Ethiopian Israeli says police at rally ignored his grave burns

Fekadu Abera, a former fighter in an elite IDF unit, recalls waiting for 20 minutes in agony as police told him to wait for an ambulance that never came

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Fekadu Abera speaks with Channel 12 from his hospital bed in Tel Aviv on September 3, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Fekadu Abera speaks with Channel 12 from his hospital bed in Tel Aviv on September 3, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A demonstrator who sustained burns during a recent anti-racism protest by Israelis of Ethiopian descent has said that police ignored his pleas for medical treatment.

The protester, Fekadu Abera, said he “begged police for evacuation but they all ignored me,” he told Channel 12 news on Sunday. Videos from the aftermath of the incident on August 30 in Tel Aviv show one police officer telling Abera, who suffered burns from a firebomb hurled by another protester, to “wait on the side” of the road.

Abera, a former fighter in an elite Israel Defense Forces unit, said in the interview that after waiting for about 20 minutes, he walked over to a road near the protests, where he signaled a passing ambulance to stop and take him to hospital. The videos of Abera at the protest were taken on the Ayalon Highway when it was blocked briefly by protesters.

Police told The Times of Israel in a statement that an officer at the scene had called an ambulance for Abera “but due to road blockages, the ambulance couldn’t reach the place.”

In addition to Abera, six police officers were also injured and four people were arrested at the protest over law enforcement’s handling of a probe into a deadly hit-and-run that killed a young boy from the Ethiopian community several months ago in Netanya.

Abera was still hospitalized Tuesday at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center with severe burns, his brother, Kefale, told The Times of Israel. He declined to speak about the police’s handling of Fekadu Abera. The burn victim declined to speak to The Times of Israel, explaining he was feeling too unwell to answer questions.

Members of the Ethiopian community and activists clash with police during a protest calling for justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was killed in a hit-and-run in Netanya in May. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The rally, which featured many signs about alleged discrimination against Israelis of Ethiopian descent in connection with their skin color, was the latest of a series of protests over the issue.

Israel has about 100,000 people of Ethiopian descent. Their immigration to Israel began in the 1980s, with the arrival of Jews who had walked a perilous northbound trek from Ethiopia through Sudan and Egypt. Israeli officials thereafter began sending envoys to Ethiopia, who initiated the organized immigration, or aliyah, of people belonging to Ethiopia’s ancient and large Jewish minority, known as Beta Israel.

Members of the Ethiopian community and overs block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, on August 21, 2023, during a protest demanding justice for 4-year-old Rafael Adana, who was run over and killed in a car accident in Netanya, in May. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

This culminated in the airlifting of thousands of Beta Israel Ethiopians in Operation Solomon in 1991. The following year, some of the new immigrants began lobbying for the government to allow the immigration of another group of Ethiopians, known as the Falash Mura or Falasha, who are descendants of Beta Israel Ethiopians who had been forcibly converted to Christianity in the 18th century.

Members of the Falashmura community arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, outside Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Initial reluctance by some government officials to immigration by Falasha, who are not recognized by rabbinical authorities as Jews, and delays in its implementation have been presented by some Beta Israel Ethiopians as racist discrimination. Other Beta Israel Ethiopian Israelis oppose immigration by Falasha, who they say lack an affinity to Judaism. Many people with knowledge of the Falasha dispute this view, saying the Falasha have preserved their Jewish identity against the odds.

So far, about 25,000 Falasha have immigrated to Israel, often leaving behind nuclear family members. Thousands more await approval by the Israeli government to immigrate.

Other scandals have concerned the treatment of Beta Israel, including a years-long secret refusal by Israel’s blood bank to take donations from any Israeli Ethiopians. Many Ethiopians complain of police brutality and over-policing of their communities, as well as of police indifference, as in the case of the hit-and-run of the four-year-old child, Raphael Adena, in Netanya, which triggered the August 30 protest in Tel Aviv.

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