Solomon Tekah’s tragic death sparked a wave of riots and demonstrations across the country last week. If we thought that Israeli society couldn’t be more divided, we all had to do some rethinking.
Tekah, an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian decent, was shot by an off-duty police officer last Sunday. The officer stated that he was near the park in Kiryat Haim with his family, when he came upon a fight that had erupted between Tekah, two of his young friends, and a 13-year-old boy, whom they attacked. The officer said that he stepped in and broke up the fight, but after returning to his family, Tekah and his friends threw stones at him, hitting him in the head and shoulder. According to the officer, because he felt a danger to his life and to the lives of his relatives, he began to chase the young men and fired toward the ground, but did not intend for this to lead to the death of Tekah.
The officer’s weapon was transferred to the forensics department for a ballistics check, but at this stage, there is no unequivocal finding that supports his version that he fired at the ground. One of the possibilities under investigation is that the bullet hit a wall or fence near Tekah, and then ricocheted towards the young man, leading to his death. Officials are still waiting for the final report from the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir, which performed an autopsy on Tekah’s body.
Tekah’s friends, who were at the scene, told a very different version of the events that took place, and claimed that the officer behaved in a very hostile manner. The incident became a catalyst for very heated riots that took place all across Israel. Many were arrested after burning tires and throwing stones at police officers. In response, the police employed stun grenades and tear gas. A number officers sustained light injuries at the hands of the demonstrators.
The resulting damage is said to be in the millions of shekels, as demonstrators attacked and burned cars in Tel Aviv, Kiryat Ata, Netanya and Ashdod. The ruckus caused heavy traffic leaving tens of thousands stranded for long hours on the highways of central Israel. Many commuters gave up hope of getting home anytime soon, and viral videos on WhatsApp and Facebook showed people getting out of their cars and playing soccer on the highways around Tel Aviv. A bride, late to her own wedding, was seen running down the highway, while a frantic mother had to call rescue services in order to feed her 5-month-old baby after she ran out of food during the long wait.
In response to the protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I know that there are problems that still need to be solved, we have worked hard and we must work harder to solve them, but I ask you for one thing – stop the roadblocks, we are a state of law, we will not tolerate this. Respect the law.”
Many Israelis have started to wonder at the effectiveness of the protests, and ask themselves, “Have the demonstrations gone too far?” The family of the deceased requested: “We have lost a child and we ask the public not to hold protests until the end of the shiva (time of mourning) and to act with restraint and patience. At the end of the shiva, we will hold legitimate protests in an organized manner and in coordination with the relevant authorities, without harming the routine life of the public, and certainly without any violence whatsoever.” The protests persisted, yet the intensity seemed to have lessened.
Israel is a young country that receives a lot of immigrants from many parts of the world. Part of it’s beauty is the multicolor, multicultural community that all share the same roots. All are brothers that were scattered some 2,000 years ago, and have now been again reunited. Unfortunately, however, the reunification process has not always been a seamless one. With each new wave of immigration, it seems as though the groups who have already established themselves here often behave in a discriminatory, and at times unwelcoming, manner. Whether it was the Mizrahim, who experienced discrimination from the Ashkenazim, or later the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who experienced similar discrimination at the hands of both Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, each new group feels the challenges of assimilating into Israeli society. The Ethiopian community is the most recent group to immigrate to their Jewish homeland en masse, and are now facing the same challenges.
Whatever the conclusions of the investigation will bring, and clearly violence cannot be met with more violence, the solution to the problem is a sound Biblical worldview. That alone can bridge the divide, offering Messianic Jews an opportunity to be a voice to the Ethiopians, saying they are worth just as much in the eyes of God as any other human being, “For God does not show favoritism” (Rom 2:11). Such words would be in stark contrast to other voices that they hear from the Rabbinate, which often openly doubts the Ethiopians’ Jewish identity, saying that they still need to “convert to Judaism,” as though the Jewish identity and practices to which they clung to for 2,000 years aren’t enough.
God made us all different, and He loves that about us: “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). As hard as it sounds, we as believers ought to step into the controversy and speak Christ’s love into the situation, speak forgiveness and hope. I think John puts it best when he describes that which he saw in his vision:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9).
Let us live lives not of color or nationality, but see God’s unique image in each and every one of us, as we hope for a better future.