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Ethiopian Israeli musicians use the scene to encourage struggles

JERUSALIM – In her song "Handcuffs," rapper Teddy Neguse turns to police brutality against young Israeli men of Ethiopian origin.

Although the song came out in 2017, it reached new heights as a result of street protests throughout the country following the killing of an Ethiopian Israeli teenager by a police officer outside a post last month. This week the 23-year-old artist was invited to perform his live song on the popular Ynet website.

"They want me trapped with handcuffs / look at me with ten thousand eyes / they only see my skin color, so they push me to the fringes," he knocked.

Neguse said that the texts are up to date all the time, but they are of further relevance to him in the present circumstances.

"I felt that at this point in the TV studio, this is the right place for this song, the time for this song."

The emergence of Ynet's Neguse illustrates the growing Ethiopian presence in the local music scene. But it also reflects the ongoing struggles against alleged racism and discrimination, about three decades after the Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel.

Negousse and other young Ethiopian artists use the stage to tell the public about the experience of their community – especially what they say is uncontrolled and widespread police brutality.

A large number of Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel through secret aircraft in the 1980s. New arrivals from a rural, developing African state are struggling to find their place in an increasingly high-tech Israel.

In recent decades Ethiopians have been discriminated against. In the late 1990s, it was found that Israel's health services were emitting blood donations from Ethiopia through fears of diseases that accumulate in Africa. It was also accused that Israel deliberately tried to limit the birth rate of Israeli Ethiopians.

Today, the Israeli Ethiopian community has about 150,000 people, about 2% of its 9 million citizens. While some Israelis of Ethiopian origin have made profits in areas such as military, police forces and politics, the community continues to fight the lack of opportunities and high levels of poverty.

Against this background, Israeli artists of Ethiopian heritage appear in the entertainment world, especially in the growing hip-hop scenes and dancing dances.

Adam Rothbard, owner of Kolot Me Africa, a group that promotes African music in Israel, said a "wave of young Ethiopian musicians" broke out on the music scene in the past year.

"They are not real-time, so to speak, but they build significant fan bases through social media and the internet," he said. According to Rothbard, issues such as racism and routine police abuse are seen in their music.

In his musical clip on Handcuffs, Neguse is dressed as a soldier, riding a bicycle when he meets two police officers. Then the cops, seemingly unprovoked, beat him. The musical clip depicts an incident in 2015 in which two police officers were shot, stamping a uniform Ethiopian Israeli soldier, causing mass protests.

The latest demonstrations erupted after the 18-year-old unarmed Solomon Teka was deadly by a police officer in Haifa's suburb on June 30th.

In the midst of the riots, protesters angrily swore to the police, threw bombs with firearms, destroyed vehicles, and lit a car in the heart of Tel Aviv. Police reported that more than 110 officers were injured during the protests and at least 150 protesters were arrested.

The official in question, who claims that the young man was accidentally hit by a shot that he shot on the ground, is being investigated by internal affairs and remains under protective arrest.

"This time protests are more spontaneous," said Efrat Jérdi, president of the Association of Ethiopian Jews.

Yerdey said the anger and despair of demonstrators were long, with a widespread sense that police violence was not properly investigated.

"All these people who attacked the unspoken youth are exonerated, that's amazing," she said.

Demonstrators insist on greater police accountability. Following the protests in 2015, the government set up a committee to combat racism against Ethiopian Israelis. He recommends police carry body chambers. Since 2017, an Israeli patrol and traffic police have been carrying them in some areas.

But Yerday said the performance of the body's camera is slow. "Those who beat our children do not have them," she said.

Police spokeswoman Mickey Rosenfeld said that in the future more officers would be equipped with body chambers.

At a meeting called to discuss the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Teka's death a "big tragedy," and said "lessons will be learned." But he also sharply criticizes demonstrations of violence.

26-year-old Yael Mentensit, another rising Ethiopian Israeli musician, said that in the past the community was "restrained" and "after all, we are a bit naive."

This time, "the community really began to feel desperation," she said.

"All protests, they are not organized, nothing is organized," she said. "Everyone went out in the streets frustrated and released his anger."

While most of Mentesnot's young solo career is full of optimistic party songs, she said recent events inspired her to cope with the struggle of Ethiopian Israelis.

"Our whole life is a struggle, we are facing challenges and overcome them," she said. "I want the public to see it. Let's understand what we feel. "

Neguse said he was pleased that Ethiopian musicians were on the rise, but said the latest protests should be seen as "a call for help, a cry of an entire community."

"I believe everyone here has at least one Ethiopian artist on their playlist," he said. "But there is still racism, so there is a kind of dissonance."

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material can not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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