Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by cop seeks to block plea deal
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Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by cop seeks to block plea deal

Damas Pakada files petition to force his attacker to face criminal charges, calls for indictment over racial assault

Damas Pakada, an Ethiopian-born IDF soldier who was assaulted by police in Holon on Sunday, April 27, 2015 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Damas Pakada, an Ethiopian-born IDF soldier who was assaulted by police in Holon on Sunday, April 27, 2015 (screen capture: Channel 2)

An Ethiopian-Israeli soldier has asked the court to block the deal with a police officer who beat him last year.

Damas Pakada filed a petition on Thursday in the High Court of Justice against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to prevent the deal, which would see the officer avoid criminal charges, Israel Hayom reported.

Pakada wants the officer to be indicted for the attack on charges of causing serious injury with racist motivation and for obstruction of justice. The petition argues that a charge of assault cannot be waived with a plea deal.

On Monday, the Justice Ministry told the High Court of Justice that criminal charges would not be brought against the policeman, if he agreed to the deal proposed.

It gave no details on the possible punishment. As the court has not yet ruled on a gag order request from the officer’s lawyers, the policeman cannot be named.

A video camera caught the officer beating Pakada, then 21, in the central city of Holon last April.

The incident reawakened anger in the Ethiopian community over perceived institutional discrimination and racism and touched off a string of rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against police brutality.

Pakada — an orphan who emigrated from Ethiopia with his four siblings several years before — was riding his bicycle when he noticed two officers cordoning off a street in Holon, near Tel Aviv, because of a suspicious object.

Pakada said that he asked them what they were up to and one of them confronted him and pushed him off his bike, saying, “I can do whatever I want.”

The officer threatened to shoot him in the head, and they let up only after he backed away and lifted a rock, Pakada claimed.

“The cop told me, ‘I’m doing my job and if I need to put a bullet in your head, I would do it. I am proud of my job,’” Pakada told the Ynet news site at the time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Damas Pakada, an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin who was allegedly assaulted by police officers, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 4, 2015. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Damas Pakada, an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin who was allegedly assaulted by police officers, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, May 4, 2015. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

Several police then detained the soldier for alleged assault, although the footage showed that Pakada did not attack them with the rock in his hand.

After the footage was obtained by Pakada’s family, he was released from custody, with police promising to investigate the matter.

The protests sparked last year by the original incident included one in Tel Aviv in May in Rabin Square, which turned violent as protesters hurled rocks at police and officers responded with stun grenades and water cannon. The melee left 65 people injured among both police and protesters, and led to 43 arrests.

The day after, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Pakada for a meeting and pledged to eradicate racism and police violence.

In August, Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich was forced to apologize after he appeared to say that it was “natural” for law-enforcement officers to be more suspicious of Ethiopian Israelis than of other citizens.

“When a police officer comes across a suspicious person [either young or from an immigrant background, or both], his brain suspects him more than if [the suspect] were someone else. It’s natural,” he said, emphasizing that “over-policing is natural” when it comes to Ethiopians

More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, having immigrated in two waves in 1984 and 1991. But many have struggled to integrate into Israeli society among lingering accusations of institutional discrimination.

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