Iyad al-Hallaq: Israeli court acquits officer charged with killing autistic man

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 6, 2023

The police officer killed Iyad al-Hallaq in Jerusalem’s Old City while he was on his way to a special needs school.

An Israeli court has acquitted the border police officer who was charged with manslaughter after he shot dead autistic Palestinian man Iyad al-Hallaq in May 2020. 

The Jerusalem district court ruled on Thursday that the officer was acting in self-defence when he carried out the shooting of 31-year-old Hallaq.

Hallaq was in Jerusalem’s Old City on his way to a special needs school when the police officer shot him. 

According to the court, the officer was forced to make a split-second decision in a dangerous situation, and taking risks “is an integral part of military activity”.

The judges accepted the police officer’s claim of self-defence, saying that the officer made an “honest mistake” and “did not know that Iyad was an innocent man with special needs”.

The officer told the court that the incident lasted a few seconds and he was under the impression that a woman was about to be murdered.

 “Only during the internal investigation did I learn that [the victim] was a man with special needs and not a terrorist,” he told the court. 

Hallaq’s parents expressed their shock at the sentence. His father called the result a “disgrace”, while his mother cried: “You are all terrorists, my son is under the ground.”

Far-right Israeli leader Ben-Gvir applauded the court sentence, praising the “hero soldiers that protect the State of Israel”.

Severe autism 

Hallaq had severe autism, with his parents saying that he had the mental age of an eight-year-old. 

One of Hallaq’s teachers, Wadeh Abu Hadid, witnessed the incident that took place near the Alwein school that he had attended for five years in order to learn how to cook.

In an official statement following the killing, Israeli police officers said that they had received a warning from their command that an “armed terrorist” had entered the Old City, and when Hallaq went past, he became a suspect. 

CCTV footage of the incident showed Hallaq near the school, where he was turning his head left and right and looking behind him.

Moments later, four policemen chased after him, making him panic and run. 

Hallaq called out for help from his teachers, who shouted that he was disabled in Arabic and Hebrew. Hallaq and his teacher, Abu Hadid, entered a shed for safety, but the officer followed them and fired three shots at Hallaq.

Hallaq’s family described him as a shy and calm person, who was well loved by all those around him.

The killing of Hallaq caused an international uproar, triggering a widespread campaign to hold the officer accountable. Many compared his killing to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States. 

Hallaq’s family has previously called for further investigations as well as tough charges against the officer, saying that Israeli forces have a long history of killing with impunity. 


Israeli court acquits Border Police officer charged with killing autistic Palestinian man

Julia Frankel

AP  /  July 6, 2023

JERUSALEM – An Israeli court on Thursday acquitted a border police officer who was charged with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City three years ago.

The Jerusalem district court ruled that the officer was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed 32-year-old Eyad Hallaq. The case has drawn comparisons to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.

The court described the incident as a tragic mistake, noting that the officer made a split-second decision in a dangerous situation.

Taking risks, the court said, “is an integral part of military activity.”

The court said the officer, whose name has not been made public, was acting in “good faith” when he fatally shot Hallaq, believing him to be an attacker.

Hallaq’s family has long criticized Israel’s investigation into the killing. After the decision was handed down, Hallaq’s mother, Rana, exited the courtroom crying.

She described her son as “simple, calm.”

“Because he was calm they killed him,” she said.

She added that she had great hope in God, “our Lord has another judgment.”

Hallaq, 32, was fatally shot just inside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate on May 30, 2020, as he was on his way to the special-needs institution that he attended.

Police, saying they thought he was a Palestinian attacker, pursued him and called for him to stop. According to accounts at the time, two members of Israel’s paramilitary border police then chased him into a garbage room and shot at him as he cowered next to a bin. In total, police fired four bullets, shooting him twice, before he died, according to a court document.

A police investigation found the officer had defied instructions to stop shooting, and had acted in a “reckless” manner, according to a statement released after the verdict by the department’s internal investigations unit.

Hallaq’s father, Khairy, said he was shocked by the acquittal and vowed to pursue other legal action.

“We spent years in the courts waiting for the decision, but we did not expect this shocking decision,” he said. “We will not allow the murderer to be acquitted.”

Palestinians and human rights groups have long accused Israeli forces of killing Palestinians under questionable circumstances.

They say Israel does a poor job prosecuting and punishing its forces in cases of wrongdoing. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases, witnesses are not even summoned for questioning.

“This is just one of many cases in which Israel whitewashes the killing of Palestinians,” said Dror Sadot, spokeswoman for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. “When it comes to the unjustified killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces, the policy is impunity.”

The Old City is a frequent site of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. Its narrow streets are lined with hundreds of security cameras that are monitored by police. But as the investigation proceeded last summer, prosecutors claimed that none of the cameras in the area had worked, and there was no footage of the incident.

The Old City is part of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed to its capital in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. The city’s fate is one of the most divisive issues in the conflict.