Firas al-Halaq and his family got no official statement or explanation for his release, his lawyer said. Police said the investigation is continuing, but refused to comment on his release or say whether he is still a suspect.
Al-Halaq, 26, who has Israeli citizenship, hit an armored border police vehicle two weeks ago with his car in the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. He was shot and evacuated in serious condition to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. At the hospital he was placed in leg restraints, kept under guard and his family was not allowed to visit him. On October 20, his detention was extended by four days.
But according to his lawyer, Mohammad Anbusi, after only three days his restraints were removed, as were the guards, and his parents were granted access. There was no request to extend his detention further. “No one told me or the family anything,” says Anbusi. “The investigating unit didn’t even answer my phone calls or messages.”
According to the initial Border Police statement, Halaq hit the policemen’s vehicle hard with his car, made a suspicious move and was holding an object in his hand “that turned out to be a knife.” But in its updated statement the police didn’t say anything about a knife.
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An eyewitness to the incident said the policemen fired at Halaq when he was still in the car, which had been heavily damaged in the collision. Mohammad Jabar, a resident of the Al-Amari refugee camp, told B’tselem that he watched the incident from the roof of his home. He said he saw Halaq’s car coming from the direction of Ramallah, and that “the car moved fast and hit the Border Police vehicle, which had stopped while facing against traffic. It was a very bad collision.”
Jabar added, “At the moment of the collision I saw two soldiers getting out of a jeep that was parked at the entrance to the camp. They pointed their rifles at the car and proceeded toward it quickly, and then I heard three or four shots, with one of them firing at the car from in front of it. Afterward they approached the car, whose front end was totally crushed, pried open the driver’s side door and removed him.”
Halaq denies he was holding a knife. He said he was driving “wasted,” and during his court hearing the judge noted that he had previous convictions for drunk driving.
“They told me during questioning that I had come to hurt soldiers and I said, ‘What are you talking about? I live among you,’” he said from the hospital. “I want them to think next time before they shoot. I’m one person, they could put handcuffs on me without shooting, without anything.”
“This was an ordinary road accident,” said Anbusi. “Apparently the soldiers, because they’re in a complicated area and out of pressure and fear, were quick on the trigger. I hope that there will be lessons learned and there will be an examination of why this incident happened.” Firas’ brother, Sa’id al-Halaq, also said the policemen fired “because they were scared.” His family protested that they couldn’t visit him while he was under detention in the hospital.
Police said, “From an initial examination it emerges that when special Border Police operating in the area set out to arrest wanted persons for involvement in terrorist activities, a vehicle approached, accelerated and hit the armed vehicle, and the police responded by shooting at the suspect.”