As protests rage, PM to convene ministerial committee on integrating Ethiopians

As protests rage, PM to convene ministerial committee on integrating Ethiopians

Scope of committee unclear; demonstrations expected to resume mid-afternoon nationwide; Rivlin issues call for calm

Israeli police officers at a protest following the death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, an Ethiopian-Israeli who was shot and killed a few days before in Kiryat Haim by an off-duty police officer, in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)
Israeli police officers at a protest following the death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, an Ethiopian-Israeli who was shot and killed a few days before in Kiryat Haim by an off-duty police officer, in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he would convene a ministerial committee on the integration of Israeli citizens of Ethiopian origin in response to the deadly shooting of an Israeli Ethiopian young man by a policeman on Sunday and ensuing rioting by members of the community.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not say what actions the committee would take in its Wednesday evening meeting or what proposals were on the table. Protests are expected to resume across the country mid-afternoon.

More than 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel. Those who immigrated arrived in two main waves, in 1984 and 1991, but many have struggled to integrate into Israeli society.

Community leaders and others have said there is a pattern of racism and abuse by police toward Ethiopian-Israelis, despite repeated promises to root out the problem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv. June 27, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday issued a call for calm while cautioning that the investigation into the shooting must run its course and that changes would need to be made.

“We must stop, I repeat, stop — and think together how we go on from here. This is not a civil war. It is a shared struggle of brothers and sisters for their shared home and their shared future. I ask of all of us to act responsibly and with moderation.

“We must allow the investigation into Solomon’s death to run its course, and we must prevent the next death. The next attack. The next humiliation. We are all committed to this,” the president said in a statement.

Police said Wednesday that 136 people had been arrested since the start of demonstrations Monday over the shooting the previous day of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah.

Those arrested were held on suspicion of attacking police officers, vandalism and disturbing public order.

The Magen David Adom emergency medical service said it treated 83 people — 47 police officers, 26 protesters, 9 passersby and one firefighter. Police said 111 officers had been injured in all.

Police said that they acted with restraint for the first few hours of Tuesday’s demonstration and allowed freedom of protest, but will “act vigorously to stop the violence using all the means at our disposal.”

The protests turned violent Tuesday in the wake of Tekah’s funeral.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday morning that the violence seen around the country the previous day would not be allowed to continue. He added that he understands “the great sorrow and suffering that tens of thousands of people have undergone, but the police must gradually act.”

“The police have taken the necessary steps and gradually built up their strength and ability to cope with such a protest, but today if we see such a level of violence, the police will have no choice but to use all means to disperse demonstrations,” he said.

Ethiopian-Israeli Solomon Tekah who was shot dead by an off-duty policeman in Kiryat Haim on June 30, 2019. (Courtesy)

Activist leaders have called for protesters to gather Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at the following locations: Kiryat Ata interchange; Yokne’am interchange; Independence Square in Afula; Poleg interchange; Azrieli interchange in Tel Aviv; Rosh Ha’ayin police station; Route 4 in the region of Rishon LeZion and Yavne; the western entrance to Jerusalem; city entrances and exits on Route 431, the El Al interchange close to Ramle and Lod; the Bilu interchange; Kastina interchange; Ashkelon arena interchange; and Beersheba Central Bus Station.

Erdan also told Army Radio that there was concern for the safety of law enforcement at Tuesday’s protests, as intelligence suggested there was a possibility demonstrators could “firing live ammunition at police officers.”

Earlier in the morning, he vowed to prevent “anarchy” after police put an end to day-long protests that blocked key intersections across the country for hours.

“The Israel Police made every effort and did everything possible to allow the protesters to express their pain and put out their message,” said Erdan. “Forces acted with restraint and tried to avoid violent clashes that would lead to further bloodshed.

“We will continue to protect the rights of protesters to demonstrate, but we will not tolerate anarchy and we will not tolerate serious disruptions to public life,” he said, adding that police would also work to “prevent harm to people or serious destruction of property.”

Tekah, the slain Ethiopian teen, was shot dead by an off-duty police officer during an altercation in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood of Haifa on Sunday. An eyewitness to the shooting has reportedly told the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department that, contrary to the officer’s claims, he did not appear to have been in danger when he opened fire.

The officer who shot Tekah was arrested on suspicion of unlawful killing, the PIID said Monday. The Haifa Magistrate’s Court later released him to house arrest, sparking further rage in the community. He is reportedly under heavy guard due to fears for his safety.

According to Channel 12 news, the officer claims he aimed downwards, and a bullet ricocheted from the ground, hitting Tekah. The officer claimed he was trying to break up a street fight he came across, but was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life.

The PIID issued a rare statement on Tuesday, saying it had collected new evidence in the probe, including eyewitness testimony and footage from a security camera near the scene.

Israel’s main networks said Tuesday evening that investigators were leaning toward pursuing a lesser charge than manslaughter, indicating that authorities were accepting the testimony that he fired at the ground.

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