Arab-African solidarity

by our Middle East Affairs correspondent

VIOLENCE engulfed Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv on Sunday night when an anti-police march by Ethiopian Jews erupted into rage with protesters throwing rocks and bottles at riot police, who fired stun grenades and charged the square repeatedly on horseback.

It was the climax of days of protests following the release of a video last week which showed two policemen beating up an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier for no apparent reason. Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has now met the victimised soldier and appealed for calm.

It began as a peaceful protest, supported by Israeli communists and some members of Israel’s social-democratic parties, against rampant police brutality and institutional racism against Israel’s Ethiopian population.

But as more and more people arrived at the normally busy intersection where the protesters first gathered, the intensity of the commotion increased. Police formed a human chain, locking arms to prevent protesters from crossing Menachem Begin Road and heading eastward to Ammunition Hill Street. Restless demonstrators interpreted this as a challenge, and began to square off and make contact with the police.

The protesters shouted at the regular police officers and then at the thuggish Border Police who had arrived as reinforcements. After more aimless struggling with the police on Ammunition Hill Street, the protest eventually headed west down Kaplan Street towards Rabin Square, where the protest was planned to continue in a rally.

chanted

People chanted in Hebrew: “Violent police officers should be locked up!” “Bibi (Netanyahu) go home!” and “For blacks and whites, racism is the devil.” Sometimes the shouts were simpler: “Police state” and “No to racism!” some shouted.

At a little after 9:00 pm the first stun grenades were tossed in Rabin Square. This set off the first of many rounds of escalation that eventually developed into an out-and-out brawl. Over and over again, police and protesters clashed on the east side of Rabin Square. The two sides pushed and shoved one another until someone — from either side — would push too hard.

Police then responded with stun grenades and water cannon. To this, the protesters replied by throwing bottles and rocks. By midnight, the protest began to wind down, leaving Rabin Square — named for an assassinated prime minister and symbolising, perhaps, deep schisms in Israeli society — full of broken glass, shards of stun grenades, rocks, and burned garbage.

communists

Among the protesters were two MPs from the communist- led Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), the chair of the Hadesh-Israeli Arab parties Joint List block in the Israeli parliament, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Israel, as well as Merav Michaeli MP (Labour) and Ilan Gilon MP (Meretz).

Joint List chair Ayman Odeh made the connection between the various struggles against police violence directed at specific social or ethnic groups in Israel. “As a member of the Arab population, which suffers from racism and violence by the police, it was only natural for me to join the protest by the Ethiopian population today in Tel Aviv,” he said. “I promise to stand by their side in their struggle until there is a more equal and just society here; in which there is no difference between black and white, man and woman, Jew and Arab.”

“As an Arab citizen, I am very familiar with the feeling of standing in a demonstration in front of a police officer whose eyes are blinded by racism” Odeh declared.

“I can imagine what the Ethiopian youths felt as they were protesting, when the police began to beat them, fire tear gas, and arrest them...the struggle for a truly democratic and equitable society, without discrimination of any kind, this is your struggle and our struggle.”