After an Ethiopian Jewish teenager was shot dead by police, his father asked why his community did not receive the same respect it showed Israel.
The violent confrontation erupted Tuesday night on the streets of Haifa and Tel Aviv in Israel, but not between the Palestinians and Israeli police this time.
Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis who accuse the Israeli state of systematic discrimination and racism towards their community stormed the streets across the country over the police officer’s killing of a young Ethiopian teen.
According to police, 136 protesters have been arrested and 111 officers have been wounded by stones and bottles thrown at them.
Soloman Teka, reportedly 18 or 19, was buried on Tuesday after he was shot dead in Haifa city by an off-duty policeman.
The killing of black Jewish teen sparked outrage among members of the Ethiopian community, who have long complained of living in constant fear of police due to their skin colour.
Chanting “end the killing, end the racism”, thousands expressed their anger and frustration at being targeted by security forces.
“We will do whatever we can to make sure police will stop killing people because of their skin colour,” Mengisto, a young Ethiopian Jewish protester said.
“We are asking for justice. My son has already gone but I hope he will be the last victim. Do not cry for my son. We demand that the murderer get what he deserves and find justice. Help me in this struggle,” Tekah’s father, Worka Tekah said in a eulogy for his son on Tuesday.
However, the flare-up over Tekah’s death is just the latest confrontation between Israeli authorities and the Ethiopian community.
In 2015, similar protests occurred after a video emerged showing two Israeli policemen attack an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian origin who seemed to be simply waiting next to his bicycle, not posing a threat.
The beating of a black soldier by police, in a society where the army is considered a sacred institution, further fuelled the protests and raised a red flag against the institutionalised discrimination of Ethiopian Jews.
A society defined by race
Experts argue that racial classification has always been a powerful element in the construction of Israeli society. Starting from the 20th Century, when waves of Jewish migrants reached Palestine, clear distinctions were drawn between European Jewish elites and others - Arab Jews, black Jews and Russian migrants, who were seen as “outsiders” by the European political elite.
Prejudice against non-European Jews, including Ethiopians, “filtered into policy-making and distribution of resources, resulting in a correlation between social status, class and ethnicity in Israel, across sectors such as education, housing and professional attainment”, Rachel Shabi, a writer or Iraqi Jewish heritage, points out.
Hence, Ethiopian Jews were not officially recognised as “real Jews” for a long time and were not allowed to migrate to Israel until 1973.
Currently, the Ethiopian Jewish community numbers around 140,000 people, including more than 50,000 that were born in Israel. The total population amounts to around just two per cent of the Israeli population.
However, in Israel today the community suffers from socio-economic problems and stereotyping which they find hard to shake.
Discrimination and poverty are the main obstacles stopping the community from thriving.
Echoing these structural issues, Worka Tekah expressed his frustration through tears
“We respect the laws and customs. Why are we not respected?... Let us be at peace. I want to be the last parent to bury their child,” he said.