Hundreds of protesters took to central Tel Aviv Wednesday evening to demonstrate against police brutality and discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community, a month after a similar protest resulted in some of the most intense clashes the city has ever seen.
Ten people were arrested amid scuffles with police, including protest leader Adva Zamirou.
Amid a heavy police presence, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Azrieli towers, chanting that “a violent officer must be incarcerated.” Organizers said they expected the protest to grow later in the evening, but it failed to reach the numbers seen by previous rallies, with only a few dozen remaining by 10 p.m.
The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests by the community since a video in April showed a policeman and a police volunteer assaulting Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Damas Pakada in Holon.
In the wake of the video, officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have vowed to work to end alleged discrimination against the Ethiopian community in Israel.
In Tel Aviv, a human shield of policemen initially attempted to prevent protesters from breaking through into the junction adjacent to the Azrieli towers, but police later blocked off traffic on a portion of Begin road, a central circuit in the coastal city. It was later reopened.
Protesters hurled a glass object towards police forces, but no one was injured by it, Haaretz reported.
Demonstrators expressed rage that Pakada’s attackers have yet to be tried. “We waited 30 days for the policemen to be put on trial, as the police commissioner and prime minister had promised. Of course, that did not happen, so were are staging a massive demonstration,” one protester told Ynet.
Tel Aviv district police claimed no formal request was submitted for the protest to be held, as is required by Israeli law, and had warned that the rally could become violent.
“Police have identified militant intent on the part of radical elements within the protest, who are inciting towards violence and the harming of citizens, policemen and property,” Tel Aviv district police spokesman Hilla Hamo said.
She further warned that they are “planning to instigate the crowd to block major roads and widely disrupt the public order.”
“Police will have zero tolerance towards protesters who will disrupt law and order, and will immediately arrest anyone who will behave violently or incite towards violence,” she added.
The protest came exactly one month after a similar demonstration turned violent, with heavy clashes between protesters and police. Dozens of people were injured as officers attempted to disperse crowds throughout the night, and dozens of arrests were made as well.
Earlier Wednesday, one of the protest leaders said the rally’s main message would be a criticism of police conduct and a call to prosecute violent officers.
“I don’t need to ask for a permit to go out to the streets and express my pain, I don’t view it as a criminal act,” Inbar Bogala told Haaretz. Responding to police claims that violent demonstrators plan to overtake the rally, Bogala said she “can’t control who arrives.”
Bogala made public a telephone conversation between her and a police officer held earlier in the day, who warned her she would be held criminally liable if she did not call off the rally.
Sparked by Pakada’s video, protests across the country have been going on since April in protest of discrimination and racism that the Israeli-Ethiopian community claims has been going on since their arrival in Israel.
Many community members have said in recent weeks that police in many cities single them out for scrutiny and conduct unwarranted searches on their person and property.
The police officer who was caught on video as he beat Pakada was fired and faces a criminal investigation. The volunteer officer who joined him in the attack has been banned from serving on the police force.
The officer later said he had been trying to keep Pakada from an area blocked off because of a suspicious object and said racism had not played a role in the incident.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a ministerial committee for the integration of Israelis of Ethiopian descent, promising quick action and an inquiry into the community’s claims of “excessive enforcement” by the police.
“There are claims of discrimination by law enforcement authorities,” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting. These claims need to be addressed, but first they need to be verified, he said.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.