Cop Killer of Autistic Palestinian to Be Charged with Reckless Homicide

The Israeli Border Police officer who shot and killed an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City in late May could be tried for “reckless manslaughter,” pending a hearing, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) announced on Wednesday, October 21. The family of the victim, Iyad al-Hallaq, 32, criticized the decision, saying that it did not go far enough. Over a summer in which police conduct has become a subject of constant debate, al-Hallaq has emerged as a symbol of police brutality, with protesters deeming his shooting to be murder.

Ranah al-Hallaq, the mother of Iyad, the Palestinian man with autism who was killed by a Border Police officer, holds up a photo of her son, June 2, 2020.

Ranah al-Hallaq, the mother of Iyad, the Palestinian man with autism who was killed by a Border Police officer, holds up a photo of her son, June 2, 2020. (Photo: Activestills)

On the day he was shot, al-Hallaq was walking from his home in Wadi Joz, in occupied East Jerusalem, to a school where he worked with his caretaker, Warda Abu Hadid. Two police officers in the area claimed they spotted a “suspicious object” in his hand. According to Wednesday’s PIID statement, the two officers had also received information that a “terrorist was in the area.” The two officers, one of whom was a Border Police commander, began to chase al-Hallaq, demanding that he identify himself, but al-Hallaq, apparently terrified, ran away. The two pursued him through the streets.

The suspect in PIID’s investigation spotted al-Hallaq in the corner of the garbage room and began firing. As soon as he began shooting, PIID said, his commander began ordering him to cease. Abu Hadid, however, described a different scene to Israeli media in the aftermath of the shooting. “I’m with her, I’m with her!” Abu Hadid related al­Hallaq as crying out on the ground after being shot for the first time. In an account published by the Communist Hebrew-language weekly, Zu Haderech, she described pleading for several minutes in the garbage room with police, telling them to check al-Hallaq’s identification for proof of his disabled status “Suddenly, they fired three bullets at him, in front of my eyes,” Abu Hadid said in a similar interview with Channel 13. “I shouted, ‘Don’t shoot him.’ They didn’t listen, they didn’t want to hear.”

The PIID’s decision also sparked criticism from Hadash lawmakers, who deemed it far too little. Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, who chairs the Joint List, condemned both what he deemed excessively light charges against the shooter and the closing of his commander’s case. “The PIID’s decision to charge the officer who murdered Iyad al-Hallaq with reckless manslaughter proves yet again that the PIID’s goal is to ensure that Palestinians continued to be recklessly murdered, without anyone paying the price,” Odeh wrote on Twitter. Hadash lawmaker Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said, “Shooting a person in cold blood in a garbage room is not ‘reckless homicide.’ It’s murder.”

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel issued a similar response, saying that Israel’s moves to charge the officer who killed al-Hallaq with reckless manslaughter as opposed to a more severe charge “provides further evidence Israel should itself be investigated for consistent tolerance, leniency in cop killings cases”. “As long as Israeli authorities maintain the racist perspective according to which all Palestinians are perceived as enemies, the consequences will remain the same: cop killings of innocent people and sweeping tolerance for such serious crimes,” the group said. In its statement, Adalah repeated its call for the establishment of a professional, independent committee charged with investigating Israeli police killings of Palestinians, which would oversee the work of the police investigative department.