A relative lights a candle next to a picture of Israeli Solomon Tekah, 19, at their home in Kiryat Haim near the Israeli city of Haifa, July 3, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

Honoring Solomon Tekah, Young Ethiopian Israeli Fatally Shot by Police, Through Action

While there are still many problems facing the community, there are also signs of hope

June 30 marks one year since Solomon Tekah’s death and the subsequent riots in cities across Israel. His death highlighted many of the inequities Ethiopian Israelis face, but some progress has since been made toward ameliorating the community’s plight.

An off-duty police officer killed the unarmed 19-year-old Ethiopian Israeli at a playground in Haifa. The policeman claimed he had acted in self-defense after identifying himself to Tekah and some of his friends, who had thrown rocks at him. However, the youths and another witness contradicted the policeman’s assertion that he was attacked.

Rabbi Alemu Yafet, a community activist, educator and nurse at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, has stepped up his efforts at the National Movement for Equal Opportunities for Ethiopian Jews, an organization he helped to found in 2018 that educates young people in high school and after army service, especially regarding work in medical professions.

“Most of the young people who took part in the riots were post-army service and the core problem was with them. They finished high school without having high enough results to qualify for university. Thus, most of the young people start working in low-paying positions where they become very poor, even poorer than their families,” Yafet told The Media Line.

“They are worse off than the older generation because [the latter] received government assistance as new immigrants to Israel. These young people don’t have any help. … When we understood that, we asked ourselves as a group what we could do,” he said.

There are about 150,000 Ethiopian Israelis, including more than 62,000 who were born in Israel.

One way Yafet and his organization have helped is through their Ready for Tomorrow program, which helps Ethiopian Israelis after army service to gain admission to higher education and learn technology that will help them get well-paid jobs.

Another way his national movement will assist the younger generation is through an academic preparatory program for high school students so they can enter university in medical fields, with a pilot set to begin in September in the cities of Ramleh and Lod.

“I’m preparing myself and my group to have at least 60 doctors in the Ethiopian community in the next eight years. Some of them will also be nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacologists and medical technicians. Together as a group we can raise up the young people and motivate the community,” Yafet continued.

“This will be the answer for the distress we saw in Israel after the death of Tekah,” the educator said.

“When there is a problem, we can’t leave it as it is. We have to overcome it,” Yafet added. “That’s why I’m calling on those who love Israel and the Ethiopian community to support this program.”

This will be the answer for the distress we saw in Israel after the death of Tekah

Mazal Bisawer, spokesperson for the Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEJ), is optimistic that more progress will be made now that a new government has finally formed after more than a year without one and the nation is beginning to get back on its feet after the coronavirus lockdown.

“I think it’s a matter of educating the decision-makers and the people in charge about our daily lives. We believe in our work and we believe in change. … All we need is for the government to be open and the right circumstances and time to work,” she told The Media Line.

Bisawer said the Ethiopian Israeli community was still very much affected by Tekah’s death, as the officer’s trial was ongoing.

The policeman who killed Tekah faces a sentence of up to three years for negligent homicide, the lightest possible charge that could have been brought against him. If he had been tried for the more serious charge of manslaughter, he could have spent up to 20 years in prison. To this day, no policemen have ever been convicted of killing an Ethiopian Israeli.

“Solomon Tekah’s death is symbolic. It affected us deeply, but the truth of the matter is that the same problems are still occurring,” Bisawer said.

The AEJ was focused on jobs and policing as areas to create policy change, she said.

“Especially after the coronavirus, we are working to include more Ethiopian Israelis in the private sector [employment] and also trying to make sure that legislation regarding diversity in the public sector [which requires a certain percentage of minorities be employed] is being implemented,” Bisawer said.

“There is the letter of the law and then there is the spirit of the law. They say they hire Ethiopian Israelis, but many of them are in low-level positions, like cleaners. We need to make sure they understand the spirit of the law,” she said.

“We are also trying to make sure that when the government is thinking about how to get the families back on their feet [after the lockdown], it will also take into consideration Ethiopian Israelis and how the coronavirus affected the community,” she added.

Be more involved and understand that this issue is also yours. Show your support and join the cause

When it comes to policing, the AEJ has met with Deputy Public Security Minister Gadi Yevarkan, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia at age 10 and took up his post on May 25, to discuss policy proposals.

Bisawer said that action by Israelis outside the community was also crucial to improve the plight of Ethiopian Israelis. An example of this is attending gatherings across Israel on June 30 near major police stations to commemorate Tekah’s death, and being a part of other events that draw attention to injustices experienced by the Ethiopian Israeli community. Understanding that the issues facing this demographic are not just Ethiopian Israeli concerns but rather problems that all Israelis deal with is also important, she added.

“People from outside the community are now encountering police aggression, as seen in the latest protest against the prime minister [when demonstrators calling for Binyamin Netanyahu to step down over corruption charges were arrested on Friday], and they experience the police force that is using its power in an improper way,” she said.

Bisawer offers the following guidance for Israelis interested in helping their fellow Ethiopian Israeli citizens:

“Be more involved and understand that this issue is also yours. Show your support and join the cause,” she urged.

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