Holding Police Accountable

31 January 2019

Given the number of incidents of lethal police violence in recent years, many in Israel are asking whether the police are being heavy-handed, in particular towards minorities. Just recently, an Ethiopian-Israeli man from Bat Yam was shot dead by police.

Some see this as a symptom of police brutality and racism.

The man, Yehuda Biadga, was 24 years old and was carrying a knife when shot. This raises questions about the appropriate police response and whether there is an institutional problem with the Israeli police. “If the policeman had been in mortal danger, we would expect shots to the legs or a defensive action to neutralize the danger,” said Ziva Mekonen-Dego, the director of the Association of Ethiopian Jews.

“The police understand that nothing will happen to them if they kill an Ethiopian,” she explained. Without serious investigations, the police force is not held accountable and others are not deterred. “I know that the Department for the Investigation of Police has already launched an investigation, but unfortunately I do not trust them, and it hurts me to say this about an aspect of law enforcement.”

“The racist attitude of the police is a daily experience for Ethiopian immigrants. Young people tell us that if they walk around wearing new shoes, police stop them and ask if they have receipts for their shoes, or how is it that they have a new smartphone. This is the reality in the neighborhoods. I know a lot of Ethiopian descendants who volunteer with the police because they know that they have to be inside this system, because otherwise they and their children are not safe,” Mekonen-Dego said.

This issue is mobilizing Israelis to call for accountability. Thousands joined a protest on Wednesday in Tel Aviv organized by Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together). In calling for this demonstration, they explained: “The police have weapons, but we citizens have a stronger power: brotherhood and solidarity. On Wednesday we will remind them that this is the home of all citizens. That we stand together, and that we will not remain silent until there are equal rights for all citizens. Black and white. Arabs and Jews. Full equality — nothing less!”

Photo by Tali Mayer