Ethiopians clash with police; 8 hurt

Four policemen injured as Ethiopians protest Health Ministry blood ban.

ethiopians protest 298 a (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopians protest 298 a
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
What was meant to be a peaceful rally for Ethiopian rights turned violent Monday, when demonstrators clashed with police in front of the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, leaving 19 people injured. More than 200 people gathered in front of the government compound to protest discrimination against Ethiopians. The boiling point, they said, was a recent decision by the Health Ministry to discard donated Ethiopian blood. "We won't allow our blood to be spilled like this. The Torah says that blood is the soul. How can this country treat us, fellow Jews, this way?" said Gadi Yabarken, one of the protest's organizers. "We will not leave unless the prime minister agrees to meet with us." While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused to meet with the protesters, Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim met with a small group of their representatives and promised to approach Olmert to ask him to create a ministerial committee dedicated to the Ethiopian community. Boim also promised to work for the release the five activists who were arrested during the protest. The only politician to address the protest was MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). "I feel your pain. A country that discriminates against Ethiopian Jews is a racist country," said Cohen, who added that he would raise the issue in the Knesset plenum. Demonstrators answered Cohen's speech with shouts that they were "sick of the false promises" of politicians. Yabarken said the government had not upheld any of its promises to advance Ethiopian rights or deal with problems such as raising the salaries of Ethiopian religious leaders to match other rabbis, expand Falash Mura immigration or increase affirmative-action programs. "These problems have been building up for some time, but to find out that they will throw our blood away, for no reason other than racist discrimination, that is too much to bear," Yabarken said. A spokeswoman for the Health Ministry said that all blood donors who have been in countries such as Ethiopia, where AIDS is endemic, cannot donate blood. She added that the decision to discard the blood was not racist, but medical. "I guarantee you that more than half of the protesters here have never been to Ethiopia, and I would like the Health Ministry to explain why it can't check where we have been and what kind of danger we pose before it discards our blood," said Kasa Bayisin. Last year, Bayisin traveled to the US with a group of representatives from the United Jewish Communities to discuss the situation of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Carrying drums and colorful banners, the protesters began their march at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Once they reached the Health Ministry, a group of protesters broke from the group and charged towards the ministry. One protester was injured when a mounted policeman trampled him, and another was injured when a driver lost patience with the protesters blocking the street and drove directly into the crowd. Four policemen and 13 protesters were injured in direct clashes between the two groups. A small group of protesters remained in front of the Health Ministry late Monday night, telling officials there that they would not leave until they met with the prime minister.