Acting police commissioner Motti Cohen defended the actions of the off-duty police officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Solomon Tekah a few weeks ago, explaining that sometimes officers have to act quickly under pressure.
“Israeli police officers are often required to act under extreme conditions and sometimes they are required to deal with complicated situations: to make quick judgments and critical decisions,” Cohen said. “It is our duty to remember that every citizen and every policeman is innocent until proven otherwise by law in this unfortunate and tragic event.”
The police commissioner spoke at a ceremony in the North, commenting about the protests from the Ethiopian community, in which police and civilians were subjected to violence.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also spoke at the press conference on Tuesday.
“A violent policeman who does not know how to show restraint should not remain in the ranks of the police,” said Erdan. Nonetheless, Erdan insisted that “The police do everything possible to allow people’s right to protest and freedom of expression, but this right does not override the public’s right to personal security and freedom of movement.”
Though there has been progress in improving relations between the police and minority groups in Israel, Erdan says, there is still an underlying problem of racism within Israeli society.
“The police have done amazing work in recent years in order to get closer to the ultra-Orthodox public, the LGBT [community] and Ethiopian immigrants. But I have met dozens of Ethiopian-Israeli activists who told me about experiences they had with policemen – they did not invent them,” he explained. “The problem of racism is a problem for the entire Israeli society, not only for the police – but here, too, we have to lead.”
The Israel Police “is a strong police force that is ready for every mission,” Cohen said. “The importance of personal security as part of the national strength is on our shoulders and this is our responsibility. We are dealing with a significant challenge in maintaining the balance between allowing the expression of legitimate protests and the violation of law and order. We must remember that restraint is a strength, a force that [is required of] us as professionals and allows the expression of legitimate protests.”
Cohen added that some demonstrators “took advantage” of the police, who allowed the protests to happen, by acting violently and unleashing chaos across the country, injuring many policemen in the process. Dozens of protesters have been arrested and will be brought before the courts, He said.
“Some of the demonstrators acted violently against civilians and police officers, causing serious riots and disturbances across the country... The damage was caused to government symbols, to property; petrol bombs were thrown, suspects were firing fireworks at officers and throwing stones – all of which led to the injuries of many policemen.”
The most violent day of protests following Solomon Tekah’s funeral saw more than 110 police officers wounded and 136 protesters arrested.
“We will not allow our policemen to be injured,” said Cohen. “We will not allow unrest; we will always be responsible for enforcing the law, where and when it is necessary. This is the source of our strength.”
Cohen promised to work on strengthening ties with the Ethiopian community, saying that “we still have more to do in this area.” He also commended the Israeli Police force, specifically praising their efforts in managing the protests.
“This is an opportunity for me to express great appreciation for your work throughout the protests in these days,” he said. “These are days when you act courageously and professionally in dealing with the dangers and challenges. The fact that no officers were killed shows that we stood up to the challenges and to the missions we were on.
“There will, in general, be further challenging days ahead,” he emphasized. “The routine of our activities and operations will continue to strive to reach the police’s aim: to intensify the fight against crime, to improve the service to the public and to provide personal security to citizens everywhere, at any given time.”