New eyewitness testimony in the shooting and killing of Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man, in Jerusalem's Old City last Saturday, strengthens the suspicion that police shot him while he was lying on the ground, and after his counselor yelled that he was disabled.
The witness, A.R., a laborer, was in the garbage-bin space where Hallaq fled to get away from the police. According to his testimony, which was taken by B'Tselem investigator Amer Aruri on the day Hallaq was shot, A.R. was sitting in the garbage room ‒ a small, roofless structure used by sanitation workers on Sha'ar Ha'arayot Street.
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“I saw a young man running strangely, as if he didn’t know how to walk normally or was disabled. He came in my direction and fell on his back, only a few meters from me,” A.R. said. “A few border policemen ran after him and stopped a few meters from the young man, who was wearing a white shirt and black pants, and didn’t have anything in his hand. I heard the police officer ask the young man in Arabic, 'where’s the pistol?' But it was clear the young man didn’t know how to speak, because he wasn’t able to respond.”
At this point Warda Abu Hadid, a counselor from the Elwyn El Quds center for people with special needs that Hallaq attended, also ran into the garbage room. She said she had rushed there to hide after she heard the first shots.
“Meanwhile a woman wearing a kerchief came in and yelled at the policeman in Hebrew, ‘he’s disabled, he’s disabled,’ and then repeated the word ‘disabled’ in Arabic’” said A.R. “I froze on the spot and didn’t move I was so terrified. That’s the first time I’ve seen a chase like that. I was mainly looking at the young man, who was on the ground, trembling, and then I heard a few more shots. One of the policemen told me to get out of there and I fled.”
His testimony dovetails with that of Abu Hadid, who said she fled to the garbage room to hide after she heard the first shots. In her testimony to Aruri, she said that Hallaq was already wounded when he collapsed in a corner of the room. She said she yelled at the policemen, “He’s disabled, he’s disabled,” and Hallaq shouted, "I’m with her.’” She added that the policeman continued to yell at him, asking “where’s the rifle? Where’s the rifle?” before shooting him several times.
The version of events the police gave to the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers, known by its Hebrew acronym Mahash, was that they were summoned to the site after another police unit saw Hallaq carrying what looked to them like a gun (according to family members it was a telephone). Two policemen said they heard on the radio, “a terrorist armed with a live weapon is en-route to the Lion's Gate.”
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When he ran into the garbage room the younger of the two border policemen, a recent recruit, fired at Hallaq because “he made a movement that looked like his was preparing to draw [a weapon].”
Mahash has yet to reconcile the two policemen's versions of events, even though they differ. While the older border policemen who was in command during the incident claims that he called “hold fire,” after Hallaq ran into the garbage room, the younger policeman claims he never heard such an order and shot after he saw the Palestinian man making a suspicious move.
Attorneys for the senior policeman, Oron Schwartz and Yogev Narkis, said in a joint statement, “The completion of the investigation, including a confrontation between the two and a reenactment of the events, is required because our client insists that he ordered a halt to the shooting before the fatal shots.”
Attorneys Efrat Nahmani Bar and Alon Porat, who represent the recruit, who is the main suspect, said, “Our client fired because he felt his life was in danger, based on information that had been given to him by the competent authorities, the behavior of his commander, suspicious indications in the field and a movement that looked like preparation for drawing a weapon.”
On Sunday night, Mahash investigators planned to conduct a reenactment of the incident with the suspected policemen, but the reenactment was canceled because journalists were present.
Results of the forensic autopsy on Hallaq's body revealed that he died from two bullet wounds to his torso, a source involved in the investigation said.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the killing of Hallaq for the first time, calling it "a tragedy."
"This is a person with disabilities, autism, who was suspected – as we know, mistakenly – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive place. We all share in the grief of the family," Netanyahu told the ministers. "I expect your complete examinations into this matter."
Noa Landau and Josh Breiner contributed to this report.