Ethiopian Israelis Say Police Abused Them After Arrest

From racist slurs, to physical violence and inhumane conditions, Ethiopian Israeli detainees recall night in police holding.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Protesters and police clash at Tel Aviv demonstration of Ethiopian Israelis, May 3, 2015.
Protesters and police clash at Tel Aviv demonstration of Ethiopian Israelis, May 3, 2015.Credit: AFP
Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

Several protesters who were arrested Sunday at the Tel Aviv demonstration held by Israelis of Ethiopian descent say they were mistreated by the police following their arrest.

According to them, they were kept overnight in a police van and, despite being badly beaten, were denied medical treatment and not allowed out to relieve themselves.

The detainees accuse the police of brutal, contemptuous conduct and say they wouldn't have been treated this way had their skin color been different.

Nebo Ari Bako, 25, of Bnei Brak, had his jaw and teeth broken by policemen’s blows. He was arrested after blocking the traffic on the Ayalon Highway before the protest heated up on Rabin Square later that night.

Bako says he did not resist arrest when officers took him to the police van, but other demonstrators tried to pull him out. At this stage a policeman pulled his hair, choked him, twisted his arm and held him while another hit him in the face and back of the head with a police radio, breaking his jaw and several of his teeth.

Bako says he vomited as a result, and the policemen told him he would have to clean up the car. Only at 6 P.M., about three hours later, was he taken to Meir Hospital for treatment. He lost consciousness a few times on the way, he recalls. At the hospital, where he was bound to the bed part of the time, Bako was given a C.T. scan and told to see a jaw specialist. Since the doctor was absent, the police were told to bring him back the next morning.

Bako was then kept overnight in a police van with some 20 other detainees at the Glilot police station. “Some of us vomited and didn’t feel well. I kept spitting blood, afraid to swallow any of my teeth. Others urinated and defecated after being cooped up for seven hours,” he says. When Bako begged to see a doctor a policeman told him “if you keep this up we’ll break more of your teeth,” he testified.

In the morning, instead of taking him to hospital, Bako and the other detainees were brought to court where he was charged with rioting, threats, assaulting a policeman and escaping detention. The magistrate instructed the police to release him on bail to house arrest until Saturday and have the Justice Ministry’s police investigation department investigate how he was injured.

Kobi Tagania, 28, of Azor, near Tel Aviv, was arrested after taking a “selfie” with Tel Aviv District Commander Bentzi Sau in the background. The police grabbed him and cuffed him, “but fortunately there were TV cameras thereA policewoman swore at me and said, if there wasn’t a camera here I’d kick your ass and beat you up.”

He says he was kept with other detainees, some of them injured, in the police van. “They treated us like animalspeople peed in water bottles and defecatedWe couldn’t breathe. I vomited from the stench three or four times,” he says.

Police say Tagania pushed policemen and hit them with hard objects while reeking of alcohol. He was charged with rioting and assaulting a policeman. Tagania was released to house arrest and banned from Tel Aviv and demonstrations for 20 days.

“One of the policemen said 'you should be grateful for being brought to this country,'” says Tagania.

Attorney Gaby Lasky, who represented Bako, Tagania and other detainees, says they all complained of police violence. One of them, a soldier, was brought to court with head injuries and a cracked nose. Lior Golan of the public defender’s office, who represents 12 detainees, said many were denied a lawyer before their interrogation, as required by law.

“Once a person is in custody, there’s no justification for violence,” says Lasky. “I’ve never seen so many detainees brought to court with injuries and it’s the first time I hear of demonstrators kept in a police van overnight.”

The Tel Aviv police spokeswoman said the testimonies are “a perverse attempt to slander the police officers who did their duty by law to disperse an illegal protest.” She said the protesters threw stones, injured horses and tried to take over City Hall.

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