Cases Closed Against Ethiopian-Israeli Soldier, Cop Who Manhandled Him

Videotaped violence sparked protests; Justice Ministry calls policeman’s behavior ‘impeccable.’

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Ethiopian Israelis clash with police officers in a protest in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2015.
Ethiopian Israelis clash with police officers in a protest in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Sunday he will close the criminal investigations against both the police officer who manhandled Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Demas Fekadeh and against Fekadeh himself. The incident in early May was caught on CCTV and sparked angry protests by thousands of Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

Weinstein’s decision comes on the recommendation of the state prosecutor and Justice Ministry investigators, who determined that Fekadeh initiated the clash with the policeman, and that the policeman’s handling of the confrontation was “impeccable.”

The case against the policeman will be turned over to the Israel Police for disciplinary proceedings. However, during political uproar surrounding the video and the protests, police Commissioner Yohanan Danino fired the police officer.

"The Police Investigation Unit's decision to transfer the case to the disciplinary department is irrelevant as the disciplinary process has concluded with the policeman's dismissal," the police said in a statement. It added that the decision to dismiss the officer was based on the severity of the charges, the evidence at hand and the officer's service.

"The police officer was on a trial period and the incident in the video was just one component that lead to his firing," the police said. A police volunteer, who was also seen hitting the solider, has been dismissed as well.

Justice Ministry investigators say Fekadeh attacked the policeman first and disregarded the officer’s instructions. “From the investigative material, including the film that documented the incident, which was studied extensively, including in slow motion, it emerged that after the police officer asked the soldier repeatedly to leave the scene because of a suspicious object nearby, and the soldier did not do so, and pushed the policeman, the policeman used tangible force to distance the soldier from the scene. In response, the soldier struck the policeman with his fist and in response to that, the police officer struck the soldier with his fist. In the end, the two police officers overpowered and restrained the soldier.”

Justice Ministry investigators added that this was a case of a police officer losing control when a civilian disobeyed his instructions in a potentially dangerous situation, and that this was understandable. Investigators said the action of the police was “impeccable.”

Regarding Fekadeh, Weinstein said that “in light of the flaring of tempers on both sides” and the force used against the soldier, “there was no justification for charging the soldier with attacking a policeman and therefore the case against him [the soldier] would be closed.”

Many in the police harshly criticized Danino for so quickly dismissing the officer from the police force. Some police officials said the officer’s conduct might be called into question and handled in a disciplinary framework, but that Danino quickly silenced everyone by firing him and not standing behind him until the probe was completed.

Sources close to the police officer said he was considering suing the police for wrongful termination.

The incident led to a wave of protests in the Ethiopian community. Clashes broke out between protesters and officers during a demonstration against police racism brutality in Tel Aviv last month. Several protesters attempted to break into City Hall and vandalized nearby shops, while others threw stones, sticks and bottles at the police. One group overturned a police car, and damage was caused to other parked vehicles. The police responded with means of crowd control. Twenty-six people were arrested.

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