Angered by the killing of Solomon Tekah on Sunday, thousands of protesters from the Ethiopian-Israeli community and others took to major roads and junctions on Tuesday to protest excessive police force directed at the community. At the end of the day of violence, Police were reporting that some 47 officers were wounded and 60 people arrested during the protests.
The country was brought to a standstill, with some of the biggest highways, such as the Trans-Israel Highway and Route 4, the Coastal Road and the Ayalon all suffering closures in part, leading to massive traffic jams around the country. On the 431 highway close to Ramle a car being driven at high speed hit a protestor without stopping. The protestor was taken to hospital in moderate condition.
The police said that they initially refrained from dispersing the protests and street blockades, but that when the protests became violent, including the throwing of stones, petrol bombs, burning tires and attacks against police personnel, they were forced to act.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on protestors to halt blocking the roads, saying that he knew there were “problems that still need to be solved” which he said would be addressed, but that the rule of law must be preserved.
In some locations where protesters blocked the roads, there was a noticeable absence of police and of any efforts to remove the protesters for several hours, apparently out of a concern not to create further confrontation between the Ethiopian-Israeli community and the police.
In other locations however, such as Kiryat Ata, protesters threw stones and set fire to a vehicle and tires, and 19 protesters were arrested. Fires were set at other junctions as well.
In Kiryat Ata, a vehicle was set ablaze at a major junction, while the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv was blocked by protesters. The Yokne’am junction was also blocked as well as other roads in Netanya, Ashkelon, Jerusalem and many other locations during the evening.
The police said on Tuesday its investigation into the circumstances in which 18-year-old Tekah was killed was being conducted in a “thorough and comprehensive” manner, although the police statement said the court had issued a gag-order over details of the inquest.
Tekah was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer on Sunday.
The police and the lawyer of the police officer involved has claimed that his life had been endangered by rocks thrown by youths, while members of the Ethiopian community have asserted that Tekah’s death is the latest in a series of incidents of excessive police force against the community.
According to Walla, in a call to the 100 emergency police line made by the officer four minutes before he shot Tekah, he reported that stones were being thrown at him and that he was being attacked, and he requested urgent police assistance.
The policeman himself was injured during the incident and was treated and released Monday night from the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa.
Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Tekah in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Haim, where Tekah’s father spoke tearfully of his son and demanded an independent investigation into his death.
With heart-wrenching words, interpreted from Amharic by a friend of the family, Solomon’s father, Varkah Tekah, asked his son for forgiveness for not being there to defend him.
“We want to request forgiveness from Solomon,” he said tearfully. “We weren’t there to defend him when the police killed him.
“We didn’t come to Israel for our children to be murdered. We will not pay the expensive price of our children dying young. Why are we burying a child?
“This man is a murderer,” said Tekah’s father of the officer who killed him. “How did he kill my son in cold blood? He was a child.”
Tekah said specifically that the body to carry out the investigation should not be the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP), which the Ethiopian-Israeli community has accused of sweeping under the carpet incidents of police violence against it.
“We came [to Israel] because of Zionism, this is also our country, we are soldiers and police officers and we never killed anyone in cold blood. We demand that justice and the law is done.”
During the funeral procession Tekah fainted and required medical assistance.
Numerous members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community have condemned the DIP for failing to punish other officers who have in the past killed members of the community, or acted with excessive force towards them.
MK Gadi Yevarkan – who is from the Ethiopian-Israeli community and gave a eulogy at the funeral – said it was “impossible to describe” the sadness he felt, and said he could not offer words of hope.
“Everything is not okay, nothing is okay,” he said. “I want to promise that Solomon is the last one, but I think we will meet again at another funeral.
“The people who should give eulogies are the leaders of the country. Every mother [from the Ethiopian-Israeli community] worries whenever her children go out at night that they will encounter a police officer. Every mother in Israel should therefore go and protest Solomon’s death.”
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