Ethiopian-Israelis Jews face discrimination because of their skin colour

July 05, 2019 (GMN) - Woreka Teka sits in a mourning tent and accepts the hugs of supporters, but begged off when asked about the night his 19-year-old son was killed by a police officer's bullet.

"I want the demonstrations to keep going, but not violently, until they charge the policeman who shot him," the 58-year-old said in his native Amharic language through a translator as he and his wife sat near a picture of his smiling son. Solomon Teka's death has been a deeply personal tragedy for his family, but for the wider Ethiopian-Israeli community, he has become a symbol as well.

Violent protests erupted in areas across the country after he was killed on last Sunday. In Kiryat Ata, near Teka's home in the neighbouring community of Kiryat Haim in northern Israel, demonstrators burned tires and blocked roads, the burn marks on the street still visible. Police say more than 140 people have been arrested and 111 officers wounded.

Teka's death has brought renewed attention to the longstanding grievances of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, who say they are discriminated against and targeted by police because of their skin colour.

The community now numbers around 140,000, of whom some 50,000 were born in Israel. They are Jewish but say they are in many cases still seen as outsiders.

Early on, police kept their distance to avoid stoking tensions, but beginning late Tuesday they took a tougher stance and began clearing protesters from roads. On Wednesday night, the number of protesters and the level of violence were vastly reduced.

Police said Teka was killed when an off-duty officer saw a fight between youths and tried to break it up. After the officer identified himself, the youths threw stones at him and he opened fire at Teka after "feeling that his life was in danger", a police statement said.

Other young men and a passer-by said the policeman was not attacked, Israeli media reported. The officer is under house arrest while an investigation continues.

Ethiopian-Israelis arrived in the country as part of a unique history.

Their ancestors were cut off from the Jewish world for centuries before eventually being recognised by Israeli religious authorities as Jews. Many arrived in two separate Israeli airlifts in 1984 and 1991.

Ethiopian-Israelis face special challenges due to their relatively recent arrival and other factors, including the simple fact of their skin colour. Teka's death was not the first time a police shooting led to protests.

In January, thousands of Ethiopian-Israelis demonstrated after a young man was shot dead as he allegedly rushed at a police officer with a knife. His mother said she had called the police to subdue her son, who reportedly suffered from a mental condition, and alleged they used excessive force.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trod carefully during the protests, calling Teka's death a "tragedy" and acknowledging problems needed to be addressed before eventually declaring that violent demonstrations would not be accepted. (AFP)