Chanting "Black lives matter" and "No justice, no peace," some 300 people gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy's Tel Aviv branch Tuesday, to protest the killing of George Floyd that triggered a wave of demonstrations across America over the past week.
The protesters, most of them in their twenties, held up signs reading “Dismantle racism now,” “If you aren’t livid, you’re not listening!” and “I stand with Minneapolis.” Some had scrawled “I can’t breathe” across the surgical masks they were wearing as protection against the coronavirus.
Toosheyah Butler, 23, who lives in Ashkelon, told the crowd: “When I saw the video of George Floyd and saw him crying out for his mother – as the mother of a boy, for me it was like seeing my brother, my father, my cousins, my friends or my son lying on the ground, defenseless. I want peace, but I also want justice. … In 2020, you can get away with murder. You can murder a black man and get away with it because you can just say 'I was scared for my life.'"
The gathering started as two separate initiatives on Facebook led by young women seeking to show solidarity with demonstrators in the United States and across the world calling for racial justice. It followed the release of a video showing a Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck as he protested “I can’t breathe” and cried out for his mother.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for his actions on May 25. But members of the Floyd family and many others are calling for more serious charges, as well as charges against the three other officers who were there at the time of the incident.
Gabriel Chichester, a black Jewish man who had immigrated to Israel from the United States, read out a list of young black men who had lost their lives at the hands of police in the United States. He spoke through a megaphone directed at the embassy branch office while the crowd responded each time: “Say their name!”
“Imagine what it’s like moving across the world, making aliyah to Israel, and having to be worried that your little brothers back home might die,” he said.
The Tel Aviv protest brought together young American immigrants like Chichester, Ethiopian Israelis and members of the migrant worker community.
A succession of speakers stepped forward from the crowd. While most of their remarks related to the situation in the United States and the issue of police brutality on American streets, several speakers spoke of the pain of racism in Israel.
"I just want to be treated as a human being,” said Jennifer Onuorah, 21, a Tel Aviv resident and one of the organizers, her voice choking with emotion as she described being looked at with suspicion wherever she went. “Judge me for who I am, not what I look like,” she said.
Onuorah, the child of a Filipino mother and a Nigerian father, told the story of calling to apply for a job in Israel, and having had clearly impressed her potential employer on the phone. "And then came the day I showed up in his office. He didn’t expect the confident voice on the phone to be a black girl."
Mekdes Terefe, an Ethiopian-Israeli activist, spoke of police brutality and unjust deaths of black people in Israel.
"None of us are immune from police violence,' she said, reading the names of black men who had died at the hands of local police. She ened with the name Solomon Teka, who was shot by an off-duty policeman in northern Israel last year, triggering protests across the country.
"Police officers of Israel! Stop killing us! Enough!" she called out.
Devon Spitzer, one of the organizers of the event, said that “just a few days ago, Eyad Hallaq was murdered by police and we want to say his name, too.”
Hallaq, 32, was an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man who was shot twice in the chest and killed by Israeli police in Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday.
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