Protesters Clash With Israeli Police Over Treatment Of Ethiopian Jews

Protesters Clash With Israeli Police Over Treatment Of Ethiopian Jews

2:50pm May 05, 2015

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Israeli security forces battled several thousand people yesterday in Tel Aviv. They were protesting what they call discrimination and police brutality toward Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured, and more than 40 people were arrested. As NPR's Emily Harris reports, some Israelis are drawing parallels to events in Baltimore.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: At first, protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a highway, snarling traffic for hours. Police mostly watched. Later, the demonstrations turned violent.


HARRIS: Protesters threw stones and bottles. Police used tear gas and water cannon. Officers on horseback charged into crowds of demonstrators. This, and similar confrontations in Jerusalem last week, stem from years of discontent among Ethiopian-Israelis. The latest trigger was a video that caught a police officer beating up on an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld says it's not a pattern.

MICKEY ROSENFELD: Unfortunately, once in a while, our police officers use excessive force; it's understandable out of the thousands of times that they respond and react to different situations.

HARRIS: But Jewish Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent say otherwise. Alemo Fahada is among the tens of thousands of young Ethiopians whose parents migrated to Israel after rabbis decided they were descendents of a biblical Jewish tribe. He recently finished his tour of duty as an Israeli soldier and says he's tired of discrimination against dark-skinned Israelis.

ALEMO FAHADA: We want to stop this because this is going more than 25 years and nobody says nothing. For the government, we are the black people. We are nothing for them.

HARRIS: He and his friends say they see parallels to their experience in the footage they've watched of protests and police treatment of African-Americans in Baltimore and other parts of the U.S. But Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, head of an Ethiopian rights organization in Israel, told Israel's TLV1 Radio he is not ready to draw those connections.


FENTAHUN ASSEFA-DAWIT: I want to believe - I want to believe we're not there. Although there is discrimination and racism and we see the brutality against the Ethiopians, maybe this should be gone. I don't want to see like the black Americans in the United States, who've been there hundreds of years, still facing that.

HARRIS: He wants the problem in Israel resolved before more anger and frustration build. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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