6 cops injured, 4 protesters arrested at Tel Aviv rally for boy killed in hit-and-run

Police deploy mounted officers, stun grenades to clear activists from road as clashes erupt during fresh protest calling for justice for Rafael Adana; 1 officer hospitalized

Members of the Ethiopian community and activists clash with police during a protest calling for justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was killed in a hit-and-run in Netanya in May. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Members of the Ethiopian community and activists clash with police during a protest calling for justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was killed in a hit-and-run in Netanya in May. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Six police officers were injured, according to police, and four people were arrested during a protest in Tel Aviv on Wednesday against law enforcement’s handling of a probe into a deadly hit-and-run that killed a young boy from the Ethiopian community several months ago.

Police said protesters threw objects, stones, and firebombs, describing an initial “legitimate protest” that, over the course of the evening, “turned into a display of blatant violence against the police.” Police said that some protesters also broke through police barriers to block off the nearby Ayalon Highway in both directions and were dispersed using mounted officers and stun grenades after they refused to clear the road.

Four demonstrators were arrested, police said.

One of the injured officers required hospitalization and surgery after he was hit in the head by a rock, police said. A demonstrator also required treatment after apparently being hit by a Molotov cocktail thrown by a fellow activist, police claimed.

In an angry statement Wednesday night, police slammed the protesters for violating the “boundaries” of the demonstration “in a brazen manner” when they “chose to harm officers.”

On Thursday morning, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said in a statement that “the serious injury of police officer for second week in a row is something that should be a red light for all of us regarding the ease with which police officers, who are faithfully doing their job, are attacked with such severe violence.”

He vowed that police would “settle the score” with those who violate the law and harm officers, who were policing the protests to “protect the safety of demonstrators and the public during the demonstration.”

Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv for the protest, led by members of the Ethiopian community who have accused authorities of racism and leniency toward the driver who hit 4-year-old Rafael Adana in May.

The protest was centered around Kaplan Street, the site of recent mass anti-government demonstrations against the judicial overhaul.

Police remove protesters from the road in Tel Aviv during a demonstration on August 30, 2023, calling for justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was killed in a hit-and-run in Netanya in May. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

The rally began mostly peacefully, as hundreds gathered at the major intersection, including a number of figures who have lost family members to police violence.

A cousin of Adana, 11, memorialized his young relative in a speech at the rally.

“I’m about to start sixth grade, and Rafael won’t ever start first grade,” he said, according to Army Radio. “People always told us that we look like twins, but now Rafael will stay four-and-a-half forever.”

According to the Ynet news site, other bereaved families in the Ethiopian-Israeli community attended Wednesday’s protest in solidarity. They included the families of Yosef Salamsa, who died by suicide in 2014 a few months after he was tased by police; Solomon Tekah, who was killed in 2019 by a ricocheted bullet fired by police; and Yehuda Biadga, who was shot dead by police in 2019 as he was brandishing a knife.

Tekah’s father, Worka, addressed the gathered protesters on Wednesday.

“It’s a tragedy that we lost 4-year-old Rafael Adana, it pains us,” he said, according to Ynet. “The problem here is that the woman fled. If she had called an ambulance and acted like a human, we wouldn’t be here. We came to this protest because we are in pain, we don’t want to protest. People look at us like we’re criminals, but we’re not.”

A woman holds up a photo of 4-year-old Rafael Adana, during a protest in Tel Aviv on August 30, 2023, calling for justice after he was killed in a hit-and-run in Netanya in May. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Rafael Adana was hit by a car while walking with his grandfather in Netanya on Shabbat on May 6. He was critically wounded and died in a hospital several days later.

The driver, 70-year-old Carol Fessler, fled the scene, later claiming she “didn’t feel” the vehicle striking anything. She turned herself in to police several hours later and provided testimony about the car collision, Channel 12 reported.

Many members of the community were furious that even several months later, the driver had not been charged in the incident, and have accused the police of dragging their feet and expressing leniency toward the driver.

Ahead of the rally, Adana’s mother called on demonstrators to remain calm after an officer was stabbed and 10 people were arrested at a protest in Tel Aviv last week.

“I call on all those who are coming to demonstrate tonight, to join my struggle for Rafael, for the truth, in a peaceful way,” she said. “Please respect this.”

Members of the Ethiopian community and activists block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on August 30, 2023, during a protest calling for justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was killed in a car accident in Netanya. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israelis of Ethiopian descent have long accused police of racism and brutality against members of their community. Following the death of Tekah in 2019, mass protests were held across Israel for several weeks, with fierce clashes between activists and police.

The death of Adana has also been the subject of a wealth of rumors and misinformation. While many initial accounts claimed that the driver’s daughter, Dr. Heidi Fessler, was also in the car during the incident, police later released evidence showing that the elder Fessler was alone at the time. Other false rumors, some of which have fueled the protests, include a claim that either mother or daughter attempted to hide evidence on the car, which the police have also denied.

Prosecutors have said that evidence collected proves the accident was unavoidable, and that Fessler will be tried for negligence, and not for manslaughter.

Most Popular
read more: