Amid simmering anger in the Ethiopian-Israeli community over allegations of police brutality and endemic racism, hundreds of people gathered Tuesday in Haifa to bury Solomon Tekah, 19, who was shot dead Sunday during an altercation with an off-duty police officer.
Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday at the Ethiopian congregation’s Heritage House Haifa.
“Give me back my son,” Tekah’s father Worka cried as he entered the funeral hall in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood of the northern city. “My son had a joy for life and love of life. He smiled and he was sensitive.”
Tekah’s death has sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community, with hundreds protesting and blocking roads Monday. Demonstrations are widely expected to continue Tuesday, including in Tel Aviv, and authorities are preparing for the possibility that they may intensify.
Worka Tekah used his eulogy as a plea for justice and cry for hope that the situation would change.
“We are asking for justice. My son has already gone but I hope he will be the last victim. Do not cry for my son. We demand that the murderer get what he deserves and find justice. Help me in this struggle,” he said.
“We came here together — how can it all be destroyed? How did this thing happen to us? How are we different just because we are Ethiopian? How can you shoot a poor child? How does this person kill my son in cold blood? Just because he’s a cop doesn’t give him the right.
“We respect the laws and customs. Why are we not respected? We have to live together. Enough! Let us be at peace.
“I want to be the last parent to bury their child,” he added. “Solomon, I beg for your forgiveness. We did not protect you. We weren’t there to protect you. We weren’t there to lend you a hand.”
Rabbi Moshe Baruch of the Ashdod Ethiopian community opened the ceremony by calling for a nationwide examination of the problem.
“As Solomon’s face is before us, we all have to do some very deep soul-searching, not only the Ethiopian community, but Israeli society as a whole,” Baruch said. “We have to unite when such things happen.”
Tekah was shot dead during an altercation in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood on Sunday. The officer, who has been placed under house arrest, claimed he opened fire because he believed himself to be in danger but aimed downwards, and a bullet ricocheted from the ground, hitting Tekah. However, eyewitnesses say there was no reason to open fire and authorities have vowed a swift and transparent investigation into the killing.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum also paid their respects to Tekah and issued a call for action.
“Solomon, we did not do enough for you. I apologize for this. I want to say to his family that it is important that we don’t only remember him as a victim, but as a martyr in an unjust war,” said MK Yizhar Shai of the Blue and White party.
Moshe Arbel MK of the Shas party said: “There is a responsibility of the elders of the city and the leaders of the people. We are here to also take responsibility. To come and look the Tekah family in the eye, and this glorious community, and say that we did not do enough.”
The newly elected head of the left-wing Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz, told Channel 13 news that the shooting was simply a matter of racism.
“This story is shocking. I’m sorry to say it but the guy was shot to death for the color of his skin,” Horowitz said. “Yes, we have to wait and know the circumstances, but this is not the first time that such a thing happens. I think it’s a matter of prejudice and racism.”
Hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked major roads in the Haifa area on Monday afternoon and evening, as protests were staged nationwide over the killing of the teen.
Police on Monday mostly kept from breaking up the protests in a bid to calm tensions, though an attempt to break into a police station near Haifa where the officer accused in the shooting had been based led to small-scale clashes.
Members of the community said they were planning further mass demonstrations nationwide, vowing to take to the streets in a repeat of a 2015 campaign that culminated in a violent standoff between police and thousands of protesters in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Social activists have called for demonstrators to gather at Independence Square in Afula at 4:30 p.m. and at Tel Aviv’s Azrielli intersection at 5 p.m. Tuesday. At the same time, protesters will march from Petah Tikva’s municipal building to the Geha interchange and will demonstrate on Route 2 between the Poleg and Netanya intersections. At 6 p.m. demonstrators will gather in front of the municipal sports arena in the city of Ashkelon.
Police warned Tuesday that any further violence or attempt to harm the officer involved in the shooting, who has been placed under house arrest, would be met with a “firm response,” a senior officer told Channel 12 news.
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.