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Ethiopian Israelis vow to return to streets if demands are not met

Protest leaders say they reject violence, after up to 60 policemen and 40 demonstrators injured in clashes last week
Ethiopian Israelis say they face daily discrimination by police and government agencies (AFP)

Ethiopian Israelis have threatened to return to the streets if Israeli authorities do not meet their demands and drop charges against protesters arrested in Tel Aviv last week.

The activists also called on authorities to improve housing and education conditions for Ethiopian Israelis, threatening to take to the streets if these demands were not met.

At a press conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday Gadi Yevarkan, one of the protest leaders, said he was opposed to violence.

Thousands of Ethiopian-Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv last Sunday to protest against what they described as "discrimination" against them by police and government agencies.

Sixty police officers were injured in the ensuing clashes with the demonstrators.

At least 40 demonstrators were arrested after the clashes – many later told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that they had been mistreated following their arrest.

One man, 25-year-old Nebo Ari Bako, said his jaw and teeth were broken after a beating by police, and was then kept overnight in a police van with 20 other detainees.

At the press conference on Wednesday, protest leaders vowed that they would continue to call for rights.

“We are gathered here after a hard week of struggle the likes of which the Israeli public hasn’t seen before,” said Inbar Bolgleh, another of the protest leaders.

“We won’t give up. We’ve had our fill of empty promises.”

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would take measures to solve the issues faced by Ethiopian Israelis, including investigating claims that Israeli police discriminate against them.

However, protest leaders are now demanding that a steering committee made up of at least 50 percent members of the Ethiopian community be established in each government ministry to improve conditions in terms of education, housing and welfare.

Unofficial estimates put the number of Jews of Ethiopian origin in Israel at about 125,500, some 5,400 of whom serve in the Israeli military.

Three years ago, Ethiopian Jews staged demonstrations in central Israel to protest the refusal of a number of Israeli schools to allow the enrolment of children of Ethiopian descent.

Weeks ago, Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper reported that there had been "a series of reports in the Israeli press about alleged acts of police brutality against Ethiopian Israelis, with many in the community saying they are unfairly targeted and treated more harshly than other citizens."

An emergency conference will be held at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on Tuesday to discuss the protest and possible responses to it.