The High Court of Justice upheld on Wednesday the attorney-general’s decision to give a lenient plea deal to a policeman who beat an Ethiopian soldier, in an infamous April 2015 incident caught on video.
The policeman had petitioned the High Court to order Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to close the file with no consequences, while the soldier had petitioned for a harsh indictment.
In January 2017, Mandelblit informed the police officer that he would likely be indicted for beating Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Damas Pakada in Holon – a shocking reversal of his predecessor Yehuda Weinstein’s June 2015 decision to close the case.
Weinstein had said that Pakada had been at least partially at fault for the altercation and had cleared both sides of any charges.
In contrast, Mandelblit eventually offered the policeman a lenient plea deal in which he would receive an unspecified penalty, but would not be indicted and would not face jail time.
Pakada and his lawyer have said that the attack was “an incidence of racism-motivated police violence,” adding that it was “among the most shocking seen in Israel and recent times.”
Video footage of the April 2015 assault by the police officer on Pakada quickly went viral, causing outrage within Israel’s marginalized Ethiopian community and beyond.
Shortly after the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting with Pakada to personally apologize. The officer responsible for the beating was suspended after the video, taken by a witness, was posted online.
In the video, Pakada can be seen walking a bike on a residential street the police had blocked off because of a suspicious package.
The soldier tries to keep walking and is pushed back once, and then a second time before the officer knees him, punches him in the face and momentarily puts his hands around his neck. The soldier appears to throw a punch at the officer after he was struck.
The officer and a police volunteer then throw him to the ground in a vacant lot and continue to push him as he gets to his feet and refuses to stay down. At the end of the video, after more officers come and break up the fracas, the soldier can be seen picking up a rock and rearing back as if to throw it at the officer, who appears to have his hand on his sidearm. He drops the rock and the video cuts out.
The incident triggered violent demonstrations in cities across Israel, with the largest in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. There the anti-police brutality protest by Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent spun out of control, with attendees throwing rocks and bottles at police, who fired stun grenades and charged the square repeatedly on horseback.
Daniel K. Eisenbud contributed to this report.