The Israeli legal system is conspiring to acquit Eyad Hallaq’s murderer

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  September 6, 2023

The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Eyad Hallaq’s killer, and Hallaq’s family is now petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court in light of the State Attorney’s refusal to do so. But the Court has consistently justified the killing of Palestinians.

The horrific case of the murder of Eyad Hallaq has continued to drag on in Israeli court, denying closure for Hallaq’s family and exposing the bankruptcy of “Jewish democracy.”

In May 2020, Eyad al-Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man, was running away in fear from a border police officer in East Jerusalem when he was shot from behind. As he lay bleeding on the ground next to his horrified caretaker, Warda Abu Hadid — who pleaded with the border police officer and shouted, “He’s disabled! He’s disabled!” for five minutes — the officer shot him several more times in the upper body. It was a cold-blooded execution doled out by the keepers of Israeli law and order. 

This afternoon, the Israeli Supreme Court responded to an urgent appeal submitted by Adalah and Meezaan, two human rights organizations focusing on the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, on behalf of Hallaq’s family. The appeal was submitted against the State Attorney because he had refused to appeal an earlier decision of the Jerusalem District Court to acquit the officer who murdered Hallaq. The Supreme Court’s response to Adalah’s appeal was to give respondents 21 days to file their response to the appeal. 

Here is how the sordid legal affair of the aftermath of Eyad al-Hallaq’s murder got us to this point.

The background

In October 2020, the Police Investigations Department (PID) announced that the officer who shot Hallaq would be charged with reckless manslaughter — itself a rare occurrence, as noted by Adalah, since PID investigations almost never resulted in criminal charges. In July of this year, however, the Jerusalem District Court fully acquitted the officer of all charges, opining that he acted in “self-defense” due to a “perception of danger.”

Since it was the state prosecuting this case, it fell to the State Attorney to appeal this ruling, and the deadline for doing so was Wednesday today. 

On Monday, a meeting was held between Eyad al-Hallaq’s parents and their attorneys, with representatives of PID, the criminal division of the State Attorney’s office, and the Deputy State Attorney. During the meeting, the family’s lawyers emphasized the “critical flaws in the District Court’s ruling,” according to Adalah, which is what necessitated the appeal to the Supreme Court. One of those flaws was that the ruling was based on the subjective feelings of police officers, which failed to hold them accountable, and that the decision played fast and loose with the meaning of “self-defense” — given that Eyad was lying down on the ground as he bled out for five minutes when he was shot the second time.

Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, later on that Monday, the State Attorney announced that he would not be appealing the case to the Supreme Court. This left Hallaq’s parents a mere two days to seek a last recourse to justice by petitioning the Supreme Court themselves — with legal help from Adalah and Meezaan — on the premise of “extreme unreasonability.”

Since the deadline for petitioning was today, they asked for an expedited hearing. 

Adalah argued that the appeal was particularly necessary because the ruling sets a legal precedent that effectively lowers the threshold that allows for the use of lethal force by the police. If this precedent were to be established, it would “almost entirely eliminate accountability for the police in cases of killing Palestinians,” Adalah stated.

The decision of the State Attorney not to appeal, Adalah said, seems to stem from the impression that the judge based her verdict on factual determinations, in which the Supreme Court would typically not intervene. But Adalah pointed out that the determinations were not factually based — and were instead based on an extreme interpretation of “self-defense” despite the objective absence of any perceived threat.

Impunity for the killers, contempt for the victims

In a sense, the justification of a “perceived danger” is impossible to disprove. How can one argue with a subjective perception? Yes, Eyad was wounded and incapacitated. Yes, his caretaker was screaming that he was disabled, offering the police officer ID cards proving that he belonged to a school for people with special needs, and yes, all of this went on for several minutes while Eyad lay bleeding on the ground. But no, Eyad had to die due to a trigger-happy officer because he felt that he was in danger. This is what the Jerusalem District Court accepted as reasonable. 

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will also accept this justification, but its track record should give you an idea. We must remember that this is the same Supreme Court that approved the turkey-shooting of unarmed protesters with live ammunition at the Great March of Return in 2018, already after more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers in less than two months preceding the decision. In that ruling, too, the Supreme Court justified Israeli snipers’ killing of unarmed protestors because they posed a “danger” to the soldiers. This “perception of danger” was marshaled to excuse Israeli soldiers’ celebration of their “hits” and snipers’ competition over how many knees they got to blow open in a day.

This contempt for Palestinian life is also clear in the State Attorney’s refusal to appeal to the Supreme Court. And as if to further rub salt in the wound, the State Attorney also pandered to the demands of notorious right-wing provocateur Shai Glick, who had written a letter to him back in July imploring him not to “surrender to the campaign of the extreme left” by appealing to the Supreme Court. The State Attorney actually sent a response letter to Glick, assuring him that he would not appeal. The letter to Glick was far more than what Hallaq’s family received from the State Attorney — which was nothing.

The Supreme Court is giving the State Attorney, the PID, and the anonymous defendant who killed Eyad 21 days to respond. The Hallaq family’s legal team released the following statement today:

“In the first place, there was no justification for the delay of the PID and State Attorney’s Office’s announcement of their extremely unreasonable decision not to appeal until the very last moment, just before the appeal deadline. Now, the Supreme Court’s refusal to expedite the hearing on the petition further exacerbates the gravity of this legal ordeal, which may even inadvertently work in favor of the police officer responsible for Eyad al-Hallaq’s death. This decision highlights a deeply flawed legal system where none of its components seem willing to hold police officers accountable for the killing of Palestinians.”

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