In the living room of her home in the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, a tired Ranad al-Halaq sits between a sea of grieving family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers who have come to pay their respects.
It’s been two days since her only son, 32-year-old Eyad al-Halaq, was gunned down by Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he was enrolled at a center for Palestinian adults and children with disabilities.
In the hours since, she has relived the moment her son was killed over and over again, recounting the chilling tale of his slaying as told to her by one of the only eyewitnesses to the event, Eyad’s school teacher.
Eyad, who was born with autism, left his family’s home in the early hours of Saturday morning to make his way to the Elwyn El Quds center less than two kilometers away.
“Eyad always had a problem with calculating or remembering time,” Ranad told Mondoweiss. “So the second he would see the sun come up, he would think it was time to go to school. So that’s what he did on Saturday.”
Typically, Eyad’s mother or one of his two sisters accompanies him to school. On Saturday, however, because the family had the day off from work, they slept in. But when they woke up to their phones ringing just after 6 a.m., they realized that Eyad was not at home, and never made it to school.
He was close to the school when the Israeli police started yelling at him to stop moving,” Ranad recounted. “He was confused and scared and started to run away,” she continued, adding that when the police started shooting their guns in the air, Eyad’s teacher ran out towards him to try to stop the police.
“She saw what was happening and was yelling at the police to stop, saying that he has special needs,” she continued. “But they didn’t stop, and kept yelling ‘terrorist!’ in Hebrew.”
Eyad allegedly became more fearful, tearing off his protective gloves and mask and handing them to his teacher before running away. He then hid behind a dumpster nearby and was “curled up like a baby”, crying “I’m with her, I’m with her,” referring to his teacher.
“Then the officer came and shot him in the chest while he was hiding behind the dumpster in fear,” Ranad said.
The police officers then allegedly ran up to Eyad’s teacher, their guns pointed at her head, demanding that she turn over the weapon that Eyad had handed to her.
“They thought he had a gun or something,” Ranad recounted. “But when she held out her hands all she had was his mask and gloves.”
‘He loved that school more than anything’
When Eyad was diagnosed with autism as a young boy, friends and family expressed their sorrows to Ranad and her husband. Raising a child with a disability, especially in Palestine where mental disabilities are still taboo, would not be easy.
But for the past 32 years, Eyad has brought nothing but joy to his family, Ranad says, adding that he was the “salt of the home”, a common Arabic saying used to refer to people who give their family life, or flavor.
“He was a quiet, gentle, sweet, and kind soul,” she said. “It was hard for him to communicate with most people, but he could sit with anyone and make them feel happy, just with his presence.”
“During the summer, we always used to sit by the window and drink a cup of tea or coffee, and he would tell me all about his day, and ask me questions about life and the universe,” Ranad recounted.
“He was the light of my heart, the light of my eyes, my soul, my angel.”
Living with autism made it difficult for Eyad to connect with people outside of his family, Ranad said. The only place he loved even more than home, was the Elwyn El Quds center.
“He was his happiest when he was at the school,” Ranad said. “So the coronavirus lockdown was really hard for him because the school was shut down.”
Every day, Eyad would ask his mother when he could return to school. “It was a dark time for him,” she said. “He was really depressed, all he wanted was to go back. The school brought him so much happiness.”
When Israel finally began easing COVID-19 restrictions in the middle of May, Eyad was ecstatic to return back to the center. He had only been back to his beloved school a handful of times when he was killed right outside its doors.
The shooting of al-Halaq quickly garnered international and local attention, with many comparing his killing to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis three days earlier.
Since al-Halaq was killed, a number of protests and vigils have popped up around Israel and the occupied territories, commemorating al-Halaq and Floyd, and expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Haifa, dozens of protesters waving Palestinian flags and holding up posters of Floyd and al-Halaq, blocking off the main road in German Colony neighborhood of the city.
Across the Green Line in the city of Bethlehem, Palestinians young and old gathered outside the Church of Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and held a somber vigil for Floyd and al-Halaq.
Demonstrators lit candles and placed flowers in front of pictures of Floyd and al-Halaq and a poster that read “Our struggles are one. Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter.”
In Jerusalem, similar demonstrations have been happening across the city, with hundreds gathering to mourn the loss of al-Halaq.
“The support has been overwhelming in Jerusalem,” Ranad told Mondoweiss. “Everyone who worked with him in the school has come to share their kind words about him. Even strangers are coming to support us.”
“My son wasn’t very well known during his life. But now everyone knows his name, and everyone in Jerusalem and in Palestine knows him.”
The killing of al-Halaq shook many Palestinians to their core, and has served as a harsh reminder of the reality of living as a Palestinian under occupation. Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, face over-policing in their neighborhoods, unwarranted stops and searches by police, and an excessive use of force at the hands of Israeli authorities.
“There is a long legacy of Black-Palestinian solidarity and a radical understanding that the Black liberation struggle is an anti-colonial fight that is transnational and connected to the struggles of oppressed peoples across the globe,” the Adalah Justice Project said in a statement.
In the wake of al-Halaq’s killing, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem compiled a list of at least 11 Palestinians who were killed over the past few years while they were fleeing Israeli forces.
In most cases, B’Tselem noted that the victims, who posed no threat to the forces at the time, were shot in the back.
The attention surrounding the killing of al-Halaq and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests around the world have resulted in a less than flattering public relations nightmare for Israel.
While the killing of unarmed Palestinians is not uncommon, al-Halaq’s case forced Benny Gantz, the acting Defense Minister to issue an apology to the family, saying “we share in the family’s grief.”
But Ranad al-Halaq told Mondoweiss that any apologies from the Israeli government, especially Gantz, meant nothing to her.
“They wouldn’t accept this kind off treatment for their kids, for their people, even for their animals. So how do they accept this treatment of our children?” she asked.
“I don’t want anyone’s apology,” she said. “I will not accept it. My son is dead. Saying sorry is not enough. It will never be enough.”
With the Israeli police officers responsible for her son’s death still free, Ranad said she feels little hope when it comes to achieving justice for her son.
“I don’t think Eyad’s case will be treated any differently than all the other Palestinians who were wrongfully killed and got no justice from the Israeli occupation,” she said, adding that “the Israeli police and occupation are always covering up their crimes.”
Despite all the obstacles standing in her way, Ranad said she won’t give up, and will try as hard as she can to hold the officers who killed her son accountable for their crimes.
“I wish I could meet the soldier who killed my son. To make him feel shame for what he did,” she said. “He killed an innocent man who just wanted to go to his school and learn. I want to look the soldier in the eye and make him feel what he took away from me.”