The activist

Ethiopian Israelis took part in a protest in Tel Aviv on May 3 against police racism and brutality.

Ethiopian Israelis take part in a protest in Tel Aviv on May 3 against police racism and brutality (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ethiopian Israelis take part in a protest in Tel Aviv on May 3 against police racism and brutality
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two weeks ago, I participated in the Ethiopian community’s protest in Tel Aviv. Throughout the evening, I felt people were treating me like a terrorist, as if we weren’t standing in the middle of Tel Aviv. I was afraid that someone was going to shove me into a police car at any moment and that absolutely no one would care.
But at the same time, I now feel that nothing will go back to the way it’s been up until now.
No longer will the police be able to pretend that police brutality doesn’t happen, and that policemen don’t engage in racist profiling.
I’ve been hearing in public discourse complaints about the violence at the demonstration, that it was out of control. But I don’t agree.
What I do think is extreme is the years of the authorities’ systematic neglect and abuse of Israelis of Ethiopian origin. The video clip that went viral of IDF soldier Damas Pakada getting beaten up was just the last straw.
The demonstration was spontaneous and authentic, and that’s why there was violence.
Protests that are organized and orchestrated by leaders are artificial and embellished. Our pain and anger, on the other hand, might not be pretty, but at least they are real. It was the policemen who behaved outrageously that evening in Tel Aviv.
The number of policemen deployed that evening was excessive. There were dozens of police cars and trucks idling on the side of the road, ready to be filled with prisoners.
With my own eyes, I saw policemen who pounced on and started pummeling groups of Ethiopians for no reason. Even after everything had calmed down and we were just sitting on the ground in a circle in Rabin Square, the police intervened and forced us to evacuate the area. And they did this by spraying us directly with water cannons and throwing stun grenades at us as we sat peacefully in a circle.
I spent half of the evening taking cover from stun grenades and policemen on horseback, who I was afraid would trample me. At one point, I fell down and a policeman came to help me, but I thought he was going to hit me.
I screamed out in panic and covered my head with my hands. Violence is often involved when police come across Ethiopian Israelis. In this specific case, the policeman was trying to help me, but I was too afraid to let him.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that “an assessment of the situation would be made,” as if we had just survived another Operation Protective Edge. It’s about time he noticed that we exist.
Maybe now the Salmasa family of Binyamina will finally receive some information from the police internal affairs department about the death of their son, Yosef, whose body was found in a ravine. We believe that police abused him, and we demand that an investigation into the matter be opened.
Our children – the next generation that is born here in Israel – are forced to live with the reality that they are treated differently, as outsiders.
They know that they are different, and many of them go to separate schools just for Ethiopians and live in Ethiopian neighborhoods. Even in the army, they have a separate unit just for Ethiopians. And in order to go to college, they need to be accepted through a special committee that the Immigrant Absorption Ministry runs, even if they were born in the country.
Knowing that they will have to follow this predetermined path, that their destiny has already been sealed, is a problem for our community.
Israelis need to stop treating us like deviants.
It’s not a normal way to live. They need to stop with this patronizing attitude. We need to be able to make our own decisions.
We can turn over a new leaf today if we want. The Israel Police can make a new start.
It can clean house and decide that it will stop throwing stun grenades at us. We can start with the police commissioner making a public statement taking full responsibility for the body’s internal problems instead of pointing a finger at the Ethiopian community and our “lack of leadership.”
This isn’t a matter for cameras and proclamations.
We’re dealing here with the lives and deaths of real people who are Israeli citizens.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.