Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and the surrounding area looked like a battlefield yesterday evening. On one side, thousands of demonstrators protesting the discrimination against Ethiopian immigrants were throwing rocks and bottles.
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On the other side were police officers firing stun- and tear-gas grenades. A helicopter few over the square, carrying police commissioner Yohanan Danino. Those sitting in nearby coffee shops seemed to be less excited about the violent clashes and remained, even after the owners closed up.
The demonstration started in the afternoon near the Azrieli Mall, and was relatively quiet at first. The protesters blocked a few streets, including the Ayalon Highway, for about two hours, and sang. Whether the passing drivers supported the demonstrators or not, many didn’t accept the disruptions with great understanding, became angry and began to argue.
“We are in favor of the demonstration against the police, but we must get through. Let us drive,” said one of the drivers. At the same time, the trains passing the protesters who were blocking the highway used their whistles in a show of support.
A woman waiting at a bus stop on Arlosorov Street praised the demonstrators. “What we Moroccans did not succeed in doing they are doing,” she said. But a thirty-something woman on her bicycle said as she passed, “What’s this, a protest of Sudanese? They should send them all back to Africa.”
Most of the thousands of protesters who came to Tel Aviv for the demonstration were aged between 15 and 30, and made it clear they had reached breaking point. One woman from Ashdod said, “We can no longer remain silent; the situation is burning inside all of us.
“The routine is that Tel Aviv carries on, that nothing happens. Discrimination is part of the routine, and that is why it is of great importance we blocked roads. The time has come for Israeli society to wake up,” she added.
“We were in the army, we are Zionists and not willing to be silent. We are not running away to Berlin; we are here and will deal with our problem,” said Noy Tekta, 31, who was there with her sister Almaz, 23. “It’s not logical that the country can say I’m not as good,” said Almaz. “They uprooted us from Ethiopia and made promises. But what did we get? Racism. Ethiopian soldiers say they will stop doing reserve duty since they see how they act toward the community,” said Tekta. She said her parents’ generation had been forced to remain silent, but her generation would not. “Only violence will help. Without violence, our situation will remain the way it has for 30 years.”
In addition to the great many protesters of Ethiopian origin, many others also came out in support for the struggle, including many members of various youth movements. “What they show on the news is not everything. The public is not exposed to everything that happens against the [Ethiopian] community. The situation is much worse, and it will blow up,” said Ora and Bracha, two 40-ish women from Herzliya who felt they must come and demonstrate.
The protesters carried signs saying things like “Enough discrimination”; “A violent policeman needs to sit in prison”; and “I am black, I am transparent in the eyes of society.” Many demonstrators called out the name of Yosef Salamseh, a young Ethiopian man who committed suicide four months after being Tasered by police.