Caught on camera

A Tel Aviv restaurant owner’s violent encounter with police.

Tsehaye Teame tells his story to Channel 2 News (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tsehaye Teame tells his story to Channel 2 News
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tsehaye Teame had closed up shop for the night when he heard loud, forceful banging on the door of his restaurant. He scrambled to look for the key, but police waiting on the other side were growing impatient, he says.
“They pushed me down. One officer kicked me in the leg and knocked me down. I asked him ‘What are you doing?’ and he gave me another smack,” says Teame. “I didn’t respond; I didn’t understand.”
It’s been 19 years since Teame moved to Israel from Eritrea and obtained citizenship after marrying his Jewish-Ethiopian wife. He began working at restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, eventually deciding to open his own place.
Although Teame is an Israeli citizen, the officers assumed he was a foreigner, demanding to see his visa as they beat him. He hadn’t run into any problems with law enforcement before, much less through a violent encounter.
“I was in shock. I didn’t understand why he was doing it,” he recounts. “I was really traumatized. I didn’t go home; I was swollen in the face.”
The incident occurred early last month and was caught on camera, showing police storming the building and kicking a few customers out. As Teame was thrown to the ground and surrounded by the officers, he repeatedly asked them why they were attacking him. Once they realized that he was an Israeli citizen, they backed away. Afterward they talked outside, where Teame demanded an explanation for their actions. He says that no clear reason was given, and the last thing he was told was to “be a good boy.”
Teame waited a week after the altercation to file a formal complaint with the local police department’s internal investigations office, but he says he isn’t confident that the officers who attacked him will face any repercussions. Upon being contacted by Metro, the Tel Aviv Police Department did not provide any comments on the issue.
This attack is one of many that have been perpetrated against people who don’t fit the typical Israeli mold, says Dr. Gilad Liberman of the Weizmann Institute of Science. He adds that the Yasam, a specialized police unit that patrols the area where Teame’s restaurant is located, has a history of racism and abuse of power.
“This police unit is not here to defend civilians,” says Liberman. “When a policeman walks the street, he’s not someone who would make me feel secure because he’s around. He’s here to put pressure on people to beat random people.”
The individual attack on Teame is symptomatic of a larger problem within law enforcement, says Elliot Glassenburg, who works closely with minorities and asylum-seekers in Israel. Anti-immigrant language from government officials and policies that make life difficult for refugees to remain in Israel are part of a systematic targeting of minorities, Glassenburg believes.
“When a person is beaten, it shouldn’t matter what their citizenship or the color of their skin is; a human being is a human being,” he says. “The government of Israel needs to change its tone.”
The unexpected attack, according to Teame, was motivated primarily by racism. If he had been given the chance to move elsewhere when he decided to leave Eritrea, he says he would not have chosen to live in Israel.