Why Are Ethiopian Israelis So Angry? The Voices Behind the Protests

Several of the demonstrators who attended the rally against police brutality - which itself turned violent - explained to Haaretz what brought them out into the streets of Tel Aviv.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Maya Tzagay, a 19-year-old soldier from Netanya. All photos by Nir Kedar.
Maya Tzagay, a 19-year-old soldier from Netanya. All photos by Nir Kedar.
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Large police forces in Jerusalem on Monday braced for a protest against police brutality toward Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent. Officials threatened to use means of crowd control should the rally spin out of control, as it did the night before in Tel Aviv.

Fifty-six police officers and 12 protesters were lightly and moderately hurt during Sunday's demonstration, and 43 people were arrested on suspicion of rioting and assault. A similar demonstration in Jerusalem on Thursday also culminated in violence between police and protesters.

The protests were prompted by an incident early last week, in which police were caught on video assaulting an Ethiopian soldier who did not move immediately upon their request. (The police were trying to clear the area around him because of a suspicious object.)

Joining the Israeli Ethiopians at Sunday’s protest were hundreds of supporters, including social activists, youth movement participants, and Knesset members from various parties on the center and left.

Many of the protesters said they had come to demonstrate not only against police brutality but also against what they say is pervasive racism in Israeli society. Last week’s incident, they said, was the trigger.

Several of the demonstrators explained to Haaretz what brought them out into the streets of Tel Aviv.

Dana Sibaho, 29
A bookkeeper from Netivot
Immigrated to Israel in 1991

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“We have long been the punching bag and scapegoat for everything in this country. People say that they’re with us, that they brought us here. They didn’t bring us here. We came because of Zionism, not like others who came for economic benefits. When you’re a Zionist, you believe with a full heart that this is your country.

"Our forefathers lived here, and we also have the right to live here. But what is going on now is simply a catastrophe. It is racism for the sake of racism. You look for a job today, and even if you’re the best around, there’s a price. Your color carries a price.

"But we will not stay silent any longer. We are not our parents’ generation, who kept quiet, kept their heads down and said ‘amen’ to everything. That period is over. We are a new generation fighting for our rights.

"We are the first to volunteer for the elite units in the military. I personally know many in the community who’ve already fought in three wars. And the state – what it does it tell them to do? Pardon the expression, but it tells them to go stick it you know where."

Yoav Gared, 26
A former Givati Brigade soldier from Beit Shemesh

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“We’ve come not only because of police violence, but also because of the racism in society here. We feel it in the workplace and in the neighborhood.

"The important thing is getting the following message out to the entire nation of Israel: We will not stay silent any longer. We will not accept violence any longer – not from the police and not from anyone else. I personally have never been a victim of police violence, but I’ve witnessed other members of the community who have been.”

Getenet (last name withheld), 40
A resident of the West Bank town of Ariel
Immigrated to Israel in 1984

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“I’m here today out of solidarity with that soldier who was beaten up. A soldier in uniform doesn’t deserve to get what he got. A soldier in uniform deserves to be respected and appreciated. But it’s not just that. That was the spark that triggered it all, but there are many young Ethiopians who are sitting in jail today for nothing. No reason at all. It’s painful. I took a day off work for this because it’s so important for me to make my voice heard.”

Maya Tzagay, 19
A soldier from Netanya
Born in Israel

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“There are too many instances of racism against our community. We kept quiet and kept quiet, and because of that, people who were victims of police violence ended up killing themselves. The boy who was beat up last week, you can see on the video that he didn’t do anything. He was beaten up for nothing, and it’s really enraging.

"What we’re doing now has nothing to do with what’s going on in Baltimore. They have their issues. We have ours. But we understand them – we both suffer from racism. There, it’s more extreme. People were murdered by police. Here they just got beaten up. Who knows? Maybe somebody was killed by police here, and we don’t even know about it.

"In any event, we will not be silent any longer. It can’t be that our blood is only good for fighting wars.”

Itay Kefale, 29
A resident of Bat Yam
Immigrated to Israel in 2005

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“I’m here because I want to bring about change, God willing, to the new generation. What happened last week with the Ethiopian soldier, we don’t deserve that. So I came here so that my voice would also be heard and so that in the future, what happened to our brother doesn’t happen to my son and to your son. Enough already.”

Zemene Melesse, 46
A singer from the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak
Immigrated to Israel in 1991

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“I’m here because of the racism against the Ethiopian community. For years, we’ve suffered from this racism, at work, when we go out, everywhere. When I get on stage at clubs, the police immediately interfere. They ask to see our identification cards. They try to get us to stop playing. What’s happening here today has nothing to do with what’s happening in Baltimore, but as a black man, I identify with them.”

Eli Malasa, 33
A resident of Netivot
Immigrated to Israel in 1999

Photo by Nir Kedar.

“Why am I here? Because of the police who beat us and open files on us. They get promoted on our backs. Whenever they see us hanging out together, having a good time, drinking a little, laughing, they have to break it up and beat us up. They don’t ask questions. They don’t tell us to be quiet. They just beat us up.

"My whole life, wherever I’ve been, that’s been the story. I’m a truck driver, but they took away my license from me, and now I have no work. My brother was beaten to a pulp by them. We don’t even know why, but he’s not willing to do anything now. Not even leave the house. They ruined his life.”

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