In Israel, Police Shooting Of Solomon Tekah Prompts A Black Lives Matter Moment

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Black Lives Matter
Police arrest a man during a protest in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Protests turned violent after community activists called for renewed street demonstrations in response to the killing of an Ethiopian-Israeli teen by an off-duty police officer. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The shooting of a Black Israeli teenager of Ethiopian origin by an off-duty officer conjured up bad memories for the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and sparked protests across Israel — some of them violent.

Solomon Tekah, 18, was shot and killed by an unnamed police officer while hanging out with his friends at a playground in Haifa’s Kiryat Haim suburb, northern Israel.

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“It’s hard to be Black in Israel and walk around feeling secure,” said Itay Ashatu, a relative of Tekah, in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “Every teenager who comes from Ethiopia who’s defined as ‘on the edge’ is a good person underneath it all, but the reality is difficult and there are things that aren’t taken care of.”

Israel’s Black Lives Matter moment?

Israeli police claimed that the group of teenagers instigated the shooting after they threw stones at an officer who had identified himself.

Tekah’s family claimed he was murdered, while an eyewitness told Israeli TV that the policeman, who was at the playground with his family, aimed in “a firing position” and shot the victim in the chest.

An autopsy conducted before Tekah’s funeral was inconclusive.

The incident has rekindled claims of racial profiling against Ethiopian Israelis by police and endemic racism towards Black people.

A 2015 video clip of two white policemen brutally beating a uniformed Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent sparked days of protests. Another man, whose family said was mentally ill, was shot and killed in January.

Ethiopian-Israelis are a tiny minority of 150,000 in a country of 9 million people. Many hope Tekah’s killing can become their Black Lives Matter moment to help fight policies and practices seen as discriminatory in most sectors of the economy.

But their chances of achieving what the Black Lives Matter movement has done in the U.S. are slim. Ethiopian Israelis have scant political power, lack of recognized leadership and are subject to internal resistance from disapproving elders who do not want to cause controversy.

Most of the Ethiopian-Israelis arrived in two dramatic airlifts undertaken by the Israeli government in the 1980s and 1990s, according to statistics published in 2016 by the Brookdale Institute in Jerusalem.

In recent years, Ethiopians who claim Jewish heritage have continued to stream into Israel. Tekah was born in the northern Ethiopia city of Gondar before moving with his family to Israel six years ago.

“The Ethiopian Israeli community is holding up a mirror and forcing Israelis to grapple with institutionalized and systemic racism they cannot tolerate any longer,” said Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, in an opinion piece.