The green grass in the small yard outside the house has turned yellow and died. The potted plants are also withered, after not being watered for a month. Eyad used to water them every day in the summer, but now there’s no one to tend to them. Rana, the bereaved mother, is binge-watching a clip of her son on her phone, standing in the garden holding a hose, a faint smile playing on his lips. His smile is bigger in another clip, in which he’s seen preparing fatteh – a dish of hummus with meat and pine nuts – for his parents. He’d learned to make it at the Elwyn El Quds special-needs center that he attended in Jerusalem’s Old City, not long before he was killed.
“Look what a son I had,” Rana says, contemplating his picture.
Khairy, her husband, has changed shockingly since we met him the day after their son was fatally shot, in the mourning tent. He’s become lean, gaunt and pale. He smokes two packs of cigarettes a day; Rana goes through three. He hardly eats; she doesn’t cook. Their lives have ground to an abrupt halt.
It was on May 30, a little after 6:30 A.M. when their lives were irrevocably upended. Two members of the Border Police – an officer and a new recruit – shot their son as he lay cringing on the floor of a roofless garbage room near the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, with his caregiver by his side shouting in vain, “He’s disabled, he’s disabled!”
For Rana and Khairy Hallaq, the autistic 32-year-old was the apple of their eye. They also have two daughters, Joanna and Diana, both of whom are teachers, but Eyad, their disabled son, was everything to them.
“There’s one boy, we have no other,” Rana tells us in Hebrew. “He is my second soul. Eyad and I are one soul from long ago, from many years back.”
Since his death, she has been sleeping in his bed, and rarely leaves his small room; sometimes she even wears his clothes. When we visited them this week, she came to greet us, saying, “I can’t do anything – I only lie in his bed and look at his pictures and his clothes and see his room and remember his life.” Again she shows photos of him, her hands trembling; this time he’s seen hugging two plants. He had planted them during the coronavirus lockdown, when he was compelled to stay home, in the Wadi Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Now, says Rana, “The plants have died.”
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The parents’ agony is a permanent presence here. An aura of profound, tear-less grief hangs over the family’s living room, whose walls are now adorned with pictures of the dead son and brother. On the sofa is a photo of Eyad next to a picture of George Floyd.
“George Floyd was killed because he was black, and Eyad because he is a Palestinian,” Eyad’s father says. “But look at the difference between the response in the United States and in Israel,” his wife adds.
Indeed, huge waves of fury washed over America after the killing of the black man in Minneapolis, whereas in Israel there was the usual indifference, albeit tinged with some signs of regret after the fatal shooting because the victim was autistic. No fury raged here, and no insight emerged to the effect that Eyad’s killing was the result of a deliberate policy, not a “tragedy.”
Because Eyad was meticulous about order and cleanliness, his family doesn’t dare move anything in his room. The bed remains covered with the same bedspread that it had a month ago: The bottles of aftershave and other grooming products are on the chest next to it, his clothes are folded carefully in the closet and the jar of Smiley candies he loved is full, too. A cellphone charger lying haphazardly on a table catches the father’s eye and he quickly puts it back where it belongs. “If he’d seen that here he would have been angry,” Khairy says.
And again, an oppressive silence.
“All we want now is quiet,” the parents say. They spend most of their days lying in bed and staring, barely seeing anyone, turning on the television only when their grandchildren visit. Diana comes over with the four of them every afternoon to try and raise their spirits, but very quickly they sink back into their pain.
The little food they eat is ordered in from a restaurant. Rana isn’t capable of entering the kitchen, where Eyad practiced making the dishes he’d learned in his cooking classes at Elwyn. Every evening, he would prepare whatever dish he’d learned that day. The staff at the center were impressed with his abilities and planned to arrange for him to work as a cook’s assistant in one of the city’s hotel or restaurant kitchens.
Khairy himself hasn’t worked for years, since he was injured in a work accident at a marble factory. He has also had difficulty climbing the stairs to his son’s fresh grave in the Bab al-Zahara cemetery, behind the post office on East Jerusalem’s Saladin Street. Rana says that, if she could, she would move to the cemetery. She has made four or five visits to Eyad’s grave, where a headstone has already been erected.
The couple can’t bring themselves, however, to visit the space, just inside Lions Gate, where he was killed. Khairy, who used to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque every week, no longer goes there, because the route passes by the site of death. Rana is also afraid to go there.
“How can anyone see the place where they killed his son? I am afraid the police will kill me there,” she says. “After all, they killed Eyad, who was a quiet boy.”
A few days ago, his special-needs friends from the Elwyn center arrived to lay palm branches in his memory at the site of his killing, but the police quickly chased them away and removed the palm fronds. Eyad will evidently not have a memorial, even one that’s improvised.
The police returned the young man’s cellphone to his parents after deleting all its contents. Khairy and Rana say that Eyad liked to video his way to and from school, in order to show the footage to them when he got home. Maybe he also documented his last walk to school?
On Tuesday, Haaretz’s Nir Hasson and Josh Breiner reported that the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police officers has no security camera footage of the incident, even though there are at least seven cameras in the vicinity – including two in the garbage room where the shooting took place. The main suspect has meanwhile been set free, he was questioned only once by police.
Khairy: “There is no camera, there is no footage. Why is that? What can I say? Did you see last week how they published all the footage from the Abu Dis checkpoint last week within an hour?” he asks, referring to an attempt to run over a female Border Police officer at the Kiosk Checkpoint outside Jerusalem.
This past Monday was the 30th day since the Hallaqs’ catastrophe. Their house on Yakut al-Hamwai Street, which was abuzz with visitors during the four days of mourning, was empty when we arrived, together with ‘Amer ‘Aruri, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. ‘Aruri had reported the testimony of the Elwyn caregiver, Warda Abu Hadid, who was next to Eyad when the police shot him.
Rana and Khairy told us that they have been very touched by the displays of solidarity and pain by thousands of people from all over the world, including condolence calls by many Israelis. They were deeply moved by the response from other parents of autistic children.
The parents stress that they had nothing to do with the expulsion from the mourning tent of the Temple Mount activist and former Likud MK Yehuda Glick, but were told that he kept taking pictures of himself there, which was offensive. Hundreds of Israelis came to share in their grief, they say. On the evening Glick, who had come to pay a condolence call, was sent packing by a group of young Palestinians, dozens of police officers arrived to search their home. It was the second search, four days after the first one, on the day of the killing. Apart from that, the Hallaqs have heard nothing from the police about the killing of their son.
More photos: Eyad is hunched over a large, bubbling pot of soup at school, peeling carrots – one of the rare moments in which fleeting happiness can be seen flitting across his face. “Rest in peace, angel,” wrote special-needs children from the Israeli Arab city of Taibeh, who brought the parents an embroidered picture of him. Israeli illustrator Einat Magal Smoly sent them a painting of Eyad, with his name in Hebrew and Arabic, and added a condolence letter.
Rana and Khairy are not interested in financial compensation, they say; all they want is for the policemen responsible to stand trial. A number of lawyers, among them the human rights attorney Michael Sfard, have offered their help.
“There are eight of those lawyers, but we know that nothing would happen even if there were another five or six,” Khairy says. “I don’t believe the police officer will go to jail. If he had thought he would go to jail, he would not have done something like that. Believe me.”
What would he like to see happen, we ask. Bitter laughter. “Israel is a law-abiding country, no? Israel is a democracy, no? We are waiting to see. I am waiting to see the law of the State of Israel. That it is exactly the same as it would be if it were the opposite: If Eyad had been a Jew who was killed by an Arab, he would already be after his trial. We are not looking at compensation. All we want is for it not to happen to anyone else.”
Rana says she wants to convey a message to the Israeli police and army: “Please take your time before using your weapon.” And again she shows clips, Eyad brushing his teeth, Eyad doing gymnastics, Eyad getting mixed up counting from 1 to 15.
An animated video by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor depicts the last hour of his life. Here he is walking on the Via Dolorosa of Jesus, a coronavirus mask on his face, his hands in gloves. Here one sees the police chasing him, and there they are standing over him in the garbage room, executing him.
“There are no words,” we tell them.
“There are plenty of words,” Rana says.