A Tel Aviv court on Thursday ordered the release of all 11 Ethiopian-Israeli activists who were detained by police during a violent riot following a mostly peaceful rally against police brutality a day earlier.
Magistrate Alaa Masarwe said the detainees had no criminal background and had committed mostly petty crimes.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians held a march and rally at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest against what they charge is years of police brutality and discrimination against their community.
The largely peaceful demonstration, which included the blocking of the main Ayalon freeway artery for several hours Wednesday afternoon, turned violent as several dozen protesters went on a vandalism spree along Ibn Gabirol Boulevard in central Tel Aviv.
Mostly young men, many with their faces covered, accosted drivers and passersby, knocking over parked motorcycles and damaging parked cars while shouting slogans against the police.
Police described the rioters as “a small minority” and said six officers were lightly hurt during efforts to quell the disturbance. Eleven people were arrested for “acting violently,” police said
Police prosecutors on Thursday asked Masarwe to order the detainees be held for six more days, but he ruled that their actions didn’t justify keeping them behind bars any longer.
“Almost all the suspects are without criminal background and their actions, despite their severity, and without making light of them, were committed in a specific situation that cannot be disconnected from the wider context,” Masarwe wrote in his ruling.
“It was a quiet protest that escalated toward its end, and some of the actions aren’t of high severity,” he added.
The protest was called amid mounting anger among Israel’s largely hardscrabble community of immigrants from Ethiopia and their descendants after a police officer shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, a 24-year-old resident of Bat Yam, on January 18.
More than 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel. Those who immigrated arrived in main two 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.
In 2015, a large demonstration by the Ethiopian community against police brutality and racism turned violent and at least 41 people were injured in the hours-long melee as protesters hurled rocks at police, who responded with stun grenades and water cannons.