January 28, 1996
About 10,000 Ethiopian Jews from across Israel demonstrate in Jerusalem against the government’s decision to dispose of blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis. The demonstration outside the office of Prime Minister Shimon Peres draws a heavy police response, including water cannons and tear gas, and turns into a riot, injuring several police officers and damaging most cars around the prime minister’s office. Peres, who is meeting with leaders of the Ethiopian community during the protest, condemns the rioting but promises to investigate the grievances.
The Israeli government had accepted blood from thousands of Ethiopian Jews but had thrown out the donations over concerns about contamination with the AIDS virus. Among Israel’s 60,000 immigrants from Ethiopia, 520 are infected with HIV, compared with 800 people among Israel’s other 5 million citizens. All blood is tested for the virus, but it can take six months after infection to become detectable.
The purpose of accepting the donations without keeping the blood was to avoid stigmatizing Ethiopian Jews, who have struggled to integrate into Israeli society. Ethiopian Israeli soldiers, for example, have a high suicide rate. But the revelation that the Ethiopian blood donations have been thrown out unleashes feelings of humiliation and discrimination and leads to the protest. One banner at the protest says, “Our blood is as red as yours, and we are just as Jewish as you are.”