Autistic Palestinian Shot Dead by Israeli Police Laid to Rest: 'He Didn't Even Know What a Soldier Is'

Family's attorney says autopsy 'increases the suspicion that the policemen committed crimes' in Hallaq's killing in Jerusalem's Old City

People attend the funeral of Eyad Hallaq in Jerusalem, May 31, 2020
People attend the funeral of Eyad Hallaq in Jerusalem, May 31, 2020Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ Reuters

Eyad Hallaq, the 32-year-old unarmed Palestinian shot and killed by Israeli police on Saturday in Jerusalem's Old City, was laid to rest Sunday overnight in his East Jerusalem neighborhood.

“He didn’t even know there was such a thing as Jews and Arabs in this country,” said Hallaq's cousin Dr. Hatem Awiwi.

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Hallaq was diagnosed as being on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum as a child, and he had trouble communicating with those around him.

“He didn’t know what a police officer is,” Awiwi said. “He didn’t absorb things; he didn’t have the knowledge that there even was another side. He didn’t know what a soldier is or what a weapon is. He saw a stranger and fled, and then they shot him.”

People attend the funeral of Eyad Hallaq in Jerusalem May 31, 2020Credit: Ammar Awad/ Reuters

He died after after being shot twice in the chest, an autopsy report revealed on Sunday.

The autopsy was conducted Sunday at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, with a Palestinian doctor present at the family’s request. The report revealed that two bullets to the chest had caused Hallaq's death.

“The findings increase the suspicion that the policemen committed crimes, and we expect those responsible for the investigation to move it forward and put the policemen on trial,” said the family’s attorney, Jad Qadmani.

After the autopsy, Hallaq’s father was summoned to the police station in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound to coordinate funeral arrangements. They reached agreement on a route, and police didn’t restrict the number of participants, as it has done before in similar cases.

The family said it thought the police wanted the funeral to take place as late at night as possible to prevent it from becoming a violent protest. On Sunday evening, police forcibly dispersed dozens of Palestinians who gathered at the Old City’s Damascus Gate to protest Hallaq’s killing.

Eyad Hallaq.

Every day for the past six years, Hallaq had walked from his home in the Wadi Joz neighborhood to a rehabilitation center in the Old City. The Elwyn center is located on an alley leading to the Temple Mount, very close to locations where terror attacks and clashes between Palestinians and police have taken place in recent years.

The center had therefore given all its patients documents explaining that they have special needs, in the hope that police will see the documents and leave them alone.

Hallaq’s parents also recently gave him a cellphone. Relatives said he didn’t know how to make calls, but did know how to answer if someone called him.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against the Israeli police after they shot and killed Palestinian man Eyad Hallaq, Jaffa, May 31, 2020Credit: Oded Balilty/ AP

“He would only speak to his mother and father,” Awiwi said. “When he was walking, he looked only at his feet, at the ground. I knew him for 31 years, but I never made eye contact with him.”

“He didn’t know how to defend himself,” added Issam Jamal, who runs the Elwyn center in the Old City. “He wasn’t capable of it. And they didn’t let him; they didn’t listen to him.”

“This is a great tragedy, a great loss,” he added. “He had started to be independently mobile. He had started to gain employment skills. He was making good progress and had reached an advanced stage.”

Hallaq was part of a group that was being trained to work in a kitchen. Other group members knew him as the most diligent of them all, and they noticed his absence on Saturday.

“He would always arrive first, and he never missed days,” Jamal said. “They asked us what had happened; they sensed that something strange had happened. We had to process what happened with them. This was a complicated job, and it’s especially hard when you, as a staffer, are really hurting.”

The other patients erected a mourning tent for him in the clinic’s courtyard. “We involve them in everything, and they experience this as a traumatic event, like we do,” Jamal said.

“We think everyone should be protected, and that the people protecting us shouldn’t be the ones threatening us,” he added. “That’s not a difficult request.”

Dr. Zvi Fishel, who heads the Israel Psychiatric Association, urged that police be given training in identifying behavior that stems from psychological or neurological problems.

“It wouldn’t prevent every incident, but it would be possible to prevent a significant proportion of incidents,” he said. “I see this with police officers who escort detainees to the hospital. You see that a new police officer is stricter and more frightened and more drastic in his response than an officer who has already been there and is familiar with it.

“Our patients’ unusual and unexpected behavior immediately makes them [police] suspicious. They [the patients] don’t understand the situation and run away, and then the police interpret it in an even worse way.

“There are local initiatives to connect hospitals or clinics with police stations, when a sub-district commander brings his officers to visit and they meet the patients, and that causes a change,” he added. “They see that not every abnormal behavior is criminal or terrorist, and this saves lives.”

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