Protests are expected to intensify Tuesday amid anger in Israel’s Ethiopian community over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by an off-duty police officer on Sunday, as police warned they would respond “firmly” to any further violence.
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 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, whose funeral is due to take place 12 p.m. Tuesday at the Tel Regev Cemetery near Haifa.
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.
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.
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.
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 department is said to be moving quickly to investigate the case due to the sensitivity of the situation.
The Israel Police officer who shot Tekah was arrested on suspicion of unlawful killing, the PIID said Monday. The Haifa Magistrate’s Court later released the officer to house arrest. He is reportedly under heavy guard due to fears for his safety.
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. 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.
The channel reported Tuesday that the investigation will focus on whether the officer’s life was actually in danger when he pulled the trigger, and whether he was justified to use his weapon in that that situation, even if it is finally determined that Tekah was indeed killed by a ricochet.
Tekah’s death immediately sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community.
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.
Activist Rachel Gil Yosef, who organized protests earlier this year over the January police shooting of 24-year-old Ethiopian Israeli Yehuda Biadga, who was said to have charged at an officer with a knife, told the Ynet news site on Tuesday that “from this point, nothing will be the same anymore.”
“When the authorities do not take care of it and the public does not enlist in [the fight against] it, then we end up counting the number of dead children. We live in fear — parents live in fear for their children,” she said.
Branu Tegene, a reporter for Channel 12 news who is himself Ethiopian-Israeli and is covering the protests in his capacity as a reporter on criminal affairs, said he gets calls daily regarding members of the community’s interactions with police, and expected the protests to widen.
“I’m afraid that we will see the same stormy sights and rage that we saw in 2015 and this time it will get worse. The community is going out [to the streets] from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat,” Tegene said, referring to towns in the far north and south of the country. “I know that we — my generation and the generation below me — have to do a lot. I do not lose hope. Whether you want it or not, this is our country and nobody is doing us a favor [in letting us live here].”
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 cannon.
Tegene also questioned whether findings from the 2016 Palmor Commission on ways to combat racism against Israelis of Ethiopian heritage had been implemented. The report offered 53 detailed recommendations for tackling racism throughout Israeli society, mainly through the education system.
“The astonishing Palmor Commission, for the first time, gave a severe indictment of all of Israeli society, especially the police. What have the police done in the five years since? We are talking about a patrol officer, a commander, who has encountered countless incidents, but at that moment, that night, his entire value system didn’t tell him to wait?”
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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan vowed Monday authorities would swiftly investigate Tekah’s death.
“The Ethiopian community is dear to us all,” Netanyahu said. “We made a big effort in recent years to integrate it fully in Israeli society, and we have much more work to do.”
But protest organizer Assaf Govana told Army Radio that politicians were part of the problem.
“Why do you have to kill a kid. Why does it need to come to this,” he asked, his voice breaking. “Stop sending us nice words. I am done with them. I am done with the nice words. Find out the truth.”
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.