AFRICANGLOBE – The Israeli government Committee for Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection convened for a special debate regarding over-policing and police violence towards Ethiopian emigrants. The committee chairperson, MK Miri Regev (Likud), said at the opening of the debate: “Many complaints have reached my desk from Ethiopian emigrants who feel humiliated in face of the attitude of the police. There is a sense that when you guys get ahold of an Ethiopian you act with a much harsher hand and place their backs up against a wall solely because of the color of their skin. If this is true, then it is truly terrible. A person should be expected to pay a price only if he is a criminal but not due to his skin color, gender or ethnicity . Ethiopian emigrants must feel secure here.”
MK Penina Tamano-Shata: “This has been an ongoing problem for more than a decade. Exact data cannot be obtained for civil imprisonment or the opening of criminal files due to the claim that no ethnic cross-referencing is recorded. Despite this, there is data according to which 40% of the minors held at the Ofek Prison are Ethiopian emigrants while we comprise less than 2% of the population. This is beyond compare. The police destroys the lives of our youth and casts them to oblivion. Tendentiously you guys want to avoid dealing with criminal charges of racism, and you must change this. How can it be that racism is not a criminal offence?”
Ethiopian emigrants shared their difficult stories:
Yitzhak Hizkiyahu: “On the way back from a recruitment party, a vehicle pulled up near us and indicated to pull over. Two men exited without identifying themselves. The policeman asked us if we were Eritrean, and my brother clarified that he is a paralegal. Three more patrol cars arrived and a traffic jam was forged. We were frightened and stunned. The policemen responded ‘You guys don’t like it? Go back to Ethiopia!’ We turned to Mahash, the Internal Security minister, and Mahash said that the file was closed because there was no criminal offence and that it will be relayed to the public complaints department.” Regev responded: “It is the task of the police to detain a suspicious vehicle and the question is what happend from the moment the vehicle was pulled over. Racist comments like these should never be said.”
The story of the late Yitzhak Yosef Salamseh stirred up a storm. His sister, Ilanit: “My brother was a smiley 22-year-old who never hurt a fly. He was electrocuted by a tazer and experienced police violence, on suspicion of breaking and entering, while sitting in a public park. We submitted a complaint to Mahhash and we felt threatened. We were informed that he was missing from work, and on the third day of searching he was found without any sign of life. All requests for information from the police were met with opacity and lack of justice. Mother found him with his hands and feet shackled on the street completely alone.” Yitzhak’s father: “They took him and then just tossed him on the road. Where is the law?”
Assistant director of Mahash, Moshe Sa’adeh Esq.: “We received an undetailed request, and at first there was no participation on the part of the family. We turned to them and spoke with the mother. If the family wishes to submit a complaint about what they saw, we will deal with it. As long as they will be interested we will collect organized complaints. We did not have a story of a complainant and according to The Law Institute — it was a complex incident from the perspective of the police.” MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) cut him off: “What is complex about someone shackled hand and foot alone on the road?”
Tamano-Shata added that the police harassed the mother and threatened her “You won’t be able to sleep.”
The mother turned to Sa’adeh Esq.: “How would you feel if you found your child shackled on the road? You guys killed him.”
Chairperson Regev demanded to know when the Mahash investigation would be finished and whether there would be a meeting with the family in their home.
Gadi Yevarkan accused: “The approach of Mahash is violent. You word yourself this way before a bereaved family ‘If you guys will be interested.’ Your approach represents the violent and racist establishment.”
Sa’adeh requested to object to the statements leveled at him, while Yitzhak’s father demanded that Sa’adeh not continue to speak.
Fantahon Asefa Dawit of the Tabeka nonprofit organization explored the story of Benny Ayalin, of Qiryat Malakhi, to whose home policemen arrived with a search warrant. The family members attempted to identify themselves and in response were “rewarded” with violence, and the police took their son to the station where they told him, “If you want to continue living in this city you’ll be quiet.” It turned out that the search warrant was intended for a different address. A Border Patrol policewoman reprimanded the boy who was beaten and humiliated and a complaint was lodged with Mahash, who closed the file with the claim that the circumstances of the matter do not justify a criminal investigation.
Uri Machluf, head of the investigation faction of the police, who had been commander of the Qiryat Malakhi station for 5 years: “I connect with the things that were said and I am shuddered by the stories that were mentioned.” He turned to those present: “The encounter of a civilian is not meant to transpire at the police station, but beforehand. You turn to the police with complaints and I’ll back up only cops that act by the law. One who does something in contradiction of the instructions will have to pay for it. Violations that carry a sentence of up to one year are passed on to a disciplinary process. If you give specific examples — I will examine them. Mahash deals with the criminal arena.”
MK Khenin: “It is difficult to remain restrained after the stories that have been heard. A statement like ‘Go to…’ is racist and criminal. My hair is standing on edge from the tazer and from a detainee shackled hand and foot discarded in a parking lot, The complaints arriving form an impossible sequence and not isolated incidents. We’re talking about a phenomenon. The police have a tendency to conduct themselves differently towards marked groups. When this is the attitude, towards Arabs, towards Ethiopians, towards CIS emigrants, the result is a loss in trust in the police and in Mahash and in the authorities in general.” He demanded to know “How many police officers have been put on trial for racism?”
MK Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid): “To tell us over and over about programs and processes is all smoke and mirrors. There is an absolute lack of trust and utter rottenness in the police department. There are isolated cops who stink and they must be dealt with. When I’m in a T-shirt and shorts I experience awful things. There is something severe here that people cannot turn to the police. Even when the police catch someone acting with racism the courts exonerate.”
Tamano-Shata demanded from the police to hand over a detailed account of actions being done by the police to eradicate discrimination and racism, including training programs as well as in the matter of discipline.
Regev: “We will hold a follow-up discussion in another two months after we have heard answers regarding the investigation into the death and what is being done towards the Ethiopian community to restore faith.”