Ethiopians: We have never been treated equally

In aftermath of shooting of Ethiopian-Israeli by police, community cries ‘Black lives matter.’

July 3, 2019 05:12
3 minute read.
Ethiopian Israelis protest in Haifa on Monday

Ethiopian Israelis protest in Haifa on Monday. (photo credit: SHAKED KARABELNICOFF)

Ethiopians across the country took to the streets in protest and pain following the shooting incident Sunday night that killed Ethiopian-Israeli Solomon Tekah.

It was not a protest about this specific shooting incident, said members of the community, but a cry that racism is a real and big issue in Israeli society.

“This type of racism didn’t just start yesterday, it’s been alive since before our ancestors got here,” Naftali Aklum, an Ethiopian-Israeli who runs educational workshops on the history of his community, told The Jerusalem Post. He said that Ethiopian Jews “walked over 300 miles from Ethiopia to Sudan, stayed in refugee camps, lost 4,000 Ethiopians on the way and when they finally made it to Israel, this is how they treated us.”

Despite their desires to integrate fully into society, Aklum said Israelis have never treated them as equals because of the color of their skin.

He noted that racism has been linked to police brutality for as long as he can remember. He pointed to a comment made in 2016 by the previous police chief, Roni Alsheich, in which he said it was natural for police officers to be more suspicious of Ethiopians.

“When your chief is normalizing racism, it allows other policeman to do it too, and that’s why a young man was shot and killed this Sunday,” he said.

Kassahun Shiferaw, an Ethiopian-Israeli social activist, told the Post that the Ethiopian community is in shock over Tekah’s death since the last incident occurred so recently.

“It hasn’t even been six months since the last [Ethiopian-Israeli] was shot,” he explained, referring to Yehuda Biadga, a 24-year-old who was shot and killed by a policeman in January. “We haven’t stopped mourning Yehuda; how can it be? Of course, it happened again, nothing is being done.”

As such, Aklum said the community has lost faith in the police.

“It’s disappointing to know that when Ethiopian-Israelis fight in combat units, we are going to protect our country, the country that we love, the only one we have,” he continued. “But when you get home, you know that no one will protect you. Instead, the police that are supposed to protect you are killing your brothers and sisters.”

This is a feeling that is echoed by Shiferaw, who talked about his experiences as a combat soldier.

“I fought in war and I wasn’t scared then... the real fright is on the streets of my own neighborhood,” he said. “Who will be next? My brother? Cousin? Me?”

Aklum said that incidents of police brutality or even bias impact the self-esteem of Ethiopian-Israeli youth.

“We feel that our lives are not worth anything,” he told the Post. “I can tell you that there are a lot of youths that are afraid to go outside and meet police. We experience racism every day, some places won’t accept Ethiopian workers, let Ethiopians rent a house or enter a bar on the weekend.”

And he said he feels that the government is doing nearly nothing about it.

“It starts with education, no one is teaching about Ethiopian Jews, what we did, or how we came to Israel,” he explained. “Not one person from the government was at Solomon’s funeral today, what does that tell you?”

For Aklum, the saddest part is thinking about his family in Ethiopia who dreamed about coming to Israel.

“There is a community here that is suffering, we are raising our voice and saying we need help, we want to live here; there are moms and dads that are afraid when their kids are out, it’s 2019,” he continued. “This is not what our parents dreamed about when they thought of Jerusalem.”

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