Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday implored Israel’s Ethiopian community to respect the law and shun violence, amid nationwide protests over the killing of an unarmed teenager that left nearly 50 police officers injured.
The prime minister’s rebuke came as tens of thousands of Israelis remained stranded on highways across the country that were blocked off by demonstrators and piled high with rocks, and as cars were torched and vandalized in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and in northern Kiryat Ata.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan was huddling with senior police officials on Tuesday night in an emergency consultation on how to confront the protesters.
The police had largely held off on breaking up the demonstrations, amid seething anger at the force over the fatal shooting of Solomon Tekah, 19, by an off-duty cop.
“We all mourn the tragic death of Solomon Tekah,” said Netanyahu in a video. “We embrace the family, we embrace the Ethiopian community, it is dear to us, it is dear to me. These are not mere words.
“I know that there are problems that need to be resolved,” he said. “We have worked hard and need to work more to solve them. But I ask one of you thing: Stop blocking the roads. We are a nation of laws; we will not tolerate the blocking of roads. I ask you, let us solve the problems together while upholding the law.”
Police said some 47 officers were injured in the nationwide protests. They said 60 demonstrators were arrested across the country over the disturbances. They did not, however, offer a tally of protester injuries.
The rallies devolved into riots in some areas, leaving dozens hurt and at least four cars damaged, as some 50,000 commuters remained stuck in traffic for hours in the turmoil gripping the country.
President Reuven Rivlin also responded to the violence with a call for calm, while at the same time acknowledging the “difficult and agonizing” questions facing the Ethiopian community over the killing.
“These are very difficult days,” write Rivlin in a series of tweets. “We must stop and think together how to proceed from here.”
“We must exhaust the investigation into Solomon’s death and we must prevent the next death. The next hit. The next humiliation. We are all committed to this,” Rivlin stressed, before calling for “restraint and moderation” during the protests.
“The rage, it must not be expressed violently. The handful of protesters who chose violence is not the face of the protest. Let us sit together… Only in this way, in an open and piercing discourse, will we reach a change,” the president said.
Stressd Rivlin: “We are brothers and sisters. We came here, all of us, to our homeland, which is home for every one of us, and we are all equal in it.”
Tekah was shot dead during an altercation in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood of Haifa on Sunday. 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 officer was briefly arrested before being released to house arrest, sparking rage in the community.