Palestinians are reeling after Israeli police shot dead an unarmed autistic Palestinian man inside the occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, where Israeli authorities have a history of using racial profiling and excessive force against Palestinians, specifically young men.
Eyad al-Halaq, 32, was on his way to a school for children and adults with disabilities where he was a student on May 30 when Israeli police ordered him to stop for a search when they spotted a “suspicious object that looked like a pistol.”
Al-Halaq, who according to statements from his family has the “mental age of a six-year-old child,” was reportedly spooked by the police and began rushing away from them.
The police officers then began chasing after al-Halaq before firing several rounds at him, ultimately killing him.
Israeli police issued a statement saying that after they “neutralized” the “suspect,” they conducted a body search and found no weapon in his possession.
Haaretz reported that while one officer fired warning shots in the air, the second more junior officer shot al-Halaq while he was trying to hide behind a dumpster.
The junior officer reportedly “suspected [al-Halaq] was a terrorist because he was wearing gloves” — an extremely common occurrence here given the coronavirus pandemic.
On top of the fact that al-Halaq was unarmed and was autistic, the arbitrary and conflicting reasoning given by the officers as to why they pursued and shot him has sparked widespread outrage among Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories.
“Israel has been on a killing spree,” Palestinian leader and legislator Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement, referring to the case of al-Halaq, and the killing of 37-year-old Fadi Aqed 24 hours earlier.
Aqed was gunned down by Israeli soldiers at a bus stop outside Ramallah after the soldiers claimed he tried to ram them with his car. No soldiers were injured in the incident, while Aqed’s family said that he was on his way to pick up his wife when his car skidded off the road.
“The latest execution-style killing brings, to at least 21, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces in such senseless acts of violence since January,” Ashrawi said. She added that “murders, land appropriation, home demolitions, and other acts of structural violence are on the rise.”
Leader of the Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh took to Twitter to condemn al-Halaq’s murder, saying “remember that they [police] pulled the trigger but the occupation loaded the weapon.”
Odeh called on the officers responsible to be put in jail, but expressed fears of a cover up.
“Justice will only be done when the Al-Halak family, their friends and the rest of the Palestinian people know freedom and independence,” he said.
Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter
Al-Halaq’s killing has been slammed as an “extrajudicial killing,” and has resurfaced pain within the Palestinian community, who say they have long been targeted and gunned down by Israeli police and military for nothing more than being Palestinian.
Over the years, countless stories have surfaced of Palestinians getting killed for mundane and arbitrary actions that likely would not have resulted in violent responses were they not Palestinian.
Palestinians have been shot during traffic accidents by soldiers who claimed they were defending themselves from a terrorist attack. Others have been shot for simply walking near a checkpoint, while some, like al-Halaq, are killed simply for “looking suspicious.”
Al-Halaq’s untimely death has coincided with the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with many Palestinian activists and allies drawing parallels between Israel’s slaying of Palestinians and the rampant killings of unarmed black men in the U.S at the hands of the police.
Demonstrations took place in Jerusalem and Jaffa on Sunday night, with protestors carrying photos of al-Halaq alongside photos of Floyd.
Even prior to the killing of al-Halaq, photos showing a side-by-side comparison of police officers kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and Israeli soldiers kneeling on the neck of a Palestinian youth went viral on social media with the caption: “I can’t breathe.”
“The photo of the American black [man] who was killed by US police in cold blood and which went viral worldwide, is being practiced in Jerusalem every day,” Ziyad Hammouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, told Palestinian Wafa news agency.
Hammouri compared the lack of accountability in the US with the Israeli system, adding that if an investigation is opened into the killing of an unarmed Palestinian, it is often a “mock investigation…which often ends with no results and with no one brought to trial.”
The backlash against the killing of al-Halaq caused Benny Gantz, the acting defense minister, to apologize during a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, saying: “We are really sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share in the family’s grief. I am sure this subject will be investigated swiftly and conclusions will be reached.”
Despite widespread calls for the arrest and imprisonment of the officers involved in al-Halaq’s killing, Haaretz reported that one officer was released “under restrictive conditions” while the other was placed under house arrest.
Israel has long been criticized by rights groups for the lack of accountability when it comes to its soldiers and police officers injuring and killing Palestinians.
B’Tselem has said: “Those responsible for harming Palestinians go unpunished, and the victims receive no compensation for the harm they suffer. The few, isolated exceptions serve only to amplify the illusion that the law enforcement systems in place are functioning properly.”