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I used to want to be a combat soldier

The Israeli police stop me and ask if there's a knife in my backpack when I'm waiting for the bus; why should I put my life on the line for this country?
Family and friends mourn at the funeral of Solomon Tekah, in Kiryat Haim, on July 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Family and friends mourn at the funeral of Solomon Tekah, in Kiryat Haim, on July 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

I attended religious schools until I persuaded my mum to let me go to a secular high school.

There, in the Land of Israel Studies track, I worked hard, earned distinctions, and qualified with a full matriculation certificate.

Until 10th grade, I had never thought of being a combat soldier. I was skinny and thought I was too weak. But when I started going to ceremonies in memory of fallen soldiers, I said to myself, “It’s not right that other people should put their lives on the line for me unless I do the same for them.”

In 11th grade, after the army had given me a low physical profile because of being underweight, my class teacher encouraged me to start running with him once a week and to consider going to a mechina [a one year pre-army training course], which I did. The year I spent there, until June, broadened my horizons and turned me from a shy boy into someone with opinions and the confidence to express them.

In January, at the half point of mechina, Yehuda Biadga (24) was shot dead in Bat Yam. He had gotten shell shock while serving in the combat engineering corps and had been sent home and put on medication. When he went outside that day, wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and carrying a knife, the family told the police that he was mentally ill. The officer who shot Yehuda had been sufficiently far away from him for his life not to be in danger. But the police investigators found that he had been in danger and had acted according to the law.

That is when I started to question whether I should fight to get into a combat unit, rather than accept the lorry driver job that the army wanted to give me.

Solomon Tekah’s murder last month was my breaking point.

The PIID, which we call the Police Internal Cover-up Department (in Hebrew, this is a play on words) refuses to release the CCTV footage taken at the scene. [The police say this is because inquiries are still ongoing.] The officer who pulled the trigger was sent to home arrest, not to a jail, and the media says he is likely to get off with a disciplinary offense. It makes me sick.

I have seen social media posts that said Solomon Tekah “deserved it,” that the Ethiopians should all be shot, or go back to Africa. On Facebook, half the country calls us violent or barbarians.

For two days after Tekah was killed, I was frightened to leave the house.

I didn’t know what racism was until fourth grade, when I pressed an elevator button, and a 3-year-old told her dad that “the niggers” had already pressed it.

In ninth grade, I went to the supermarket with my mom. She asked me to fetch a pan, which was displayed outside. As I left the building, the security guard ordered me to pull up my shirt to prove I hadn’t stolen anything. It was in front of quite a crowd and was totally humiliating.

During the Chanukah vacation in December, I was at a bus station after some extra lessons at school. I had my hood on and my hands were in my pockets because it was cold. A policeman stopped to ask what I was doing there and whether there was a knife in my backpack.

Recently, I went with friends to a mall. When we came out, four police patrol cars met us, each one blocking off a different exit. Seven officers got out — including one who had his M4 carbine cocked. The one who stayed inside rolled down his window, asked what we were doing there and demanded to see identification. We know not to make a fuss.

This is my country, and I love it very much. But I now am wondering why I should serve in a combat role to protect Israeli citizens, when they don’t protect me.

About the Author
Fkadu Kfalleh, born in 1999 in Ethiopia, immigrated with his family to Israel in 2003. After two years at an absorption center in Mevasseret Zion, he and his family moved to Jerusalem for three years, and then to Beit Shemesh, to be closer to his maternal grandparents. There, the family bought a four-room apartment in a tenement block mainly occupied by other Ethiopian Israelis. Fkado lives with his divorced mother, who works at the factory that prepares food for the Aroma coffee shop chain. He has three sisters, one of whom is hoping to study law.
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