Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Ethiopian youth crossing his arms in protest during a rally in Jerusalem, July 2, 2019.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) on Wednesday morning told Reshet Bet Radio the Ethiopians’ violent demonstrations that took place on Tuesday night at many points throughout Israel had reached a point when, during the night, police received intelligence about the intention of some demonstrators to open fire at policemen.

That terrifying assertion is still realistic.

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Erdan said that the level of violence the police saw yesterday across the country had not been seen for many years, and the scope of the demonstrations, in so many locales simultaneously, was unprecedented.

“They were throwing stun grenades and Molotov cocktails at police vehicles and on police stations in order to burn them down,” Erdan described. “At night, intelligence came in about intentions to fire live ammunition at police officers, all of it generated by incitement on the social networks and calls for young people, even children who are on their summer vacation, to go out and demonstrate.”

A car was set on fire by Ethiopian protesters in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019. / Flash90

Indeed, the images that were seen live on Israeli television screens were reminiscent of violent riots near the border fence with the Gaza Strip or in the Arab villages and the roads of Judea and Samaria. For the older folks among us they also recalled the black riots in Newark, New Jersey, in July of 1967.

In my career as journalist I’ve learned one thing: there are no spontaneous demonstrations. Erdan is absolutely on the money when he says Israel has never before seen so many synchronized rallies across the country, not even on the Arabs’ “land day,” and certainly not among Jews.

This thing was well organized.

Ethiopian demonstrators confront police in Tel Aviv, July 2, 2019. / Hadas Parush/Flash90

After a day of violent demonstrations and confrontations between demonstrators and the police, MDA spokesmen Zaki Heller sent out a “summary of the injured during protests throughout the country.” Here goes:

“MDA medics and paramedics provided medical treatment to a total of 83 injured, including 47 police officers, 26 demonstrators, 9 bystanders and 1 firefighter. Five of the injured were evacuated in moderate condition and the rest were mildly injured. In addition, MDA teams treated citizens who had been stuck for hours in traffic jams and were in need of help. During the demonstrations, 6 MDA ambulances and Mobile ICUs, and 4 medical emergency vehicles were damaged as a result of stone throwing.”

Do pay attention to that last line. In Israel, emergency vehicles are blocked by two kinds of demonstrators: Islamists and Neturei Karta. No one else, from the most extreme Kahane on the right to the most irate leftwing anti-settlement demonstrators, ever sees rescue workers as the enemy. Now it appears some Ethiopians do, too.

A friend who lives in Judea and Samaria and is no stranger to confrontations with the police told me this morning: “This is not Jewish.”

He expressed what many Israelis are hesitant to say: the behavior of the Ethiopian crowds yesterday exceeded anything we have seen in Israel since its inception. And the fact that the clashes were racially motivated and sparked by the shooting of a young black man by a policeman, which ended with the death of the black youth, added to what should be a sadly routine Israeli failure to absorb new immigrants, an ominous sense of something much bigger taking place.

Ethiopian youths burning tires outside Kiryat Ata, July 1, 2019. / Meir Vaknin/Flash90

The demonstrations are expected to be renewed during the day Wednesday, with the same high intensity, and police are preparing to block their access to Israel’s main traffic arteries.

The Police Internal Affairs Dept., known in Israel by its more cumbersome title, “The Department for the Investigation of Police Officers,” continues to probe the death of the late Salomon Takka, 19, who was shot on Monday night in Haifa by an off-duty police officer.

Because of the volatility of the case, the investigation is being accompanied by an IAD attorney, and is under the strict scrutiny of IAD management. Ma’ariv on Tuesday quoted sources in the IAD who rejected the claims of the Ethiopian community on the social networks that the policeman shot to kill.

“The circumstances are very different from what they are trying to project,” the IAD sources said. “This is not a case in which a policeman shoots indiscriminately.”

According to the Takka autopsy, it appears that the version given by the police officer, that he had fired at the ground and the bullet ricocheted into Takka’s chest, is reasonable. In light of the pathological findings, the IAD is currently examining if there was a justification for the officer’s use of his weapon, what was the distance between the officer and the group of young people who were with Takka at the time, did they throw large stones at him and at his family, as he claimed, and whether they were a real risk to his life and the life of his family members.

In short, IAD already knows that the officer acted according to the rules of engagement because his life and the lives of his family members who were with him in the park were in danger, and are now looking for a way to let him go without causing renewed violence in the Ethiopian community.

To a large extent, the results of this explosive situation depend on the character and courage of Minister Gilad Erdan, who announced this morning that the police deployment would be different today: “I call on all the protestors,” he said, “Demonstrations are legitimate and justified, but life-threatening violence and damage to property are not. Today, should, God forbid, the police is forced to use violence, the responsibility would be on those violent people who break law and order.”

Erdan added that “What we saw yesterday was anarchy, intolerable violence that endangers lives. The police yesterday, again because of the scale of the protest and the way it took place, was faced with the dilemma of whether to use all the available means to disperse demonstrations in a manner that would have certainly caused casualties, perhaps even, God forbid, death to demonstrators.”

That should be a clear enough message to calm angry souls. Unfortunately, it appears the situation has progressed past the phase where a stern warning by the minister of police can do the job.

Yesterday I sat in front of the television screen and watched Ethiopian demonstrators who blocked the entrance to Jerusalem and beat up cops who, obeying their orders, retreated instead of responding the way Israeli policemen know how to (see the Amona evacuations, any one of them).

At Malakhi Junction (a.k.a. Qastina), hundreds of demonstrators burned tires on the asphalt and blocked with their bodies a fire truck that came to extinguish the huge resulting fire. In the end, the firefighters gave up and retreated to find another approach to the fire, and the protesters raged with joy because they beat the Man.

Ha’aretz interviewed Rachel from Ness Tziona, who arrived at a demonstration that blocked for many hours the most important traffic artery in Israel, Ayalon Highway. She and other demonstrators, who carried “Black lives matter” signs, vowed to continue to demonstrate, to hold the protest for another hour, another day, “To not allow people to return so quickly to their normal day, to Instagram and Facebook. There are detached people here who do not understand that a child is dead because he is black,” Rachel said.

And then, as if to complete the vital connection between Newark of 1967 and Israel of 2019, Rachel quoted Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Yes, Virginia, we’ve stepped in it big time, and whomever pushed us in it is smart, patient, calculated and has money.

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