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Ethiopian Rappers Challenging Israel Police Through Song

In his song “Handcuffed,” rapper Teddy Neguse addresses police brutality against young Israeli men of Ethiopian descent.

Although the song came out in 2017, it has recently reached new heights in the wake of street protests across the country following the killing of an Ethiopian Israeli teen by an off-duty police officer last month.

This week the 23-year-old artist was invited to perform his song live on the popular news website Ynet.

Neguse’s appearance on Ynet illustrates the growing Ethiopian Israeli presence in the local music scene.

But it also reflects the ongoing struggles against alleged racism and discrimination, some three decades after Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel.

Large numbers of Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel via secret airlifts in the 1980s.

The new arrivals from a rural, developing African country struggled to find their footing in an increasingly high-tech Israel.

Throughout the decades, Ethiopians have suffered discrimination.

In the late 1990s, it was discovered that Israel’s health services were throwing out Ethiopian blood donations over fears of diseases contracted in Africa.

Accusations have also been raised that Israel has deliberately tried to curb birth rates in its Ethiopian communities.

Today there’s around 150,000 people in the Israel Ethiopian community, some 2% of the country’s 9 million citizens.

While some Israelis of Ethiopian descent have made gains in areas like the military, the police force and politics, the community continues to struggle with a lack of opportunity and high poverty rate.

Against this backdrop, Israeli artists of Ethiopian heritage are breaking out in the entertainment world, especially in the growing hip hop and dancehall scenes.

In his music video for “Handcuffed,” Neguse is dressed up as a soldier, riding a bicycle, when he encounters two policemen.

The officers then, seemingly unprovoked, beat him up.

The music video depicts a 2015 incident in which two policemen were filmed beating a uniformed Ethiopian Israeli soldier, sparking mass protests.

The most recent demonstrations erupted after the unarmed Solomon Teka, 18, was fatally shot by a police officer in a Haifa suburb on June 30.

At the height of the unrest, protesters angrily swore at police officers, hurled firebombs, vandalised vehicles and set a car ablaze in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Police say over 110 officers were wounded in the protests, and at least 150 protesters were arrested.

The officer in question, who has claimed the youth was accidentally hit by a warning shot he had fired at the ground, is being investigated by internal affairs and remains under protective custody.

Another up-and-coming Ethiopian Israeli musician, Yael Mentesnot, says that in the past, the community has been “restrained” and “we end up coming off a bit naive.”

But this time she says the community is beginning to truly feel the despair.

“All the protests, they are not orchestrated, nothing there was organised,” she said.

“Everyone went to the streets frustrated and released their anger.”

While most of Mentesnot’s young solo career has been filled with upbeat party songs, she said the recent events have inspired her to address the Ethiopian Israelis’ struggle.

“Our whole life is a struggle, we face challenges, and we overcome them,” she said. “I want the public to see it. To understand what we feel.”

Neguse said he is pleased that Ethiopian musicians are on the rise, but said the recent protests should be seen as “a call for help, a cry of an entire community.”

AP

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