Ethiopians protest Israeli policy of destroying their blood donations 62 hurt in demonstration in front of Peres' office

January 29, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Denouncing as racist an Israeli government policy of destroying blood donated by Ethiopian Jews, thousands of Ethiopians clashed with police outside the prime minister's office during an angry demonstration yesterday.

Police fired water cannons, rubber bullets, percussion grenades and tear gas at protesters, and several Ethiopians reported being beaten by club-wielding riot police. Army Radio reported that 62 people were injured, 41 of them police officers.

Police spokesman Eric Bar-Chen said police used force only after demonstrators broke through fences and attacked the building where Prime Minister Shimon Peres was holding the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Mr. Bar-Chen estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 Ethiopians joined the demonstration. They were confronted by about 500 police officers.

The demonstrators demanded that Health Minister Ephraim Sneh resign for supporting the policy of routinely destroying donated Ethiopian blood. Mr. Sneh has said the policy -- instituted in 1991 by the nation's blood bank -- is necessary because Ethiopians have a higher incidence of infection with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, than any other ethnic group in Israel. He and other health care officials insist that the policy is based on statistics alone.

But yesterday's demonstrators said the blood policy is painful tTC evidence of how Israeli society discriminates against Ethiopians.

"We have kept silent until today," said Natan Solomon, 19, who stood in the crowd. "But this blood issue brought us out."

Kifle Tessema, a 32-year-old who runs an Ethiopian community health project, agreed. "You put a lot of issues together and sometimes it just takes one more thing to make the situation explode," he said. "This blood issue is all about racism. What connects us? It is blood. If our blood is not Jewish, than what are we, animals?"

Addressing the crowd with a bullhorn, Addisa Musala, a leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community, declared Israel's efforts to integrate Ethiopian Jews into a white Israeli society a failure.

"For 10 years they have told us that our immigration was successful," Addisa Musala said to the cheering crowd. "It was a lie. Today, we found out that we have been treated like animals. All we ask for is to give us the feeling that we are Israeli and belong to this society."

Between 1978 and 1984, about 8,000 Ethiopian Jews made their way to Israel, often with the help of American Jewish organizations.

The government first brought large numbers of Ethiopians to Israel in 1984, in a covert operation assisted by the United States.

But the Ethiopians, who came from a tribal culture and had been cut off from mainstream Judaism and rabbinical teachings for 2,000 years, had trouble fitting in with Israel's modern culture.

The problems deepened with the second wave of immigration, when 14,000 Ethiopian Jews arrived in 1991's "Operation Solomon." There were reports of Ethiopians being barred from public swimming pools and of a disproportionately high number of Ethiopian youngsters being shunted into special education classes.

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