Bereaved families from Ethiopian community rally for boy killed in hit-and-run

Week after violent Tel Aviv protest, activists clash with cops during fresh demonstration seeking justice for Rafael Adana; 1 officer hospitalized, police deploy stun grenades

Activists protest in Tel Aviv 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. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Activists protest in Tel Aviv 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. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv for a fresh protest against law enforcement’s handling of a probe into a deadly hit-and-run that killed a young boy several months ago, with violence erupting for the second time in as many weeks.

Seething protesters, led by members of the Ethiopian community, 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. Police said that some activists later broke through police barriers to block off the nearby Ayalon Highway in both directions, and also threw bottles and other items at officers.

Police said they deployed mounted officers and stun grenades in order to disperse the protesters blocking off the highway after they refused to clear the road.

An officer was lightly wounded and taken to a hospital for treatment after he was hit by a rock thrown by protesters. A demonstrator also required treatment after apparently being hit by a Molotov cocktail thrown by a fellow activist, police claimed.

The rally began mostly peaceful, 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.”

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)

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 committed 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.”

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 clash with police during a protest in Tel Aviv, August 23, 2023, calling for justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was killed in a hit-and-run. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

At the rally a week ago, a traffic officer was stabbed in the shoulder while on duty relatively far from the protest itself, police said. He was moderately wounded and taken to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital for medical treatment. A suspect in the stabbing was arrested on Monday.

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 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.

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