Scuffles broke out in Jerusalem Thursday between security forces and Ethiopian protesters demanding an investigation into alleged police brutality against Africans living in Israel, AFP correspondents said.
Hundreds of Ethiopians blocked roads in the city, demonstrating after incidents in which police and inspectors from Israel’s immigration authorities beat Ethiopian Jews.
In one case, they apparently mistook the victim living in the south of the country for an illegal immigrant.
Protesters blocked traffic and the light rail system at a major junction in the city, holding up banners reading: “Stop police brutality, stop racism” and “Today it’s him, tomorrow it’s you!”
Police were out in force, including riot police and officers on horseback, and scuffles broke out as more demonstrators joined the rally.
The protest came as local press reported on the alleged assault of an Israeli of Ethiopian descent in the southern city of Beersheva.
Speaking to Ynet news website, Walla Bayach said immigration officers had attacked him thinking he was an illegal immigrant.
But the immigration authority accused him of assaulting its officers after asking him for identification papers, Ynet said.
A separate video that surfaced last week showed police officers assaulting an Ethiopian serving in the Israeli army, who was wearing his military fatigues at the time of the attack.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an investigation.
“We cannot sit back in the face of anger and shouting — incidents such as these must serve as a warning sign, and an opportunity to conduct some genuine and thorough introspection,” he said in a statement Thursday.
More than 120,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin live in Israel, after two waves of immigration in 1984 and 1991.
But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite massive government aid.
There are another 48,000 illegal African immigrants living in Israel, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese who are seeking asylum.
The issue of immigration has created tension in Israel, with several mass demonstrations by African nationals last year against government policies aimed at stemming the tide of what the state refers to as “infiltrators.”
In a bid to tackle the phenomenon, Israel has also built a fence along its border with Egypt and opened several sprawling detention centres.