An estimated 1,000 people or more have been protesting all through Monday in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Ata over the killing of an Ethiopian Israeli teenager by an off-duty police officer.
The demonstration, which began on Monday morning, continued all day and into the evening, as protesters chanted, burned tires and blocked roads.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealed for calm, saying that “our cohesion in moments … of trials and tribulations is ultimately the key to our power.” He expressed regret over the death of Solomon Tekah and said that he spoke with the acting police commissioner, who “promised that we would make a great effort to get to the truth as soon as possible.”
Police, meanwhile, were calling for “restraint, responsibility and to avoid increasing tensions.”
The officer accused of the shooting was arrested earlier in the day and questioned at the Haifa office of the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP) in the State Prosecutor’s Office.
“I call upon the leadership of the Ethiopian community to do everything in their power to restrain the extra tensions and feelings in order to continue to focus on the important process of integrating between the community and the police,” acting police commissioner Moti Cohen said on Monday.
On Sunday night, Solomon Tekah, 19, was critically wounded and later died of his wounds after being shot by an off-duty police officer in a Kiryat Haim park.
The policeman had tried to break up a fight at the scene, and when the youths started throwing rocks at him, he said, he believed that he was in a life-threatening situation and opened fire.
Senior police officials expressed “skepticism” about the officer’s account, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
News of the fatal incident triggered immediate outrage in the Israeli Ethiopian community, where it was seen as an act of racist violence that would not have occurred had the youth been white.
“We’re looking for justice,” Verka Nazara Tekah, Solomon Tekah’s father, said in an interview. “I lost a child. A precious child. G-d, do justice to the people who took a child before his time when he had not done anything, not been able to do anything. He only came to play with his friends.”
Tekah was described by his father as “a child with the happiness of life, who knew how to hug, to help and support.” He said his son was caring and had a huge heart.
During the protest, one man stood up and shouted, “We cannot give up…We have to fight with all of our power to protect our culture. We cannot give up, or tomorrow or in two days they’ll shoot us.”
Tekah is the second Ethiopian to be killed by police in less than seven months. In January, police opened fire and killed 24-year-old Yehuda Biadga of Bat Yam, who reportedly rushed at the officers holding a knife.
Israeli politicians joined in the outcry.
“Like the ducks in the shooting range, the blood of Ethiopian young people has become a waste of time, and the lives of our children are not safe,” wrote Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata on Twitter. “The reaction of the community will be severe.”
MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash) accused Israeli police of feeling “very comfortable shooting at certain people – mainly Arabs and Ethiopians.
“Police violence against Ethiopian immigrants is not a hitch, but a policy, and in cases of killing Palestinians, there is no shock at all,” Cassif charged.