Riot in Jerusalem as Ethiopian Israelis Protest Alleged Police Racism

AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi
AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi

Reuters reports that a demonstration against alleged police brutality and racism by Ethiopian immigrants turned violent in Jerusalem on Thursday, leading to at least 13 injuries. Two police officers and five protesters were hurt seriously enough to require hospital attention.

“The demonstration, that began as a peaceful march near national police headquarters in East Jerusalem, was called after a video clip emerged showing two police officers assaulting an Ethiopian army conscript and arresting him,” Reuters writes. “Among the protesters’ banners were one reading ‘Enough to police violence’ and ‘Gestapo’ with an Israeli police emblem next to it. Protesters chanted ‘the police are a disgrace!'”

One demonstrator interviewed by Reuters charged there were “many cases” where Israeli-Ethiopians have been beaten by the police.

Al-Jazeera claims to have seen a banner reading “Today it’s him, tomorrow it’s you!” and a placard reading, “In Europe they kill Jews because they’re Jews, here they kill Jews for being black.”

Reuters filed a video report from the scene:

Ynet News describes the videotaped incident that prompted this demonstration:

The video shows the [Ethiopian] soldier standing with his bicycle when he is approached by the police officer. After a brief exchange, the police officer begins to hit and shove the soldier,  before he is joined by another officer. The two policemen then drag the soldier to the side and begin to beat and kick him before forcibly arresting him while he is on the ground.

“I arrived at the scene five minutes after the incident,” the soldier’s brother stated. “The video was given to us by neighbors who filmed it on a home video camera. My brother was recruited recently, he is a good boy and an outstanding student. He is someone who never hit anyone. They are just animals not people. I have still not been able to talk to him.”

The police have said they were attempting to clear the area due to a suspicious package. Police commanders condemned the behavior of the officers involved, and promised disciplinary action: “The scenes in the video are not consistent with the values of the Israel Police and we condemn such behavior. The footage has been handed to the Police Investigations Department and the officer suspended.”

Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu also “unequivocally condemned” the beating of the Ethiopian soldier, and promised “those responsible will be brought to justice,” but warned that “nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands.”

“Immigrants from Ethiopia and their families are dear to us and Israel is making great efforts to ease their integration in society,” Netanyahu declared.

There are said to be about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel. Haaretz estimated about 1,000 people participated in the protests, which began near police headquarters but moved to the center of Jerusalem, passing near both the Prime Minister’s residence and the U.S. Consulate General.  Stones and bottles were thrown at the police when they attempted to disperse the crowd, and Haaretz says there were “reports of protesters throwing fire bombs.”

Riot police responded with stun grenades and “foul-smelling water from a water cannon,” according to Reuters.  Two protesters were detained as a result of the violence.

Haaretz relates a signal encounter between Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, and a young protester.  “Do you doubt that the prime minister, ministers, and 120 Knesset members want to embrace the Ethiopian community?” the mayor asked.

“I don’t want a hug,” the protester replied. “Look at me as you would look at a white person. I don’t need a hugs. That is a patronizing attitude that says that I’m incapable, so let’s give him a hug.”