A month after the shooting death of an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man by a border policeman in Jerusalem’s Old City, a key issue remains: the existence of any footage of the incident from the many security cameras nearby.
It is also not clear how the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police officers has been conducting the investigation into the shooting. The investigators are expected to submit evidence to the unit’s prosecutor shortly.
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Eyad Hallaq, 32, was shot to death in a garbage room in late May after entering the Old City through Lions Gate, where it is believed police there considered him suspicious. Because he was autistic, he did not understand orders to halt, so he fled and sought refuge in the roofless garbage room.
The border policeman who shot Hallaq had finished basic training only weeks before. He has said he suspected that Hallaq was planning an attack because he was wearing gloves; the officer says he opened fire after Hallaq made a suspicious move.
The officer’s commander insists that he told the new recruit to hold fire, but the younger policeman says he never heard such an order.
According to a source familiar with the investigation, the security cameras in the area, including cameras in the garbage room itself, apparently did not document the shooting. The Justice Ministry unit has only questioned the main suspect once – for five hours on the day of the shooting. His commander, who has since finished his service, has been questioned twice.
During the initial questioning of the main suspect, he was shown footage of the chasing of Hallaq into the garbage room, but no other documentation. The commander wasn’t shown any footage, the source says, nor was any video evidence produced during the questioning of the teacher Warda Abu Hadid, who was accompanying Hallaq that day.
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Spokespeople for the Justice Ministry unit refused to answer Haaretz’s questions about the security cameras. At a hearing earlier this month, an official from the unit declined to address the issue, saying that if there were cameras in the area of the shooting, they were confiscated by investigators.
Haaretz has found that there are no fewer than 10 cameras in the 150 meters (164 yards) between Lions Gate, where the chase began, and the garbage room. Their location seems to make the chance of no video evidence of the incident very low.
Most of the cameras in the area are connected to the Mabat 2000 police monitoring system, which has hundreds of cameras throughout the Old City and nearby. Almost every security incident that takes place in the Old City is documented by this system, and in some cases the videos are released to the media soon after an incident.
At Lions Gate there are two Mabat 2000 cameras, and above the gate stands a pole with another camera. Three more cameras are positioned about 50 meters down the street, one belonging to Mabat 2000 and two connected to a traffic light and a system of hydraulic poles designed to block entrance by unauthorized vehicles.
Around 20 meters further down sits another camera pointed at the entrance to the garbage room, along with the two cameras in the room itself. These belong to a cleaning company, a subcontractor that employs the sanitation workers in the Old City for the Jerusalem municipality and the East Jerusalem Development Company.
An employee and a manager at the company say that after the shooting, that same day, Israeli officials took the relevant footage out of the cameras. The two workers are not sure whether the cameras were functioning properly that day, or whether the people who removed the footage were police or Justice Ministry investigators.
Although a month has passed, the Justice Ministry unit still has not staged a reenactment of the shooting. An attempt to do so soon after the incident was canceled by investigators because journalists were present at the scene. A Haaretz article on the cancellation generated criticism because some people taking part in the probe did not even know a reenactment had been planned.
Similarly, despite the contradiction between the two border policemen’s version of events, no confrontation has been staged between them. Nor has there been one between the policemen and Hallaq’s teacher, who told investigators that she shouted at the police that Hallaq was disabled, to no avail.
The source familiar with the investigation says the Justice Ministry unit does not seem to accept the teacher’s version of events, preferring the border policemen’s testimony that she reached the garbage room only after the younger policeman had shot Hallaq.
Another law enforcement source says that so far, except for Abu Hadid’s testimony, no findings contradict the testimony that the two border policemen began chasing a man suspected of being a terrorist in response to a call by the Jerusalem police. According to this source, the case against the commander does not yet show no evidence of a crime, while the case against his younger colleague will be examined by the prosecution.
“This doesn’t look like an Elor Azaria case,” a source said, referring to the soldier who in 2016 shot dead a Palestinian assailant already lying motionless on the ground, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. The source said that in the absence of any new evidence, the case against the younger border policeman is likely to be closed
Neither suspect has been subject to any restrictions. The commander, who was doing his military service, has been discharged, while the main suspect has not been returned to his unit and the Border Police are considering how to proceed.
“The investigation into this case looks like it’s about to be completed. More investigating is required to finish it, because our client insists that he ordered the shooter to stop firing before the fatal shot,” the commander's lawyers, Oron Schwartz and Yogev Narkis, said in a statement.
“If the authorities and the Justice Ministry unit won’t work to confirm this version of events, my client will insist on undergoing a polygraph test. Although the results of a polygraph are not admissible in a legal proceeding, it is an acceptable and sometimes decisive tool for investigators and prosecutors making a decision.”
The attorneys for the border policeman who shot Hallaq, Efrat Nahmani Bar and Alon Porat, said: “We’re talking about a tragedy. Still, it’s important to remember that the soldier acted on instructions given to him and a situation presented to him by his superiors.”