Photo: Ma'an News Agency
Photo: Ma’an News Agency

Al-Quds (Jerusalem), 12 Rajab 1436/1 May 2015 (MINA) – Clashes broke out in Jerusalem on Thursday as more than 1,000 Ethiopian Israelis staged a protest demanding an investigation into alleged police racism and violence.

The protest started outside the city’s police headquarters as demonstrators blocked off one of the city’s main traffic arteries and the light rail service, an AFP correspondent said.

Protesters waved banners reading: “Stop police brutality, stop racism” and “Today it’s him, tomorrow it’s you!”, Maan News Agency quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.

They then marched towards the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where they also blocked the road before being stopped by a large number of police equipped with water cannons.

“Enough of racism!” they chanted, some of them waving Israeli flags, others holding up the Ethiopian flag.

“In Europe they kill Jews because they’re Jews, here they kill Jews for being black,” read one placard.

Police said the crowd hurled stones and bottles with police using anti-riot measures to keep them at bay, including tear gas and stun grenades, with 13 people injured in the confrontation.

Five demonstrators and two police officers were taken to hospital, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Jerusalem police chief Chico Edri said the police were aware of the “stormy emotions” gripping the Ethiopian community but called for everyone to act “with restraint.”

The protest was sparked by a series of incidents involving alleged racism and police brutality against members of the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Earlier this week, footage emerged of two police officers violently beating an Ethiopian soldier in uniform, sparking a wave of anger within the community.

Wave of condemnation

Netanyahu called for calm and pledged to take action against those shown in the footage.

“I strongly condemn the beating of the Ethiopian IDF soldier and those responsible will be held accountable. However, no one is allowed to take the law into their own hands,” he said in a statement.

Speaking to Channel 10 television, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said those shown in the video had “brought shame on the ranks of the police.”

Earlier this week, Israel’s national police chief Yohanan Danino pledged a crackdown following the emergence of the footage, saying that police “would not tolerate such unacceptable behavior.”

He also pledged to set up a team to investigate the community’s grievances.

President Reuven Rivlin also backed calls for an investigation.

“We cannot sit back in the face of anger and shouting — incidents such as these must serve as a warning sign, and an opportunity to conduct some genuine and thorough introspection,” he said in a statement.

More than 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, having immigrated to the Jewish state in two waves in 1984 and 1991.

But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.

Ethiopian Jews’ fight for life

While thousands of Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel since the 1980’s through the Law of Return, the population has historically faced discrimination from the state.

In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that illegal immigrants from Africa “threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The state admitted in 2013 to giving widespread contraceptive injections to women of the Ethiopian community without giving full explanation of the effects of the drug.

The policy caused international outcry, advocacy groups linking practice to the near 50 percent birthrate decline of Ethiopian Israelis in the past decade.

Upon discovery, members of the international community argued the practice amounted to forced sterilization.

Journalist Gal Gabbay revealed the practice after interviewing Ethiopian immigrants into Israel in 2012.

Women who had immigrated from Ethiopia reportedly said they were told they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with the long-acting birth control drug Depo Provera, Israeli media reported at the time.

While women were waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia before coming to Israel they were alledgedly intimidated or threatened into taking the injection.

“They told us they are inoculations,” one of the women interviewed said.

“They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”

Lawyer for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel Sharona Eliahu Chai, said at the time, “Findings from investigations into the use of Depo Provera are extremely worrisome, raising concerns of harmful health policies with racist implications in violation of medical ethics,” Israeli media reported in 2013. (T/P010/R04)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)