The IDF on Friday fined and reprimanded a non-commissioned officer for threatening to call a police officer to shoot a young Ethiopian-Israeli recruit. The incident occurred just days after 19-year-old Solomon Tekah was shot dead by an off-duty cop, sparking protests against racial discrimination and police brutality across the country.
The NCO received a letter of warning and will forfeit NIS 1,500 ($420), the IDF confirmed, three days after Kfir Brigade soldier Yitzhak Zalka published a post on Facebook sharing the “shocking, hurtful” treatment he received.
He recalled having joined several of his friends to help them finish their kitchen duties after he had finished completing his own tasks. The NCO noticed Zalka and asked him what he was doing there.
Before he could finish answering, the NCO cut him off. “Get out of here before I call a police officer to shoot you,” Zalka quoted him as having said.
“I was in total shock! I was hurt in a way I hadn’t known. It was racism on an entirely different level that cannot go unnoticed,” Zalka wrote.
“It is inconceivable that in the State of Israel of 2019, there is still racism in any form… Just two days ago Solomon Tekah was killed by an Israeli police officer for nothing!!!”
Zalka wrote that he immediately reported the incident to his superiors. The army issued a statement calling the incident “inconsistent with the values of the IDF,” and said “the NCO has been disciplined in order to prevent the recurrence of such cases in the future.”
On Monday and Tuesday, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires and denounced what they say is systemic discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community. The demonstrations escalated after Tekah’s funeral Tuesday, when some protesters set vehicles on fire, overturned a police car and clashed with officers and others who tried to break through their makeshift roadblocks.
The police said more than 110 officers were wounded in the clashes, including from stones and bottles hurled at them, and 136 protesters were arrested for rioting.
The Tekah family asked for calm on Wednesday, urging an end to the public protests until the seven-day shiva mourning period ends on Sunday.
Recognizing that many of those protesting could be Ethiopian-Israeli recruits the same age as Tekah, IDF Southern Command head Herzi Halevi penned a rare letter to officers of brigades under his command urging them to gather their Ethiopian soldiers and express to them, “the protest is legitimate, understandable and necessary, but must not be violent.”
“Tell them that we think such a reality should not have come to pass. Tell them that we believe we will be better at accepting them in the future,” Halevi wrote.
Separately on Thursday, the lawyer for the off-duty cop who shot Tekah earlier this week said the officer faced “an imminent threat to his life.”
“This tragic event had nothing to do with the skin color or heritage of the deceased. My client did not intend to hit [Tekah], the shot was meant to deter,” the attorney Yair Nedshi said in a statement to reporters.
The officer — who was released by a court to house arrest — and his family have been taken into protective custody amid fears that they will be targets of violence, Nedshi said
Initial reports from the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, a body that investigates law enforcement, seem to corroborate the officer’s claim that he did not aim at the Ethiopian youth. Investigators say the bullet was fired at the ground, but ricocheted upward and struck the left side of Tekah’s chest, tearing into his aorta.