Protesters Clash With Police During Demonstrations Over Fatal Shooting of Ethiopian Israeli Teen

Police say shooting occurred as officer, at the scene with his family, tried to separate fighting youths – but a witness says it was he who was the instigator

A protester in Kiryat Ata, July 2, 2019.
Rami Shllush

Over a thousand Israelis protested in several cities on Tuesday, two days after an off-duty police officer had shot and killed an Israeli teen of Ethiopian descent, reigniting anger over law enforcement's treatment of the minority community.

Police used riot dispersal methods, including tear gas and stun grenades. In the northern city of Kiryat Ata, over a thousand marched on the Zevulun police station, as some of the protesters threw smoke grenades into the station.

Police said they arrested 60 people in all protest sites, and that some 50 officers were wounded in the clashes. 

>> Read more: Ethiopians protesting police shooting of teen are saying what Israel needs to hear: This is a racist country | Analysis

Emergency services said 50 people had received medical treatment, including protesters, police and bystanders stuck in traffic. All injuries were minor. Emergency services added that four paramedics were attacked by demonstrators.

Protesters in Tel Aviv on July 2, 2019.

Main roads and junctions across the country were reopened to traffic after the police had dispersed most of the protesters overnight Tuesday.

Several dozens of demonstrators remained in some protest sites and confronted the police.    

Earlier, demonstrators in the northern city of Afula hurled stones at a police officer, who was injured and taken to the hospital to receive medical attention. As the protesters ran toward him, the officer shot in the air and was extracted from the scene by other policemen. The police used crowd dispersal measures against the rioters.

Following the incident, the police said it would allow freedom of expression according to the law, however, would act with determination against any kind of violence, including attempts to attack a police officer or civilians.

Some 200 demonstrators in Afula blocked traffic on one of the northern city's main streets. Meanwhile, major roads in several cities, including Tel Aviv and Haifa, were blocked by demonstrators burning tires.

A protester sits in the middle of traffic in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019
Tomer Applebaum

In Jerusalem, police broke the blockage, arresting seven protesters in the process.  In Ashdod, more than ten protesters were arrested.

In Tel Aviv, some 200 protesters faced off with the officers yelling slogans including, "You are murderers," and "One of you will die today."

Upended cars, some engulfed in flames, could be seen along several highways across the country. A vehicle in Tel Aviv's Azrieli junction, set fire to by protesters, seemed set to explode. Dozens of masked demonstrators hurled objects at it, while police were nowhere to be seen.

Responding to the protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged "there are problems that need to be solved," but called on protesters to stop blocking the roads. "We are a nation of law; we will not tolerate the blocking of roads. I ask you, let us solve the problems together while upholding the law."

President Reuven Rivlin called for an investigation into Teka's death adding, "It is upon us to prevent the next death. The next humiliation. We are all obligated to this." He also called for an end to the violence, saying that "The rage cannot be allowed to express itself in violence. The handful protesters who chose violence – they are not the face of this protest."

Meanwhile, veteran Labor Party lawmaker Amir Peretz, who won the primary for the party's leadership on Tuesday, decided to postpone his victory celebrations due to the protests. 

"I've decided not to hold my victory celebration in light of the deep rift [in Israeli society] that is being intensified in front of our very eyes and the protest of the Ethiopian community. This outburst expresses the sense of discrimination they have been carrying for many years. Tomorrow we'll do everything that is required to reunite the party and make it a political home for every Israeli," Peretz said.     

Hundreds attended 18-year-old Solomon Teka's funeral. Police said he was shot as the officer, who was at a playground with his wife and children, tried to separate two youths who were fighting. An eyewitness, however, said the officer instigated the incident, threatening the youths with his weapons.

The officer was arrested on Sunday and has been released to house arrest. The Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers said he was questioned again on Tuesday, that statements had been taken from others who were in the area, that there had been reconstructions of the incident, and that additional evidence had been found.

"It's not normal he got out on 5,000 shekels bail! Instead of watching over us, they're looking out for him. All of this under the patronage of the state," said one protestor.

"Look at what they did to Yehuda Biadga," he added, referring to the mentally disturbed man who was killed by a policeman in January. "His mother asked for help - two bullets to the head. We demand justice."

Another protester shouted: "We won't move until Bibi comes out from the air conditioning!"

Another participant, 31-year-old Shlomi from Netanya, tried in vain to speak with drivers. “People here are crying over a half-hour traffic jam while a mother is sitting shiva for a murdered 18-year-old – they’re looking for excuses and say [the bullets] hit the ground. Instead of coming out and being with us, they say ‘your protest isn’t just.’ It’s not ours, it’s everyone’s. I’m not willing to have my child be afraid. There are second and third generations here who are suffering,” he said, adding that he was disappointed to see few non-black people among the protesters. 

“The general public does not understand us . . . They see you everywhere, in the military, at work, on the street and online, and they tell you they’re with you -- but as soon as you damage their comfort they flip," he said.

Police have not identified a single leadership behind the protests and view them as being organized spontaneously by local communities. 

“There is a process of deligitimization in which we are being painted as criminals and violent people even though we are experiencing the violence,” Avi Yalou, a social activist, told Haaretz. “They don’t want to repeat the mistakes from the previous protests so they are preparing the foundation to justify their violence later. The demonstrations are expected to continue during the next few days. [The police's] publicity through the messages that are being passed on to the media is intended to place the focus on the Ethiopian community and portray it as violent without asking the main questions of how it happened that for years, time after time, policemen shoot black citizens and it doesn’t end. They are giving the appearance as if they are the victims in this story,” said Yalou.

According to the pathologist's report on the shooting death in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Haim, Teka's body did not show definitive signs of how he was killed, sources said. The shape of the bullet after impact – which shows the angle at which it hit – may support the possibility that the shots were first aimed at the ground, and ricocheted towards Teka's chest. However, the bullet's shape could also indicate that it directly hit a bone.  

The authority to make a decision on the matter changed hands from the forensic medical specialist to a more in-depth examination of the bullet at the police's ballistic laboratory. Sources involved in the investigation claim that the findings are not certain because of first aid efforts to save Teka. Tampering with the wound caused changes that made it more difficult for investigators to get a reliable understanding of the shooting.

Teka, who recently celebrated his 18th birthday, was born and raised in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar and immigrated to Israel six years ago. His parents bought an apartment in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Yam. In ninth grade, Teka left the local school and attended the Yemin Orde boarding school in Nir Etzion, coming home once every two weeks. Over the past year he had dropped out of school, worked at odd jobs and waited to be drafted.

Teka had had previous run-ins with the police, and his relatives claim the response was disproportionate"

Solomon, when he came to Israel, was a good boy who respected his environment and his parents,” said a relative, Itay Ashatu. “There are kids who are products of the difficult reality they’re in. Every teenager who comes from Ethiopia who’s defined as on the edge is a good person underneath it all, but the reality is difficult and there are things that aren’t taken care of."

"It’s hard to be black in Israel and walk around feeling secure," Ashatu added. "Even a policeman of Ethiopian origin, once he takes off his uniform, is at risk of taking a bullet in the head. Parents aren’t afraid of road accidents or terrorists, they are afraid of policemen. There’s no faith in any system, there’s no justice."

Mourners at  Solomon Teka's funeral on July 2, 2019.
Rami Shlush