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  • Ethiopian-Israelis demand ministerial committees to help community Posted on 11 May 2015

    TEL AVIV,  -- Ethiopian Israeli leaders vowed Sunday to retake the streets if the government will not act "immediately" to curb discrimination, after heated anti-racist demonstrations they staged last week have rocked the country.

    The demands include steps to improve welfare, education, and housing for the Ethiopian community, the activists said at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

    Under a banner reading "no more racism," they called for the "immediate indictment" of two policemen who were caught on video beating an Ethiopian soldier without any apparent provocation.

    "It is important to make clear: if our demands are not answered we will take the streets again," said activist Inbar Bugale.

    STORMY PROTEST

    The footage sparked a string of rallies that ripped from the West Bank, as hundreds of riot police tried to disperse protesters at the Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv last Sunday, firing at them stun grenades and tear gas.

    Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Xinhua that the rally was mostly peaceful but turned violent by night, as protesters attacked policemen with rocks and bottles, injuring about 55 policemen.

    Dozens of protesters were arrested, Rosenfeld added.

    However, protesters said that the unprecedented measures employed against them were yet another example of police violence against this community.

    Several detainees told Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper that they were physically abused and were held in "inhumane conditions" after their arrest.

    The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has expressed criticism of the "excessive violence" exhibited by the police.

    Reports from the recent demonstrations showed that "the police acted contrary to its regulations and it did not use the measures at its disposal in a proportionate and reasonable manner," the association said in a statement.

    In face of the outburst of rage and frustration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Damas Pakada, the beaten soldier, and Ethiopian representatives to his Jerusalem office on Monday. He promised them to formulate a plan to "eradicate" discrimination.

    The gesture, however, left little impression on the community. "Words and promises are not enough, this time we want real actions," the activist Inbar Bugale said at the press conference.

    "The prime minister showed hypocrisy by choosing to embrace the soldier Damas Pakada in order to shut us up and silence the protests, instead of speaking to us directly," she charged.

    "We are asking him to step out of his ivory tower at the Prime Minister's office and visit our neighborhoods," Bugale added.

    "Decision makers abandoned Ethiopian Israelis as though they were foreign implants and not an equal part of the Israeli society," she warned.

    THREE DECADES OF SUFFERING

    Jews from Ethiopia arrived in Israel in two waves of immigration in 1984 and 1991. The community, which includes some 125,500 people, has struggled to integrate into the Israeli society with little success.

    According to the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, Ethiopians earn about 40 percent less than the average Israeli.

    Some 38.5 percent of them live below the poverty line, while the general rate stands at 14.3 percent. They live mainly in the impoverished neighborhoods.

    "There is a problem, there are discrimination issues, there is racism in Israel," said Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, the director of Tebeka, an advocacy group for Ethiopian Israelis, and one of the leaders that met with Netanyahu.

    "After being beaten up, after being brutalized again and again and being discriminated against, many Ethiopians wind up in jails," Assefa-Dawit said, adding that 40 percent of minors in the Ofek correction prison are of Ethiopian descent although the Ethiopians compose only two percent of the Israeli population.

    "When an Ethiopian applies for a job, as qualified as he might be, he is not going to be invited for the interview because he has an Ethiopian name," he said.

    "When you see a school that says we cannot take more children because they have a quota of how many Ethiopians they will enroll, you can imagine what the feeling of Ethiopian Israeli children will be," he said.

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