Protest turns violent as Ethiopians, police clash

 

ISRAELI police fired stun grenades and tear gas at thousands of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants demonstrating outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem yesterday.

More than 50 demonstrators and policemen were injured. One of the immigrants was in a serious condition in hospital after taking blows to the head. A policeman was also seriously injured.

In a television interview given before the demonstrators had even dispersed, Jerusalem's police chief, Mr Aryeh Amit, described his men's performance as a "text book lesson" in crowd control. To eyewitnesses, it looked more like a text book lesson in stirring up protesters.

Yesterday's demonstration was called in protest at the revelation, in the Israeli media last week (reported in The Irish Times last Saturday), that the Israeli medical authorities routinely throw away blood donated by Ethiopian immigrants because of statistics showing Ethiopian Jews to be higher risk AIDS carriers than other Israelis.

When the news broke, Israel's Health Minister, Mr Ephraim Sneh, issued a bland apology for any offence caused, but said the policy was justified, given the medical risks, and insisted it would be maintained. However some reports indicated last night that this policy would be reversed.

But if Mr Sneh was assuming that the Ethiopians' reputation as the most placid of immigrant groups would mean the affair was swiftly forgotten, yesterday's demonstration proved him wrong.

Long frustrated by a sense of discrimination (their children are herded into their own classes at school, the army often gives them the most menial tasks, and many of the adults are consigned to dull jobs because of a lack of education) the throwing away of their blood was one indignity too many.

About 8,000 immigrants converged on the Prime Minister's office, as much to give public vent to their anger as to press for a change in policy. When police tried to move them on, they threw stones and then resisted water cannon fire and tear gas. Initially short of manpower, the police; then seemed to overreact - with Commander Amit claiming that "If we hadn't fired tear gas, they would have invaded the Prime Minister's office." A cabinet meeting was taking place inside, and the tear gas apparently blew into the meeting. The Prime Minister Mr Shimon Peres, invited in a delegation of protesters, and promised to set up a special committee to investigate the blood donations issue.

David Horovitz is managing editor of the Jerusalem Report.

Reuter adds from Cairo: Scores of expelled Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian Libyan border will soon become a humanitarian disaster, relief and human rights groups said.

"These people are what remains of the thousands expelled by Libya (in September) and their ease is almost forgotten," Mr Khaled Dawoud, an activist at the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights, said.

More than 200 Palestinians are still living in 40 cloth tents pitched by the Libyans four months ago when the Libyan leader, Co Muammar Gadafy, ordered 30,000 Palestinians out of his country.