Israeli police officers shot to death an unarmed, disabled Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday.
Eyad Hallaq, 32, resided in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz. He attended and worked in a special needs school in the Old City, just meters away from where he was shot.
According to a statement by the Border Police, two officers noticed the Palestinian carrying a suspicious object that they thought was a gun and ordered him to stop. After the man refused and started fleeing the scene, the officers started chasing him on foot and opened fire, ultimately killing him.
Following the incident, the police closed off the Old City. The Police Internal Investigations Department will be in charge of investigating the incident. After being questioned, one of the officers was released under restrictive conditions while the other is on house arrest.
According to an initial investigation, two officers began chasing Hallaq after they were told by other police that he was a terrorist. The more senior officer of the two shot in the air while the junior officer shot at Hallaq, who was trying to hide behind a dumpster. The shooting officer said he suspected Hallaq was a terrorist because he was wearing gloves.
According to a source familiar with the investigation, the junior officer - who was a new recruit and was armed with an M16 - is being suspected of having continued shooting after being told by his commander to stop, and did so because he saw that Hallaq was still moving. A Jerusalem court has issued a gag order on the names of the police officers involved.
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Speaking with Haaretz, Hallaq family members said “he wasn’t capable of harming anyone” and was autistic and classified as disabled.
Hallaq's body was transferred to the Institute of Forensic Medicine. Hallaq's family demanded that a Palestinian representative be present at the autopsy. The family later said that the Palestinian pathologist was prevented from entering.
Hallaq's father said that his son would go to the special needs school every day. “He never had problems with the police. In the morning we received a call from the special needs facility, telling us our son had been killed.”
Shortly thereafter, Hallaq's father said, police officers and Shin Bet agents arrived at his home and started searching it without saying anything. He said that one of the officers cursed a relative of the family.
The lawyer representing the Hallaq's family said that “we view this as murder, and are demanding that the police officers be brought to justice. According to testimonies, some 10 bullets were fired directly at Hallaq. We are certain that he didn’t pose any danger to the officers.”
Protests demanding justice for Hallaq took place in Jerusalem and Jaffa. Demonstrators carried photos of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by white police officers in Minneapolis last week and whose killing spurred nationwide protests in the U.S. against police brutality.
According to the officers, they began pursuing Hallaq on foot after being alerted about a suspected terrorist carrying a pistol. “We suspected he acted alone and responded according to protocol,” one of the officers said during questioning.
The lawyers of one of the officers involved in the shooting said in response that “An initial examination of the incident is being conducted. It seems a tragedy occurred here. The officers acted exactly as was expected of them. They were convinced they were preventing yet another terror attack, similar to the many this area has seen, which have claimed the lives of both citizens and police officers.”
The attorneys added that the implicated Border Police officers were notified by the Jerusalem District Police forces deployed near the Old City’s Lion Gate that a Palestinian terrorist was at large.
“As far as they were concerned, he was a terrorist for all intents and purposes. They acted in accordance with the explicit order they received from their superiors. One must remember that many terror attacks have been carried out in this area, and therefore the two acted according to protocol, while doing their best to apprehend the suspect,” the lawyers, Oron Schwartz and Yogev Narkis, said in a statement.
Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties, expressed his condolences over Hallaq's death.
“We must fight the expected police cover up and make sure that the officers [responsible] go to prison ... At the same time we must remember that those officers were the ones who pulled the trigger, but the occupation loaded the gun. Justice will be served only when the Hallaq family and the entire Palestinian people will have freedom and independence,” Odeh said.
Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi visited the Hallaq family and said Hallaq's teacher was accompanying him on Saturday and had told the police that he was autistic. He called on the police to release video footage of the killing and said that he "hopes Internal Investigations Department will not cover up the crime, as it usually does."
"This requires an independent investigation, potentially by an international body, considering that the incident took place in an occupied territory," said Tibi.
Some Israeli left-wing lawmakers also expressed horror at the killing. Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz sent a letter to the police chief and minister of public security to investigate the killing. "The role of the police is to protect people, not shoot them," wrote Merav Michaeli of Labor.
Likud Minister Amir Ohana, who holds the public security portfolio in government, gave his condolences to the Hallaq family and said the incident is being investigated. "Until the probe is concluded, we will not determine the fate of the policemen," he said in a statement.
In addition, Palestinian organizations in Gaza and the West Bank expressed rage over the incident.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that “executing a Palestinian with special needs is a proof of the crimes Israel is committing. These crimes are fueling the Palestinian resistance, whose response will be to carry out actions against the occupation and an ongoing intifada."
“Those striving to normalize ties with Israel will be responsible for the Palestinian blood Israel spills,” Qassem said.
The Fatah general secretary for Jerusalem, Shadi Mutour, said that “Hallaq was executed by bloodthirsty police officers, whose goal is to implement a policy of intimidation and terror on the Palestinians in East Jerusalem.” He added that Israeli officers are trigger-happy when it comes to the Palestinians, which will only encourage them to hold onto their land and fight for their rights.
The Israel Police commented: "The role the police in Jerusalem, and in particular in the Old City, is particularly complex and often involves sacrifices and life-threatening decisions. In recent years, we have witnessed a number of cruel attempts to harm and kill Border Police officers in the Old City and surrounding areas. The exceptional case that occurred this morning was immediately turned over to the investigations unit, as is customary. It is appropriate to wait for the investigation findings before reaching any conclusions, and to avoid unsavory comments and wrongful slander of those who work daily protect the security of Israeli citizens."
On Friday, a Palestinian attempted to run over soldiers in the West Bank settlement of Halamish. IDF soldiers were sitting on a bench by the road when a Palestinian driver accelerated in their direction. The soldiers managed to get out of the way before the driver hit the bench. They shot the driver, killing him.
Palestinian reports identified the driver as Fadi Adnan Ka'ad, 37, from the village of Abu Qash, north of Ramallah. Family members rejected the claim that Ka'ad was attempting to carry out an attack, saying that he was on his way to pick up his wife in Salfit when his car slid and soldiers shot him.