Several hundred people, largely Ethiopian-Israelis, demonstrated in Jerusalem on Tuesday over a police decision to close the investigation into the 2014 suicide of a member of the community, allegedly as a result of police abuse.
Demonstrators intermittently blocked Route 1 in front of the Israel Police headquarters in the capital. Eight people were arrested.
Investigators announced on February 14 they would close a criminal investigation in the case of Yosef Salamsa, an Israeli of Ethiopian heritage. No evidence was found of criminal conduct by police officers, though several instances of misconduct warranted internal disciplinary steps, investigators in the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Unit — the external body that scrutinizes police misconduct — said in a statement.
Salamsa was found dead in a quarry in the northern city of Binyamina in July 2014. Police determined he had committed suicide.
But Ethiopian-Israeli community activists said Salamsa was the victim of repeated abuse by police officers, a factor that may have contributed to his suicide.
“The police emphasizes that all protests must be conducted lawfully,” a spokesperson said as the demonstration was still in progress. “We call on the leaders of the [Ethiopian-Israeli] community to show restraint and heed police’s instructions.”
Salamsa was detained by police in Zichron Yaakov in March 2014, who tased him in the police station before letting him go. He was never investigated or charged with any crime. After the incident, he fell into a deep depression and his family registered a complaint with the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department.
In the wake of that complaint, activists say, police began to harass Salamsa. His corpse was found in early July 2014, three days after he failed to come home from work. He had apparently fallen to his death in a quarry, although his family maintains he may have been murdered.
Ethiopian-Israelis have long accused the police of brutality and abuse against members of the community. Last year, the Ethiopian-Israeli community staged a series of demonstrations across the country, triggered by video footage showing a seemingly unprovoked police assault on an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in April.
Thousands took to the streets demanding the government address the alleged systematic and institutionalized racism faced by the Ethiopian-Israeli community. Activists also expressed their frustration with what they said was the state’s shortcomings in addressing the quality of life of their community.
At a May 2015 protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square, at least 41 people were injured in what devolved into an hours-long melee, which saw protesters hurl rocks at police and officers respond with stun grenades and water cannons.
Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.