Hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked major roads in the Haifa area on Monday afternoon and evening, and thousands reportedly staged protests nationwide, amid intense anger in Israel’s Ethiopian community over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by an off-duty police officer a day earlier.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed authorities would swiftly investigate the death of Solomon Tekah, 19, hours after the police officer was detained over the killing and then released to house arrest.
In Haifa and nearby Kiryat Ata, demonstrators blocked roads and hurled burning tires in the streets.
Three police officers were injured by rocks hurled by protesters, according to the Israel Police.
Demonstrators threw stones and other objects at a police station in Kiryat Haim, the Haifa neighborhood where Tekah was gunned down, and police responded with stun grenades.
For hours, police redirected traffic, but did not attempt to break up the protests, according to Channel 12.
Protests also took place at junctions near Ashdod, Be’ersheba, Netivot, Sderot and other towns Monday evening as anger over the killing spread.
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, which culminated with a violent standoff between police and thousands of protesters in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Tekah was shot dead during an altercation in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood. An eyewitness to the shooting has reportedly told the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department that, contrary to the officer’s claims, he did not appear to have been in danger when he opened fire.
The Israel Police officer who shot Tekah was arrested on suspicion of murder, the PIID said earlier Monday. The Haifa Magistrate’s Court later released the officer to house arrest.
According to Channel 12, the officer claims he opened fire because he believed himself to be in danger but aimed downwards, and a bullet ricocheted from the ground, hitting Tekah.
“I am saddened by the tragic loss of the life of Solomon Tekah last night in Haifa,” said Netanyahu in a statement on Monday. “We all send condolences to his family. I discussed it with the acting police commissioner today, who promised me we will make a great effort to reach the truth as quickly as possible.”
The prime minister also called for greater integration of the Ethiopian minority in Israeli society.
“The Ethiopian community is dear to us all,” continued Netanyahu. “We made a big effort in recent years to integrate it fully in Israeli society, and we have much more work to do.”
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.
Tekah’s death immediately sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community. The officer claimed he was trying to break up a street fight he came across, but was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life.
Attorney Yair Nadashi, who is representing the policeman, said Monday that his client had been released from the hospital overnight.
“He claims that the shooting was done as an act of self-defense after he was brutally attacked with rocks,” Nadashi said in the report.
But eyewitnesses said there was no danger to his life
Officials have promised a transparent investigation into the shooting.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan expressed “shock” at the incident and said he expects police investigators to present their findings with “complete transparency to the public”
Responding to the shooting, Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is of Ethiopian descent, accused police of declaring “open season” against youth of Ethiopian descent.
“Our children’s lives are less secure and the reaction of the community will be severe. This is because of the failure of the Israeli government and its branches, including the public security minister and the Police Internal Investigations Department, to deal with the situation,” she said.
In January, police shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, a 24-year-old resident of Bat Yam. Law enforcement said the victim had charged at an officer with a knife.
The incident led to mass protests in Tel Aviv and throughout the country against police brutality, particularly toward Ethiopian Israelis.
In 2015, a large demonstration in support of the Ethiopian community against police brutality and racism turned violent, transforming Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square into a massive street brawl. At least 41 people were injured in the hours-long melee, which saw protesters hurl rocks at police and officers respond with stun grenades and water cannons.
It was part of a weeks-long protest by the minority.