Sunday, May 3, 2015
Police on horseback charged hundreds of ethnic Ethiopian citizens in central Tel Aviv as an anti-racism protest descended into one of the most violent demonstrations in Israel's commercial capital in years
The protesters, Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin, were demonstrating against police brutality after the emergence of a video clip that showed policemen shoving and punching a black soldier. Demonstrators overturned a police car and threw bottles and stones at officers in riot gear at Rabin Square in the heart of the city. At least 20 officers and a similar number of protesters were injured, some of whom required hospital treatment, police and an ambulance service official said. A number of arrests were made. Police used water canon and stun grenades to try to clear the crowds. Israeli television stations said that teargas was also used, something the police declined to confirm. "I've had enough of this behavior by the police, I just don't trust them any more ... when I see the police I spit on the ground," one female demonstrator who was not identified said before the mounted police charge. "Our parents were humiliated for years. We are not prepared to wait any longer to be recognised as equal citizens. It may take a few months, but it will happen," another demonstrator said. Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in dramatic, top-secret operations in the 1980s and 1990s after a rabbinical ruling that they were direct descendants of the biblical Jewish Dan tribe. The community, which now numbers around 135,500 out of Israel's population of over 8 million, has long complained of discrimination, racism and poverty. Tensions rose after an incident in a Tel Aviv suburb where a closed circuit video camera captured a scuffle between a policeman and a uniformed soldier of Ethiopian descent. Two policemen were suspended on suspicion of using excessive force. Israeli politicians, stung by community leaders' comparison of the incident to police violence against blacks in the United States, have tried to defuse tensions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for calm. Taking time out from the final days of negotiations to form a coalition government, he said that he would meet Ethiopian activists and the soldier. "All claims will be looked into but there is no place for violence and such disturbances," he said in a statement. Many demonstrators moved away from Rabin Square where most of the clashes took place but smaller pockets of protests continued into the night. Earlier, protesters halted rush hour traffic for over an hour by blocking a major Tel Aviv highway. Some protest organisers told Israeli media that sections of the crowd had been incited to violence despite their peaceful intentions. At a recent protest in Jerusalem, police used water cannon to keep angry crowds away from Netanyahu's residence, and at least 13 people were injured. Ethiopian Jews have joined the ranks of legislators and the officer corps in the country's melting pot military but official figures show that they lag behind other Israelis. Ethiopian households earn 35% less than the national average and only half of their youth receive high school diplomas, compared with 63% for the rest of the population.