State, in Mediation, Seeks Six Years for Ethiopian Israeli Protester Who Torched Police Car

Eitan Mahareto, 24, who was already on probation, is being indicted for his alleged actions during massive protests in July against the shooting death of Solomon Teka by an off-duty police officer

A burning car during protests against the shooting death of Solomon Teka, Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The state has charged a man who allegedly torched a police vehicle during a protest in July against the shooting death of Ethiopian-Israeli Solomon Teka by an off-duty policeman. In a preliminary mediation hearing, the state said it may seek a six-year prison term, as the defendant had prior convictions.

Eitan Mahareto, 24, is being indicted for incitement, arson and vandalism with aggravated intent. Mahareto, a resident of Rosh Ha’ayin, and others allegedly torched a parked police van. The defense and the prosecution announced that they had reached an agreement on the evidence and on adjusting the indictment to remove the charge of attacking a policeman.

The prosecution told Haaretz that both sides are in negotiations that will continue in mediation, but that it cannot elaborate on the details. Only after the mediation process will they decide on a sentence. An additional hearing on the case is expected to be held in February.

One of the reasons the prosecution said that they are seeking a lengthy prison term is that Mahareto has four prior convictions. At the time when Mahareto allegedly torched the car, he was five months into his six-month probation for crimes against police.

Sources familiar with the case expect that the sentence will be much shorter than six years, and consider options ranging from probation to an extended sentence.    

A demonstration against the handling of the Solomon Teka case outside the attorney general's home, Petah Tikva, November 3, 2019.
Meged Gozani

According to sources among the Ethiopian community’s protest leaders, Mahareto is the last person being held for those demonstrations. Solomon Teka’s father and sister came to the hearing in a show of solidarity.

The original indictment alleged that Mahareto and other protesters had torched a police patrol vehicle that was parked near Hameyasdim Square in Petah Tivka. Mahareto allegedly torched the vehicle and smashed the window. Later he and others threw rocks and objects at police in the city’s police station, and Mahareto torched a pile of planks and cans.

Mahareto was arrested immediately after allegedly committing the crimes and has remained in detention since. He has declined to be released on house arrest, as he is reluctant to impose on his impoverished family; if he is kept under house arrest, family members will be forced to keep watch over him and will be unable to work.

Mahareto’s attorney, Izhar Conforti, asked that his crimes be seen in the context of the acts committed out of protest and motivated by pain. “The anger against the police still exists,” said Conforti, requesting that the case be sent for mediation.

The indictment against Mahareto also includes alleged crimes of incitement due to posts he wrote in the 48 hours following the death of Solomon Teka, an 18-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli who was fatally shot by an off-duty policeman in June. The officer is expected to be charged with negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Mahareto published a post in which he is masked and holding an object that looks like a gun, next to the words “Fuck the police.” In another post Mahareto wrote that he supports violence against policemen. “Abduct policemen, stab them, hunt them as though they were cats, don’t give them a moment’s rest, abuse their disgusting women,” he wrote. Hours later he deleted the post.

Although the prosecutor agreed to mediation, she claimed that “the gap between us is very deep and cannot be ignored.” District Court Judge Ami Kovo wondered whether the state would be willing to compromise and reduce the punishment. Conforti added that if he receives a sentence that people will view as severe, they will feel that Mahareto is being made into a scapegoat, and that members of the community feel very strongly about this.

Yayo Avraham, one of the leaders of the Ethiopian-Israeli protest, who came to the Mahareto hearing yesterday, said that he had come to “support and strengthen the family.”

Avraham added that “If Teka’s murder had not taken place, there would have been no indictment and over six months’ detention. We won’t stop until the young people who went to protest return home safely.”

About 30 people who participated in those demonstrations attended Monday’s hearing.

Mahareto’s mother, who was in the courtroom, claimed that she hadn’t seen her son since he was detained.