A comprehensive plan to deal with various problems facing the Ethiopian community will be brought to the new government in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Monday after a three-hour meeting between Netanyahu, government officials and representatives of the community.
Netanyahu will chair an interministerial committee mandated with following up on implementation of the program that has been formulated over the last year and is meant to provide solutions to at least part of the problems.
In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the police will examine charges of discriminatory police policy against the community, and will work “to uproot this phenomenon.”
Netanyahu met with Damas Pakada, the Israeli Ethiopian soldier beaten by police officers last week, and told him that perhaps some good can come out of the very bad experience.
“With God’s help,” replied the soldier.
Netanyahu met Pakada in his office prior to convening the larger meeting between representatives of the Ethiopian- Israeli community and top government officials.
Pakada’s beating two weeks ago, captured on video, triggered the recent anti-racist protests that turned violent on Thursday night in Jerusalem and on Sunday evening in Tel Aviv.
Recording of police beating IDF soldier
Netanyahu told the uniformed Pakada that he was shocked by the video.
“We don’t accept this, the police is dealing with it, and we need to change things,” he said. Netanyahu praised Pakada for saying that he is opposed to the violence, saying: “This is the statement of a leader.”
Netanyahu called Pakada a “model soldier” who is serving as an example to others through his call to stop the violence and also through his demands that Israel not accept racist attitudes, inflammatory rhetoric, looking down on people or the beating of an IDF soldier.
The prime minister promised that the police will do what it needs to do to “fix itself,” and that “we must fix Israeli society.”
Netanyahu said that norms have to be changed inside the society, and that there are “deep problems” that need to be resolved. He added that the recent outburst of anger by the Ethiopian community is the result of genuine distress.
“We will fight this together.
Much work remains to be done but this is the right direction,” he said.
Pakada said that he is in favor of the recent protests and would have participated were he not in the army.
“But I am opposed to the violence, directed at the police and the civilians,” he said. “I am pained by what is happening, and the confrontations between the police and the civilians.”
Pakada told the prime minister that his mother died four years ago, and that his father passed away 15 years ago while the family was still in Ethiopia.
He lives with his brother, who is serving as a computer services technician in the air force.
“For many years the Ethiopian community dreamed of coming to Israel,” he said. “We are trying the best we can to integrate into Israeli society, so they will recognize us. The Ethiopian community came to Israel via Sudan and lost many loved ones. The time has come for us to unite; we didn’t come here to fight. I hope you will act against discrimination and racism.”
Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino told Pakada that he is sorry for the incident, and that when he saw the video he decided to immediately dismiss the policeman.
“Usually this involves a long process, but in this instance we did not wait,” he said.
Late Sunday night, Danino said police would open a special investigative team in order to bring to justice those who rioted.
“Our patience has run out. Violent groups exploited our restraint in order to carry out acts of vandalism,” he said.
Some 19 protesters arrested during the rioting on Sunday night were brought to court in Tel Aviv for a remand extension Monday afternoon.
Twelve were ordered kept in custody for another 24 hours, while three were given 48 hour remands, and five released with restrictions.
Police said Monday that their total number of injured officers stood at 47, including some suffering from blows to the head and one with a broken jaw. All were lightly injured and released from hospital by Monday afternoon.
That number is significantly higher than the one released by Magen David Adom paramedics Sunday night, who said they treated a total of 41 people, around half of them civilians.
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin also addressed the situation, saying that the country did not pay sufficient attention to the community’s distress.
“We didn’t see. We didn’t listen,” he said.
Some of the best and the brightest of the nation’s youth were among the demonstrators, he noted – outstanding students and soldiers who had completed their army service.
“We must give them answers,” he said.
At the same time, Rivlin continued, it must be said loud and clear that while protest is a legitimate and vital tool of democracy, violence is not acceptable and offers no solution.
The president commended both the police and the protesters for demonstrating control, and said a small, wild and violent group must not be permitted to silence a legitimate cry.
“We are not strangers to each other; we are brothers,” he stated, urging the elimination of incitement. “We are one people, citizens of Israel, and Israel belongs to us all.”Ben Hartman and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.