An Ethiopian-born IDF soldier whose beating at the hands of police set off violent clashes over the last few days in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv said on Monday that aggression wouldn’t provide a solution to discrimination and police brutality against the Ethiopian community.
His comments came a day after a rally in Tel Aviv erupted into a chaotic street battle that left 65 people injured among both police and protesters, and led to 43 arrests. Police were set to remand 19 in custody on Monday.
Damas Pakada told Army Radio that although he wasn’t at the Tel Aviv protest, which drew thousands of people including many supporters of the Israeli-Ethiopian community, he had followed the developments from his IDF base in the north of the country.
An amateur video published last week showed two policemen pummeling a uniformed Pakada in an apparently unprovoked attack. The incident became a rallying cry for members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, who allege ongoing institutional discrimination and racism against them.
“I am opposed to violence against citizens and against police,” Pakada said. “It’s important that they hear our side, but violence will not solve the problem.”
Police said 56 police officers and 12 demonstrators were injured in the Tel Aviv rally, most suffering light injuries. Twenty-five people were treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, and all but four were later released: one person was still being treated for brain hemorrhaging and three others were being kept for observation. A further 18 were treated at the Wolfson Medical Center, 10 at the Rabin Medical Center and eight at the Sheba Medical Center.
Many of the injured made their own way to the hospitals, as ambulances struggled to operate due to the chaos at the scene. Most of the casualties suffered from head and limb injuries, some were injured by stun grenades or tear gas inhalation, and others in direct clashes with riot police, who were assaulted with rocks and other objects.
The commander of the North Tel Aviv precinct, Chief Superintendent Nissim Daoudi, claimed that “anarchist groups” had taken advantage of the protest to clash with police.
“At some point the demonstrators crossed a boundary that cannot be crossed in a democratic state,” he said. “The demonstrators started throwing bricks and bottles at police.”
The demonstration had begun in the afternoon, with thousands of Israeli-Ethiopians and supporters blocking the Ayalon Highway, a major north-south artery in Tel Aviv. For over three hours, during rush hour, the highway remained blocked, with police keeping their distance to avoid provoking clashes.
After eventually leaving the highway, the demonstrators moved on to Rabin Square, a central plaza that is a popular venue for large rallies. As the evening wore on, scuffles broke out between protesters and police and the rally rapidly spiraled into a full-blown riot. For several hours police used deployed mounted officers, tear gas, stun grenades and water canons in an effort to dispel the crowd. Meanwhile, the demonstrators set off firecrackers, pelted police with debris, overturned a police cruiser and lit fires.
At a protest last Thursday in Jerusalem, officially staged in order to highlight police brutality against members of Israel’s Ethiopian community, police deployed tear gas, stun grenades and water hoses. Pockets of demonstrators threw stones and bottles at police and blocked streets as well as the city’s light rail tracks as they attempted to march on the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Three police officers were injured at the protest, along with as many as 13 demonstrators. Two were arrested.
More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, having immigrated in two waves in 1984 and 1991. But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society among lingering accusations of institutional discrimination.
AFP contributed to this report.