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  • Ethiopian Jews in Israel demand equality Posted on 05 May 2015

    Ethiopian Jews in Israel demand equality

    "I came out on the streets to protest the racism against me, as a black Jew in Israel," a 33-year-old worker at a Tel Aviv supermarket told AA

    By Anees Barghouthy

    TEL AVIV, Israel

    Shai, a 33-year-old worker at a Tel Aviv supermarket, has joined thousands of his fellow Ethiopian Jews to protest alleged discrimination in Israel.

    "I came out on the streets to protest the racism against me, as a black Jew in Israel," he told The Anadolu Agency.

    "We demand equality for everyone in Israel; not to be treated according to our color or be beaten because we are black," Shai fumed.

    Thousands of Ethiopian Jews demonstrated on Sunday in central Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to protest police violence and racism against their community.

    According to a statement issued by the Israeli police, 68 people – mostly police personnel – were injured in subsequent clashes, while 43 others were detained.

    The demonstration was triggered by an earlier assault on an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier by two Israeli policemen.

    Footage of the assault, which took place on April 26, was recorded by a security camera mounted atop a house in the central Israeli city of Holon.

    The footage, widely shared on social media, shows Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Damas Pakada arriving on a bicycle to a street that had been sealed off by Israeli police.

    The footage shows a policeman asking Pakada, who was dressed in army uniform, to leave the area.

    An altercation ensues after Pakada insists on remaining on the street, which ends with Pakada on the ground and two policemen beating him with their fists.

    The following day, the Israeli police announced that the two policemen implicated in the assault had been suspended until further notice.

    Pakada, for his part, told Channel 2 that he believed the incident was "racially-motivated."

    "If there had been no footage of the incident, I'm sure I would have been under arrest and no one would have believed me," he said.

    Jews of Ethiopian descent accuse the Israeli authorities of discriminating against members of their community.

    Three years ago, Ethiopian Jews staged demonstrations in central Israel to protest the refusal of a number of Israeli schools to allow the enrollment of children of Ethiopian descent.

    Unofficial estimates put the number of Jews of Ethiopian origin in the self-proclaimed state at about 125,500, some 5,400 of whom serve in the Israeli army.

    Excessive force

    Shlomo, a 27-year-old unemployed Ethiopian Jew, believes the recent assault on the Ethiopian-Israeli soldier was not an isolated incident.

    "Hundreds of African Jews have been attacked by Israeli police in recent years," he told AA. "We can't remain silent about this situation anymore."

    "We will continue to protest until violence and discrimination against black Jews ends," he added. 

    Hadas, a 35-year-old Ethiopian who works as a cleaner for a company in the city of Batyam south of Tel Aviv, also took part in the demonstrations.

    "We did not use violence – unlike the Israeli police who used stun grenades and gas to disperse us," she told AA.

    Israeli police had accused demonstrators of throwing bottles and stones at the troops, injuring several of them.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday with Pakada, the assaulted Israeli-Ethiopian soldier.


    But Ethiopian Jews are not only protesting what they describe as police brutality.

    Many say they have bigger problems.

    Hadas, a mother of two, complained of what she described as the discrimination and marginalization faced by most of Israel's Ethiopian Jews.

    "The neighborhoods where Ethiopians live are neglected and dirty," she said.

    "This is discrimination. It is not the future I want for my children," Hadas fumed. "We demand to feel secure and equal with every Israeli."

    Hadas said her six-year-old twins needed to live in a place where they could continue their studies and pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers or teachers.

    "Two weeks ago, I took my children to the central park in Tel Aviv," she recalled.

    "They were playing with white children who don't differentiate between black and white – but suddenly their parents came and took them away," Hadas said.

    "I was really sad and scared because my two daughters didn't know what was happening," she added.

    She said her daughters had asked her why the other kids had left in such a hurry.

    "I had no answer, but I knew they would understand in the future. And this is was really scary for me," Hadas told AA.

    "Three secular schools refused my daughters, so now they study in a religious school," she said. "I want my daughters to have a better education in order to have a better future."

    Shlomo, for his part, recalls that, when they first arrived in Israel, they were put into "black-only" shelters.

    "My father wanted to send me to a secular school 2km from the shelter, but the school refused – maybe because I would have been the only black student there," he told AA.

    "So I had to travel 35km to a religious school to study," Shlomo recalled. "And the suffering from racism did not end there; it was just the beginning."

    Shlomo said black students generally studied with each other.

    "There were no white-skinned students in my class for seven years," he told AA. "They did not talk, eat or play with us."

    Shlomo said his neighborhood, some 10km south of downtown Tel Aviv, suffers from poor public sanitation, with garbage often sitting for days in the street.

    Shai, the supermarket worker, left school when he was 17.

    "I did not go to university because my family was poor," he told AA. "I had no choice."

    "So I hit the streets and searched for a job to support my family," he recalled.

    "One of the restaurants in Tel Aviv refused to hire me because I am black," Shai asserted.

    "The manager told me that some people might not like eating the food if I worked there," he recalled. "Now I am working in a supermarket, where no one sees me."

    "I hate the feeling of being discriminated against because of my color. But what choice do I have?" he lamented.

    "I am not married," said Shai. "Why would I have children who will also suffer from racism, poverty and lack of education?"

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