Justice Ministry officials investigating the conduct of a police officer who shot dead an Ethiopian Israeli, sparking mass protests across the country, are leaning toward charging the man with a disciplinary offense only, Channel 13 news reported Friday.
Previous reports have indicated that the probe by the Police Internal Investigations Department seems to corroborate the officer’s claim that he did not aim at the Ethiopian youth but rather fired at the ground, with the bullet ricocheting upward and striking 19-year-old Solomon Tekah.
The officer, who was off duty at the time of the June 30 incident in Haifa, has 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.
According to Channel 13, the likelihood of the officer being charged with manslaughter has diminished considerably, with evidence at the scene and testimonies strengthening the officer’s claim he did not fire directly at the teenager.
However, the cop could still be disciplined or face minor criminal charges, as officials have questioned his failure to fire a warning shot in the air.
The incident immediately sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community. On Monday and Tuesday, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires and denounced what they say is systemic discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community. The demonstrations escalated after Tekah’s funeral Tuesday, when some protesters set vehicles on fire, overturned a police car and clashed with officers and others who tried to break through their makeshift roadblocks.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Friday condemned the “intolerable” violence by some demonstrators, but said the past days’ protests were “an explosion of pain and rage by teens and many young people who truly feel that they have no future here, and that they are judged by the color of their skin.”
“I listened this week for hours to young people from the community and heads of organizations,” he said. “Their words broke my heart. Talented young men and women, eloquent and erudite, told me of many expressions of racism and humiliation they’ve faced in every step of their lives: In school, in the army, in the job market and yes, to my great sorrow, in police treatment of them as well.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair claimed on Friday the recent mass protests were being financed by German money through coexistence NGOs — which are a frequent target of the Israeli right.
“Everything that happened this week was fueled by the New Israel Fund and Standing Together with German money,” he tweeted. “I wonder what would happen if the Israeli government were to fund German groups who burn police cars, block roads and behave violently.”
Ethiopian activist Avi Yalou responded: “No Yair, everything that happened this week was fueled by the racism and oppression that my community has faced for many years.
“You can go on spreading lies and falsehoods about the NIF and German money, but you, too, know it has no connection to reality. Our struggle, and you may find it difficult to fathom from the bubble you live in, is an existential struggle to live in equality and security.”
Erdan too rejected such claims. The activists “did not coordinate or invent the difficult stories I heard,” he said. “Their pain is great.”
The protests have served to highlight complaints in the Ethiopian-Israeli community of systematic discrimination against them by authorities. Community organizers say government reforms promised after similar protests in 2015 have yet to be implemented.
Convening a ministerial panel created after the 2015 protests meant to address complaints in the Ethiopian community, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Tekah’s death was a tragedy, but violence would not be tolerated.
“We cannot see the violent blocking of roads. We cannot see firebombs, and attacks on police officers, citizens and private property. This is inconceivable and the police are deployed accordingly to prevent this,” he said in a statement.
While admitting that “we still have work to do,” Netanyahu appealed to community leaders to “use your influence in order to help stop this violence.”
The Ethiopian Jews, who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan, began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, when Israel secretly airlifted them to the Holy Land to save them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa.
AP contributed to this report.