During Monday`s meeting of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, Israel Police presented its plan to improve the relationship with the Ethiopian-Israeli community. The head of the committee, MK Avraham Naguisa (Likud), lauded the police for adopting the use of body cameras to document the encounters of Israel Police patrol and traffic officers with civilians.

Naguisa said he would hold a joint session of his committee with the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan (Likud) to discuss the use of Tasers and the incident involving Yosef Salamsa, an Ethiopian Israeli who is believed to have killed himself after alleged abuse by police.

The police`s plan is based on the recommendations of an internal committee that was established followingthe protest of the Ethiopian community against police brutality. While drafting the plan, the committee consulted with members of the community. According to the police, the program`s budget is NIS 22 million, six million of which would be for one-time expenses. Thirty-four positions are expected to be added as part of the program.

Police spokesman Shabtai Gerberchiksaid, ”We looked these issues in the eye, because they are crucial to the strength of our society.” He noted that the police committee consulted with members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community in order to learn more from past mistakes, to repair the present situation and preserve the future relationship between the police and the community. Currently, the spokesman said, both sides have a negative view of one another.

According to Chief Superintendent Gil Amit, from the police`s Behavioral Science Division, the joint team worked together on the recommendations and would go on to examine the execution of the plan. The new program emphasizes activities with teens and recruiting members of the community, with the goal of eventually having members of the community comprise three percent of the police workforce. The plan also calls for the establishment of service centers in neighborhoods with a large Ethiopian-Israeli presence, forming a team in every precinct to help members of the community, and more. Amit said that Israel Police is working on manning the 100 emergency hotline with Amharic speakers 24 hours a day, but this has yet to be finally approved.

MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) responded by saying that ”we approved 1,000 new positions for the police during the last term, but Israel Police has yet to fill all of these positions”. The leader of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp), mentioned that the community sees the police as a hostile factor, that there is a need to restore the community`s trust in the police force, be extra careful with the use of Tasers, and to seek full answers regarding the Yosef Salamsa affair. MK Mordhay Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) called to ”make sure that the problems related to the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants will not be passed on to the next generations” and added that ”it seems that the heart of the problem was taken care of and identified – but there is a need to follow up on the general activity and figures every six months”. MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) also mentioned that Israel Police was failing to properly deal with in the treatment of racism and prejudice within its ranks. ”There should be zero tolerance for these kinds of occurrences,” he said. According to MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), the large number of convicts from the community indicates a lack of preventive actions and rehabilitation programs for released prisoners.

The police`s coordination officer, Superintendent Shay Yasso, told the committee of the new guideline calling for the presence of an Amharic translator in any investigation of a minor from the community, and said the use of Taser guns would be restricted and periodic surveys would be conducted in order for the police to learn about the needs of the community and determine courses of action. In response to MK Naguisa`s question, Yasso said that the police would begin documenting the activity of officers in Netanya and Rishon LeZion, yet he refused to commit to a timetable.

Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, executive director of TEBEKA – Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis, and a member of the committee to examine police brutality, added that ”police officers tend to believe other police officers. We submitted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs 80 cases of police brutality, and the disrespectful answer we received was that there was only one isolated case of police brutality. Ethiopian youth are afraid to call the 100 emergency hotline. The first step towards a solution is to acknowledge the problem.”

Shico Bar-Dov, head of Management and Human Resources at Israel`s Fire and Rescue services, informed the committee that Ethiopian Israelis currently make up two percent of the workforce, and that 14 Ethiopian Israelis are expected to take part in the next training course.

Yaron Yehias of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry welcomed the police`s recognition of the problem.” MK Naguisa submitted a bill requiring uniformed police officers to wear cameras to document arrests, but Israel Police is not disclosing any details on the pilot program in which officers are testing [the use of cameras,” he said. MK Naguisa mentioned that the bill is advancing and has already been discussed by a ministerial committee.