Demonstrations wane as family of slain Ethiopian teen asks for pause in protests

Statement from family of Solomon Tekah urges demonstrators to show ‘restraint and patience’ until after 7-day mourning period, says non-violent memorial will be held next week

Police block the road during a protest against police violence in Tel Aviv on July 3, 2019, following the fatal shooting of Ethiopian-Israeli man Solomon Tekah by an off-duty officer. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Police block the road during a protest against police violence in Tel Aviv on July 3, 2019, following the fatal shooting of Ethiopian-Israeli man Solomon Tekah by an off-duty officer. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The family of the Israeli-Ethiopian teen killed by an off-duty police officer has asked activists and members of the community to hold off on the mass street demonstrations that have rocked Israel in recent days.

Demonstrations planned for Wednesday were mostly muted, a sharp shift from a day earlier when protests across the country descended into chaos.

As crowds gathered along major highways and intersections across the country for the third night of protests Wednesday, the family of Solomon Tekah asked participants to stay home until after the seven-day Jewish mourning period for their son Solomon concludes on Sunday.

Tekah, 19, was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in Haifa on Sunday, sparking protests against racism and police brutality across the country.

Since Monday, protesters across Israel have blocked roads, burned tires and denounced what they say is systemic discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community. The demonstrations escalated after Tekah’s funeral on 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.

According to police, more than 110 officers were wounded in the clashes, including from stones and bottles hurled at them, and 136 protesters had been arrested for rioting.

“We lost a son, and we ask the public not to hold public protests until the shiva mourning period ends, and to act with restraint and patience,” the family said in a statement.

Family and friends mourn at the funeral of Solomon Tekah, in Kiryat Haim, on July 2, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“When the shiva is over, we will hold our rightful and justified protest in an organized way, in coordination with all the relevant parties and without disrupting public order, and certainly without violence,” the Tekahs said through a family spokesperson.

Police were deployed heavily at over a dozen demonstration sites throughout the country on Wednesday, but other than several sporadic arrests, the demonstrations were somewhat muted compared to previous days.

Five people were reported arrested in Tel Aviv, where some of the protesters gathered at the Azrieli junction wore shirts or carried signs identifying themselves as activists for Meretz or the Joint (Arab) List parties.

Six were arrested in the southern city of Yavne, after dozens of protesters blocked the entrance to the local police station.

Hundreds of protesters in Kiryat Ata marched quietly from the local police station to the playground where Tekah was gunned down without incident.

Rumors spread on messaging applications and social media claiming the police had been given a free hand to use force against protesters likely also helped dampen turnout.

Security forces detain a protester during a demonstration against police violence in Tel Aviv on July 3, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Police allowed demonstrators to block roads in some locations earlier in the week, and hesitated before intervening in some areas on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, signaled they were prepared to act more forcefully.

“There is no place for attacks on public officials, on institutions and property,” acting police commissioner Moti Cohen warned ahead of the expected protests.

The protests have served to highlight complaints in the Ethiopian-Israeli community of systematic discrimination against them by authorities. Community organizers say government reforms promised after similar protests in 2015 have yet to be implemented.

Convening a ministerial panel created after the 2015 protests meant to address complaints in the Ethiopian community, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tekah’s death was a tragedy, but violence would not be tolerated.

“We cannot see the violent blocking of roads. We cannot see firebombs, and attacks on police officers, citizens and private property. This is inconceivable and the police are deployed accordingly to prevent this,” he said in a statement.

While admitting that “we still have work to do,” Netanyahu appealed to community leaders to “use your influence in order to help stop this violence.”

“It must stop immediately. We have other things to discuss but this is the first thing,” he said.

Ethiopian-Israelis and supporters take part in a protest against police violence and discrimination following the death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, who was shot and killed on June 30 by an off-duty police officer, in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2019. The sign reads, ‘An Ethiopian child also wants to get home to mother.’ (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Ethiopian Jews, who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan, began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, when Israel secretly airlifted them to the Holy Land to save them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa.

The new arrivals struggled as they made the transition from a rural, developing African country into an increasingly high-tech Israel. Over time, many have integrated more into Israeli society, serving in the military and police and making inroads in politics, sports and entertainment. Israel has touted their success as proof of the country’s acceptance and diversity.

But the community continues to suffer from widespread poverty, and many in the community complain of racism, lack of opportunity and routine police harassment.

AP contributed to this report.

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