Eyad al-Hallaq’s caretaker witnessed his death three years ago – this is her account 

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  July 13, 2023

“We talked, me and the soldiers. I told them: ‘I work at the center for people with special needs. Eyad is my patient.’ And Eyad was alive, on the ground, and kept saying, ‘I’m with her.’ And then they shot him again, after five minutes, right in front of me.”

Last week, the Jerusalem District Court gave a shocking ruling when they acquitted the officer who murdered 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man, Eyad al-Hallaq. The court said that he acted in “self-defense.” In the process, the acquittal in such a clear case of murderous and racist police violence, exposed the bankruptcy of “Jewish democracy.”

Eyad was a Palestinian in occupied East Jerusalem. It is unthinkable that, had Eyad been Jewish and his murderer Palestinian, things would have ended like this. Indeed, the murderer would no doubt have been extra-judicially executed himself. The ruling indirectly confirmed that the mere suspicion or feeling of “being threatened” when it comes to Palestinians naturally merits such extrajudicial execution. The murderer’s “honest mistake” was simply that Eyad wasn’t a terrorist. 

This case has been mentioned in the international media, but it is not expected to cause any kind of mass Israeli protest, unlike the similar case of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which preceded it by five days three years ago. It seems Palestinian lives don’t matter all that much to Israeli protesters. 

Sometimes dry accounts and details produce a dry response – another number, another dead Palestinian. However, the account of Eyad’s caretaker, Warda Abu-Hadid, from the special needs school Eyad attended, is heart-wrenching. She provided her testimony to Yuval Abraham, a journalist in Local Call and +972 Magazine. I had missed it at the time, and saw it reposted on social media in the wake of the court’s decision. It was translated by Riva Hocherman, and is published here for the first time in English with Hocherman’s and Abraham’s kind permission. 

“I’m a married woman. I have a son, thirteen years old, and since the shooting his soul, like mine, is crushed. Today he said to me, ‘Enough, Mama, no more people coming to the house. Don’t answer the phone.’ 

I called you and then left the house. I don’t want him to hear our conversation. My son sees me in the media and he hears me talking about Eyad’s blood, which was spilled right in front of me. Since then he won’t leave the house. Today his father said, let’s go out for a bit, and he refused. He’s afraid of the police. You understand? And for me, my children’s emotional well-being, that’s important to me.  

What’s your name? Yuval? You’re Jewish? Yes. What? Don’t worry. My husband works with the Jews. If you’d have seen the empathy they showed me, they visited me at home. At the end of the day, we live here together, in the same city. 

For twenty-five years, I’ve been working as a therapist at the center for people with special needs. It’s my life’s mission. That day, on the way to work, I walked past the police station like I always do. There was no one there. I kept going. I got to the parking area, next to the garbage room. I saw some of the cleaners standing outside. 

Then I heard screaming. I turned around behind me. I see Iyad. It’s Eyad, Eyad! My love! I can also hear soldiers yelling. I can hear the sound of the weapons in their hands. And then shooting. They shot at him, at Eyad.  

After the shooting, one of the cleaners says to me, ‘savta [grandmother in Hebrew], come and hide here, come and hide,’ and I, honestly…the fear took over, and I wanted to protect myself. I went into the garbage room. I was shaking. Eyad stumbled after me. He looked at me and shouted to the soldiers: ‘With her! With her! I’m with her!’ 

He’s sprawled on the ground, dying. Blood is pouring from his leg and he’s shouting the whole time: ‘I’m with her. I’m with her.’ The soldier screams at him: ‘Give me the weapon! Give me the weapon!’ He screams at me as well. And Eyad raised his hand. ‘I’m with her. Warda, I’m with you.’ He saw me as his savior. 

Eyad was a thin boy. Pitiful. A submissive man. Generally, people with special needs are very weak. They don’t know how to defend themselves, only through the words they’ve acquired. ‘I’m with her. I’m with her.’ That’s what he knew. 

We talked, me and the soldiers. Five, six minutes, we talked. I told them: ‘I work at the center for people with special needs. Eyad is my patient. There’s no weapon. He’s got a card in his pocket. Check the card. I also have a card, check it.’  

And they listen, but they don’t want to hear. And Eyad is alive, on the ground, and all the time saying, ‘I’m with her.’

And then they shoot him again, after five minutes, right in front of me. I heard three bullets. Maybe two. I wasn’t fully there. They’re shooting someone, in front of me, what’s going to happen? The person in me shattered. My mind, my soul, they were murdered along with him. 

Someone came into the room. Wearing army uniform. A woman soldier also came in, got close, put her weapon against me. This will all be on the camera footage if they release it. 

She said, ‘I’m going to search you.’ I raised my hands. Now my body’s detached, which made her hand, when she tapped me, feel like an electric shock. And it burned. Like torture. Every touch, each time she landed on my body, an electrical current ran through me.  

Then they took me to the police station. Two women soldiers, one on the left, one on the right. I’m almost fainting from exhaustion. I was fasting that day. In a room, they made me take off my clothes. ‘Yalla, hajja,’ the soldier said in Arabic. Again she put her hands on me, and the same thing — I’m paralyzed by electricity with every touch. They also searched in my hair. 

I don’t know how I put my clothes back on. It’s like I’m there again, in that room, and saying to myself — ‘How? How did I manage to put my clothes on?’

 I put my scarf on my head. Sat in a chair. The soldier said, in Hebrew, ‘you want water?’ I told her no. I don’t want. I was fasting. Slowly, the room fills with soldiers, and I’m exhausted, my eyes are blurry, I’m not paying attention. What’s happening? Who’s even there? I’m wiped out. I want someone, someone I can trust. 

They put me in a car, take me for interrogation. My legs are trembling. My mouth is dry. I’m not able to express anything, to speak. I feel like my lips can’t move. Four soldiers dragged me to the Russian Compound. Someone called Adam said, ‘I’m interrogating you.’ That’s it. I told him everything. 

This event, it’s as if, as if someone erased me. There are things in my life, personal memories, that have vanished since then. Private numbers that I remembered, and now I can’t remember them. I can’t remember my ID number. Things like that.  

I don’t sleep at night. All the time, I think that someone’s coming, someone who’s coming to shoot me. My son’s playing on the computer, some silly game where there’s shooting. I yelled at him, ‘For God’s sake, turn it down. For God’s sake. I don’t want to hear that sound. I don’t want to.’ And I’m afraid to be there alone, in the Old City. I’m talking to you now, and my whole body is shaking. Can you believe it?”

At this point, Yuval Abraham interjects:

Throughout the conversation with Warda, I’m crying and silent. Then I said, without thinking: ‘But why did they shoot him? I don’t understand. Why did they shoot him? Why did they do it? He was on the ground, bleeding.’” 

Warda answers him:

“I yelled at them, in Hebrew: ‘He’s disabled! He’s disabled! He has a card!’ But they didn’t want to hear me. It’s as if the soldier had decided that Eyad’s a terrorist, and he wanted it. Wanted to kill him. I saw that he wanted it, that he waited to use the weapon. There was no danger. 

The soldiers are always violent toward us in this city. Eyad is one incident. I’ve lived here for years and I’m always afraid. Soldiers don’t listen to Arabs. They check them with contempt, they don’t see us as human beings, but as animals. And they’re in the Old City, armed, next to schools and clinics. 

It’s tied to the officers, and this event ought to shock them, make them come up with training, to teach the soldiers how to act. They should know that our blood isn’t cheap. That if they do something bad, they’ll go to jail. Not like now, when they pay no price at all. Before they come here, the soldiers, they should have some idea of our background, who we are, who lives in this city.  

You know, for years, I’ve worked with them, with people with special needs. I love them. Their innocence, their generosity, their simplicity. Good people. Good. They want someone to hold their hand, to lead them forward. I worked with Eyad a lot. In the beginning, he was shy. Didn’t talk. Didn’t defend himself. I taught him how to peel yams, potatoes, to put on a hat and gloves, to wash dishes, to cook. And he fasted! He fasted all through Ramadan. 

That’s it. What can I tell you? I really hope something will change. That my voice will reach everyone. I know how important it is, that’s why I talk on the phone. This crime has turned me upside down. Today I was able to talk. But yesterday, no. The situation at home also matters to me. My boy. That’s it. Good luck to you. Bye.”

It is hard to stay indifferent to such a story. The near-total silence that ensued after the trial, in both Israel as well as with the U.S. government, is enraging. Given that the U.S. didn’t stand up for Shireen Abu Akleh when she was murdered last year in Jenin, and she was a U.S. citizen, the prospect they will stand up for Eyad al-Hallaq seems likely. The case went through the Israeli court, and the judge vindicated the murderer. 

A few days ago, I talked with one of the organizers of Israel’s mass protests against the judicial overhaul, and I asked her whether she had heard about Eyad al-Hallaq. She had to be reminded of who he was, and only then did she seem to vaguely remember him. I told her that the shooter was acquitted. “Oh,” she said, she had heard something about it. But then she asserted that she still wanted to believe that it was a sound decision since it was a judge, after all, who made it. 

And that’s precisely the takeaway that most Israelis will get from this. It’s what they’ve been indoctrinated to believe when confronted with such facts — they need to be at peace with the reality of so-called “Jewish democracy” and its justice system. The more liberal ones will also protest to keep it strong. Meanwhile, Eyad al-Hallaq and his fellow Palestinians will be thrown under the Israeli bus, as the protesters wave their Israeli flags, symbolizing their sacred Jewish supremacy. 

But I cannot let this go. I identify with Eyad as my 14-year-old son is autistic — and I can imagine him in that situation if he were Palestinian. There is so little protection for Palestinians in real-time, and then absolutely no justice when a murder occurs. This happens because Israel feels secure. There is little accountability for its actions on a national level. It wasn’t only the Border Police officer who murdered Eyad — it was Israel. And it is on us to insist upon justice for Eyad and his fellow Palestinians. Israel simply will not provide it.  

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark