On June 30th, an off-duty police officer shot and killed Solomon Teka. Teka was an 18 years-old, unarmed, and of Ethiopian descent. Ethiopian-Israelis (a community of 140,000) are often faced with daily acts of intolerance and racism. Despite the fact that roughly 36% of the 140,000 were born in Israel and are in fact Jewish, their community is shunned and heavily scrutinized. The off-duty officer has now been released from house arrest on bail of roughly 1,400 USD. Not only was he released, but the charges he will be facing have also been reduced from manslaughter to either involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide (a new categorization of murder charges in Israel).
Following the death of Teka, mass protests erupted throughout Israel. Protests which were, unfortunately, no stranger to violence from both the protesters and the Israeli police forces. Succumbing to violence, even in the face of violence and intolerance, simply acts as a catalyst in the growth and expansion of inexcusable acts towards one another. Regarding the tragic shooting and killing of Solomon Teka, the off-duty officer claimed that he felt as though his life had become endangered. The officer apparently came across a fight, attempted to break it up, and wound up having rocks thrown at him by the Ethiopian-Israeli group. At this point, the officer opened fire and a bullet ricocheted off the ground before hitting Teka. This is what was told by the officer; however, several eye-witnesses claimed that he was not attacked before he began shooting.
As protesters gathered outside of the parliament building, they were heard chanting “a murdering cop has to be in prison,” “we are all Solomon Teka” and “not black, not white, we’re all human.” Gadi Yevarkan, a member of the largest centrist group in the Israeli government, stated that “If this thing is in the hands of the police, why don’t they reveal the images?” he asked. “What do you have to hide?” This shows the vastness of the lack of true trust in Israeli police investigations. Others have also released comments regarding this same issue and have called for a truly independent investigation, leading to one of Teka’s counselors, Sammy Baruch, to say that “They always say the same thing, and no cop is ever put on trial.”
In a statement taken by the LA Times, Teka’s family lawyer said that they seek “the truth to be uncovered and justice served, and unfortunately police and the State Prosecutor’s Office, in their public statements, show a tendency to attribute reduced responsibility to a police officer who killed our beloved in his prime.” An Ethiopian-Israeli woman told Al Jazeera and the Times of Israel, “As a mother, I’m scared. You raise a child, he goes out and you don’t know what police could do to him.” Finally, the mother of a young man who took his own life, resulting from police violence, commented in a television interview, “There is no justice. They see us as less than dogs.”
Acts of intolerance and violence have sadly plagued humanity throughout history. It is even worse when those who are meant to be protecting and serving are the ones who in fact commit these atrocities. Based on the leniency the officer has received, the refusal to share footage and the eye-witness remarks of the incident with Solomon Teka, it would appear as though the officer used his position within society to further his own racist ideals. These acts must be nipped in the bud and if the internal investigative forces are unable to conduct their investigation in an unbiased and holistic manner, then an independent investigation is called for. Under no circumstances should anyone receive special treatment, regarding the enforcement of the law, simply because of their societal position. The taking of a life, intentionally or not, is something that is too often looked over in today’s world. That is why the protests sparking by this tragedy are a symbol of hope; however, the use of violence in a protest is not the answer. Protesting, as with all aspects of life, is most effective and most moral when done while striving for the idea of Ahimsa.
The results, or lack thereof, to come from this trial will be very telling about the future of Israel. The ongoing meetings to discuss the treatment of Ethiopian-Israelis will be heavily affected by the outcome of the trial. What is important to have happened is the promotion of peace and discussion-based conflict resolution. The police need to understand the importance of their role and should be educated on how to use their position to promote tolerance and peace among all. The police are not the only ones in need of this kind of transformation. The protesters need to also understand their role in the ongoing issues of violence. Showing violence in protests is not only wrong, but it also adds fuel to the fire that is the hatred on each side. Through peaceful demonstrations, discussions and policy reformation, the Israeli people (of all backgrounds) can begin to live in greater safety, peace and equality.