”Police violence against Israelis of Ethiopian descent has become a major problem, and it cannot be treated with a Band-Aid,” State Control Committee Chairwoman MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) said during Monday`s meeting on the 2014 suicide of Yosef Salamsa, who Ethiopian-Israeli community activists say was the victim of repeated abuse by police officers.
On Sunday, investigators in the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Unit — the external body that scrutinizes police misconduct — announced that they would close the criminal investigation against two policemen who used a stun gun on Salamsa in 2014, and left him outside the Zichron Yaakov police station afterward.
No evidence was found of criminal conduct by police officers, though several instances of misconduct warranted internal disciplinary steps, investigators said in a statement.
Salamsa was arrested in April 2014 after reports were received of a knife-wielding man in a public park who was trying to break into a building. Police suspected Salamsa and used a Taser gun to shock him during his arrest. His father later reported finding him lying on the ground, his hands and feet cuffed, outside the police station. The family said he had needed psychological treatment after the incident and had been physically injured as well, based on a report they submitted from Hillel Yaffe Hospital in Hadera.
Committee Chairwoman MK Karin Elharrar
Three months after the incident, Salamsa was found at the foot of a cliff in Binyamina, having apparently taken his own life. His family said he had been in a difficult emotional state that was intensified by the violent confrontation with the police.
Elharrar called the decision to close the case ”shocking,” while accusing the Police Investigation Unit of treating differently those who have a ”different colored skin.”
During the hearing, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said a report to be submitted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today contains an extensive chapter dealing with police abuse of Ethiopian Israelis.
According to Attorney Dror Matityahu, representing the Salamsa family, the Police Investigation Unit admitted that the officers had violated the protocol for using Tasers, filed false reports, left Salamsa on the floor, handcuffed and beaten, and threatened his family members. ”Any citizen who would have acted in this manner would have been put on trial, but there is a different law for officers,” he stated.
Ilanit Salamsa, Yosef`s sister, said that she was contacted by a police representative for the first time only on Friday. ”Our child is no more and the Police Investigations Department clears the officers who need to stand trial, what country are we living in?” she asked.
Major General Gila Gaziel, head of the police`s Human Resources Department, said ”Police officers have rights too, and as long as we have not received any incriminating material – and until now we haven`t – we cannot act against them… Some of the officers have conduct problems, and we have a lot to do in this regard.”
At this point, Yosef Salamsa`s mother cried ”I’m burning [mad]” and accused Gaziel of being oblivious to the family`s pain.
Attorney Yifat Ben-Ami, representing the Police Investigations Department, noted that hundreds of indictments have been filed against police officers this past year.
MK Avraham Naguisa (Likud) said, ”We have lost our trust in the police. Their community programs have no value. Either the officers lied, or the Police Investigations Department whitewashed. Something stinks in that department.”
MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) mentioned that ”police officers who are suspected of harassment are forced to take a leave of absence, and in this shocking case, even this simple measure was not taken.”
According to Revital Swid (Zionist Camp), ”apart from Yosef Salamsa, many youngsters have been severely beaten by police officers, but their stories have not been reported. An entire community is crying out.”
Ziva Mekonen-Degu of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews told the committee that at least one member of every family in the community has been either arrested, detained or has had a criminal investigation opened against him or her. Thirteen young Ethiopian-Israelis have committed suicide since the community launched its campaign against police brutality, she said.