Gavriel Chichester, the host of Tuesday night’s protest, was joined by approximately 200 people.
By SHANNA FULD
JUNE 3, 2020 00:58
Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrating on the Tel Aviv boardwalk (Credit: Shanna Fuld)
“My life matters,” the host of Tuesday night’s protest screamed into a megaphone. He was directing his message toward the Tel Aviv branch office of the US Embassy in Israel. About 200 others joined him at 7 p.m. on the boardwalk as his voice cracked, and he broke into tears. With him, Americans and Israelis of all colors chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Black lives matter.” Gavriel Chichester, a Tel Aviv personality became the face of the protest after seeing a Facebook post from Shoshana Feldman stating that she was staging a peaceful demonstration in honor of the killing of George Floyd.
Protesters held signs that said “I can’t breathe,” some of the last words 46-year-old African American Floyd managed to squeeze out, as he was laying on the ground in Minneapolis, Minnesota under the knee of a police officer. The officer pressed down on Floyd’s neck for around eight minutes until he died after trying to arrest him for allegedly buying a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. The incident of police brutality was caught on camera, and the backlash from the disturbing video has shaken the United States and Americans living across the globe.
American expatriate Shoshana Feldman felt compelled to organize a peaceful protest in response to the act, despite now living in Tel Aviv.
“If I don’t stand up, no one will. And white people have to know that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere,” Feldman said. “I hope that the States feel the international pressure.”
Chichester, who described himself as a black Israeli, asked protesters to keep social distancing measures throughout the evening and invited black demonstrators to share their stories and feelings. He started by retelling scary moments he experienced when he lived in the United States, remembering how his mother had scolded him for bringing his backpack into a store (out of fear he might be accused of stealing) or when he had called the police for help, only to be intimidated by them upon arrival. Chichester handed over the mic to a dark-skinned Israeli woman who read off the names of 30 black Israelis who had been killed in Israel at the hands of police. She read out the names, teary eyed, while many in the crowd took a symbolic knee.
Protesters also held signs calling for justice for the killing of Iyad al-Halak, a 32-year old autistic Palestinian who was shot by Israeli Border Police on Saturday. Officers thought he was carrying a gun and shot him when he did not respond to their calls for him to drop the weapon. Many Americans have made parallels between the two deaths, publicly slamming and trying to shame Israeli police for their policy. Protesters had different takes on whether the two can be linked.
“I think it’s two different situations. What we go through in America and what we go through here is not the same at all,” Justin Stover, a black American Israeli, told The Jerusalem Post while he kept his eyes on the crowd.
Aviv Yossef, an Ethiopian Israeli, says she feels more Israeli than African and has been discussing the topic this week with her friends.
“I think it’s the same. We are talking about violence and it refers to everybody. It’s a very sad story,” Yossef said. “We said it’s not just Africans here. It’s also Arabs. It’s the same issue – it’s about violence and being so mean and cruel.”
Yossef said she came to the protest because she feels she can’t appreciate African American culture without standing by the side of African Americans who are suffering.
The protest remained peaceful, and focused on the importance of police de-escalation. Chichester listed a handful of requests the group has for the authorities of both Israel and the United States which include more community oversight, assigning police to work in communities of their same color (who haven’t been “corrupted by power”), the documentation and conviction of officers who murder and more black voices leading the creation of policing strategies.