JERUSALEM (JTA) – The Israeli police officer who was fired for beating an Ethiopian-Israel soldier said he acted properly in his attempt to arrest and subdue the soldier, who had entered a closed-off area.
Identified by the Israeli news website Ynet as Sgt. Maj. Y., the officer agreed to be interviewed after the soldier, Damas Pakada, filed a lawsuit against him and the Israel Police. The interview was published on Saturday night.
A video of the altercation sparked violent protests by Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters.
The officer told Ynet that he responded on April 26 to a report about a suspicious object under a bench in a Holon neighbourhood that had seen several assassination attempts linked to organized crime. Y said he tried to prevent Pakada from walking near the suspicious object, which the officer said had been closed off with a clear barrier.
“When I see a civilian in front of me, I don’t see an Ethiopian. The colour of his skin, his ethnicity and how long he’s been in the country are of no concern to me,” the officer told Ynet. “I saw a civilian and all I care about is saving lives. There is discrimination against Ethiopians in Israel; those who claim so are right. But those kinds of things never enter my mind.”
Y. said he attempted to move the soldier to safer ground by pulling on his bike, at which point Pakada hit him. The officer said his attempt to arrest and subdue Pakada was all according to established police procedure, and he is comfortable with what was captured on a nearby security camera. Y. said he does not believe he has anything to apologize for.
“I was aware of the camera and I had no problem with it,” the officer said. “I acted in the same way I would have acted with or without the camera there. What is clear is that the video doesn’t show him walking into the cordoned-off area and you don’t hear me say to him ‘Stop! You can’t go any further.’ “
The officer said he believes Pakada is being used by government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“When I saw him with Bibi, I felt a sharp pang in my heart because that’s a guy who threw a punch at a policeman, who picked up a rock to throw at him,” Y. said. “And how does it end? He gets his picture taken with the prime minister, at the prime minister’s request, like he’s getting a prize. I’d also like to meet with the prime minister and tell him what really happened there.”