Hebrew media review

After tear gas clears, tough questions remain

Stones and stun grenades in Rabin Square give way to hand-wringing in media over how protests turned violent, the police response and underlying racial issues plaguing the country

Police detain an Ethiopian Israeli at an anti-police brutality demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday, May 3, 2015. (photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel staff)
Police detain an Ethiopian Israeli at an anti-police brutality demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday, May 3, 2015. (photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel staff)

The crunch of broken glass and stun grenade shards could still be heard underfoot in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square early Monday morning as the day’s first papers sailed onto the blood-spattered sidewalks, carrying the news of the most intense clashes the so-called White City had seen in decades from the night before, and beginning the requisite round of hand-wringing over violence by both the protesters and police.

Front page headlines like “Battle Zone” (Israel Hayom) “Rage Square” (Yedioth Ahronoth) and “About 50 injured in Tel Aviv protest,” accompanied by pictures of an overturned cop car, riot police on horseback, black protesters and clouds of tear gas, set the tone for the tenor of coverage, which focuses on the violence that punctuated the night while also addressing causes for the demonstration and the claims of racism by the Ethiopian community.

Dani Adino Ababa, embedded for Yedioth with the protesters, gives a firsthand view from inside the chaos that reigned in Rabin Square, writing of the moment all hell seemed to break loose out of nowhere.

“’We are not violent,’ the protesters shouted and raised their hands in the air. ‘We want no violence, we suffer from pain.’ However at this moment the event lost control,” he writes. “Rocks were thrown in every direction, and after that bottles went flying in the air, trash cans and even bikes that were parked nearby, damaging car windows. The police response was no less violent: phalanxes of horses galloped on the masses with no warning to clear the demonstration, while shooting stun grenades and tear gas, and water cannon trucks tried to clear a way through the center of the events.”

A Haaretz account reports that most of the protesters were in their 20s and 30s, many in army uniforms, with their shirts untucked. “Others waved Israeli flags or held up signs reading ‘I didn’t choose to be born black but that’s my right,’ or ‘Since when is color a crime.’”

The paper notes that activists say the struggle against racism suffered by the Ethiopian Israeli community is nothing new. “We will protest until somebody from the government will come and give real solutions, we won’t leave,” a protester named Solomon is quoted telling the broadsheet.

Israel Hayom reports on the response of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling for calm while not dismissing the claims of the protesters. The paper also cites the police pulling the old Sacco and Vanzetti, placing the blame for the troublemaking on anarchists.

“Some of the people here were incited by anarchists, you can see well who is there with the protesters,” Tel Aviv police chief Bentzi Sao is quoted telling the paper.

Even with the police claim, though, the 5-0 face some tough questions on how they responded to the protests, including from Ben Dror Yemini in Yedioth.

“The protest that paralyzed Tel Aviv yesterday was furious, justified and formative. After hours of quiet came a turning point. It’s not clear how it started. It’s possible there were hotheads among the protesters. In mass protests there is always a violent minority,” he writes. “And the police, oh the shame, lost patience. Why? Why respond with smoke grenades? Why not keep their cool? The masses came out to protest against violence. So why in the hell did the police response need to be so forceful? Given police brutality in the past years against Ethiopians, there’s a suspicion that there was more violent provocation from the cops than from the protesters.”

Haaretz’s editorial sums up the feeling among most of the commentators across the papers: the protest was justified, even if the violence was not: “No group in society need accept discrimination by the authorities. The immediate cause of the latest demonstrations may be police brutality, but the protest is broader, reflecting a lack of hope for any change, particularly among younger people who were born and educated in Israel and have personally experienced the degree to which Israeli society is unwilling to accept them,” the paper writes.

In Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth admits that there is a problem with the way Ethiopians are treated, but after comparing the protest to the Baltimore riots (albeit without the baggage of 300 years of slavery) he blames the discrimination on a unique mixture of Israeli stupidity and bad luck: the fact that Ethiopians arrived in Israel around the same time as masses of non-Jewish African migrants.

“Unfortunately for our Ethiopian brothers, they got here at the same time as illegal migrants began coming from Africa, and there’s no shortage of idiots who confused them. Not to say that the migrants are worthless and they deserve to be treated badly, but what to do when a new immigrant is the same as every other Israeli, but there are those who get confused between them. Both in relations with them and also in protests,” he writes, ignoring the fact that the largest waves of Ethiopian immigration predated the migrant influx by a couple of decades.

Bringing Or home

While the Tel Aviv protests dominate coverage, the discovery of the body of Or Asraf, an Israeli trekker missing since the Nepal earthquake, also merits headlines.

Yedioth runs a picture of a group of soldiers from the Egoz unit in an APC snapped during the summer war with Gaza. Two of those in the picture were killed the next day, a third was Asraf, and the rest, except for one, traveled to Nepal to find his body, and then risked life and limb to carry him to a nearby village through mudslides and other dangerous conditions.

“Or’s friends took him on an improvised stretcher on the ridge of the trek to a nearby village about an hour away, Bamboo village,” Asraf’s father Patrick is quoted telling the media. “The head of the squad is also called Or. Or and Or’s friends saved Or. They are doing everything to bring him home.”

In Israel Hayom, Patrick Asraf is quoted saying that after arriving in Nepal and seeing the destruction, he lost some hope of ever finding his son.

“My assessment is that Or was killed in a rock slide. In the area there are massive rock slides,” he’s quoted saying by telephone from Nepal. “There were times, after I saw the extent of the disaster, when I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep my vow to bring Or home. I am so sad that I don’t have Or, but am happy that we will have him home.”

Haaretz reports on the other side of that picture from the summer war, writing that damning testimony from former soldiers compiled by Breaking the Silence lays bare a laundry list of dastardly deeds, such as killing people for no reason, burying an old man alive who was shot by mistake and who nobody wanted to help and other wanton destruction.

“One Armored Corps soldier said that after three weeks of fighting, a competition developed between the members of his unit – who could succeed in hitting moving vehicles on a road that carried cars, trucks and even ambulances,” the paper reports. “’So I found a vehicle, a taxi, and I tried to shell it but missed,” he recalled. “Two more vehicles came, and I tried another shell or two, but couldn’t do it. Then the commander came and said, “Yallah, stop it, you’re using up all the shells. Cut it out.” So we moved to the heavy machine gun.’”

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