of Ethiopian descent
who crossed into Gaza in 2014 and has been held captive by Hamas since then.
Mengistu was a recurring theme in the protesters’ signs and chants, calling for him to be freed.
Activists from Meretz and members of the Hanoar Halomed Vehaoved youth group took part in the demonstrations, among others. About a quarter of the participants appeared to not be of Ethiopian descent.
Many demonstrators filmed the proceedings with their phones, after organizers called for them to document what happened in case there were scuffles with police.
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