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  • Israeli-Ethiopians protest police violence and racism in Israel.

    Israeli-Ethiopians protest police violence and racism in Israel. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 July 2019
Opinion

Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community, in past, complained against institutional racism at the hands of various authorities.

Israel’s Jewish Ethiopian community called for a second day of protests after a teenager was killed by an off-duty police officer who was accused of racism. 

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Following the murder of Solomon Teka Sunday, the Ethiopian-Israeli community blocked highways around the country and clashed with police Monday. Teka was shot in the town of Kiryat Haim. Following his death, widespread outrage ensued among the community who complained of living in constant fear of police brutality because of being Black. 

Teka’s death follows the police killing of Yehuda Biadga in January and many more, such as, the beating of Damas Pakada in 2015, tasering of Yosef Salamsa in 2014 which led him to commit suicide. 

Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community has around 140,000 members including more than 50,000 born in the country. The community has in past complained about institutional racism on the hand of various authorities. 

Most Ethiopians were cut off from the Jewish world for centuries and later recognized as part of the community belatedly by Israeli religious authorities. During the 1980s and the 1990s, Israeli took in tens and thousands of them. 

In 2016, a report revealed prejudice and discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis after protests in 2015 when Pakada was killed. The report also said that Ethiopians are targeted much more than their fellow countrymen. They are also subjected to much more policing. 

In Sunday’s shooting, police said the officer saw a fight between “a number of youths” and tried to break it up. According to a police statement, the group started pelting stones at him when he introduced himself, before opening fire after "feeling that his life was in danger."

However, other people present there said the officer was not attacked. He is now under house arrest and an investigation has been launched by the justice ministry.

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Teka’s cousin Amir Teka said, "It's not 'killing', it's murder. It cannot be that a person is next to his home and gets murdered and they say 'killed'. What was it? A work accident? Was he hit by a car?"

Michal Avera Samuel, director of the Fidel NGO, which works with the community, said despite some measures, police officers generally have a prejudiced view against Ethiopian-Israelis due to their skin color. 

The police also undertake “character assassination of the Ethiopian-Israeli community” to protect their personnel. 

“No police personnel have been punished for these incidents, but instead the police has given backing to them and no one is defending the Ethiopian community or supporting it,” she said.

The government Unit for the Coordination of the Struggle Against Racism, however, said from 2015 to 2018 arrests of Ethiopian minors have decreased by 50 percent. 

There is also a 31 percent decline in “contact offenses” where people are arrested after police initiate contacts with them like random searches or demanding identification number. For adults, general arrests declined by 15 percent and contact offenses declined by 2.7 percent. 

However, their arrest is still disproportionate to the relative size of the population. The Ethiopian minors constitute 5.4 percent of all arrested minors despite being just 1.7 percent of the population.

“There is a very violent attitude of the police toward minority groups, and the quick use of force against them,” said attorney Anna Suciu of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. 

“We saw this clearly against Ethiopians in the 2015 protests as well as other incidents, and incidents against Arabs, and also the ultra-Orthodox. We see Ethiopians and Arabs shot to death, and we don’t see this among other groups.”

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