Israel hit by unprecedented protests over Ethiopian-Israeli teenager’s murder

Killing of Solomon Tekah (18) by off-duty police officer sparks rallies across country

Members of the Israeli security forces detain a protester during a demonstration in Tel Aviv against police violence. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Israeli security forces detain a protester during a demonstration in Tel Aviv against police violence. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

 

Police mobilised across Israel on Wednesday night to prevent a repeat of incidents the previous night, when much of the country came to a standstill as young Israelis of Ethiopian descent protested against the murder of a member of their community by an off-duty police officer.

On Wednesday the police dispersed protesters and ensured roads remained open to traffic.

Tens of thousands of angry protesters blocked road junctions throughout the country on Tuesday, causing drivers to sit in traffic jams for hours on end.

Police initially kept a low profile and allowed the protests – unprecedented in scale – to go ahead without interference, despite the resulting gridlock.

However, some of the youths started burning vehicles and pelting the police with stones and Molotov cocktails, prompting riot police to disperse the protests, using stun grenades and tear gas.

More than 80 people were hurt during the clashes and 136 protesters were detained on suspicion of attacking police officers, violence and disturbing the public order.

Solomon Tekah (18), who arrived with his family from Ethiopia eight years ago, was killed by an off-duty police officer close to the northern city of Haifa on Sunday night.

The incident is still under investigation and the officer claims he opened fire, fearing his life was in danger, when a group of youths threw stones at him after he intervened to stop a fight.

However, relatives of the victim accused the policeman, who has been placed under house arrest, of cold-blooded murder.

Tekah was the 11th Ethiopian-Israeli to have been killed by police in the last decade.

Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, many in airlifts organised by the Israeli government.

‘Institutionalised discrimination’

Despite being welcomed by the majority of Israelis, their integration has been difficult and many, particularly the youth, complain of institutionalised discrimination and police racism.

“A violent policeman belongs inside prison” and “Ethiopian lives matter” were chanted by the protesters.

Despite the chaos caused by the protests there was widespread sympathy for the demonstrators, including from disgruntled drivers stuck in traffic jams.

Although the government in recent years has passed legislation considered discriminatory against Arabs and anti-Arab parties are represented in the Knesset parliament, Israelis remain sensitive to allegations of racism against fellow Jews based on the colour of their skin.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the killing was a tragedy but violence could not be tolerated in a state of law. He called on all members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community to “exert their influence” to stop the violence immediately.

President Reuven Rivlin urged restraint. “We must stop, I repeat, stop and think together how we go on from here. None of us have blood that is thicker than anyone else’s, and the lives of our brothers and sisters will never be forfeit.”