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Why did the Israeli police kill a Palestinian with special needs?

June 5, 2020 at 10:06 am

Israelis hold banners during a protest against the shooting dead of Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, by Israeli forces at Jaffa Street in Western Jerusalem on June 02, 2020. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Last Saturday, Israeli border police officers opened fire at a disabled Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City because they thought that he was a terrorist. They fired several live rounds at the man, who was named as Eyad Hallaq from the Wadi Al-Joz neighbourhood.

The 32 year old had low functioning autism, and the mind of an eight-year-old child. This was diagnosed when he was a boy. He could not communicate with people or walk to school alone. His mother said that this had only changed recently, after years of going to his special school accompanied by a family member.

Hallaq’s sister Diana told +972 Magazine that he had been taken to the local police station and introduced to the Israeli officers in order that they would know him. This procedure was the norm in the occupied city ever since a similar shooting of a disabled child.

According to a statement by the border police, two officers noticed Hallaq carrying a “suspicious” object that they thought was a gun and ordered him to stop. After the man started to run from the scene, they chased and then shot him.

READ: Israel killed autistic Palestinian who ‘didn’t know what soldiers are’ 

Israel’s Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, expressed regret for what happened. “We are very sorry for this incident,” Gantz said in a government meeting. “I am sure the issue will be investigated quickly, and conclusions will be drawn.”

The inevitable conclusion about Israeli justice was made very quickly when the officer who fired the fatal shots at Hallaq from close range and let him bleed to death was released from detention just one day after the killing. The investigation promised by Gantz will be in vain. This is the occupation state’s usual procedure; it promises an investigation into obvious crimes committed by its security personnel against Palestinians, with little or no effect. The announcement is made simply to quell Palestinian anger and international calls to do something.

Neither Hallaq’s family nor those Palestinians who protested against his murder — nor even those who did not join the protest — are optimistic about a police inquiry, the dead man’s cousin, Mansour Abu Wardieh, told Al Jazeera.

I think an answer must still be found: why did the Israeli police kill a Palestinian man with known special needs?

The mother of Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli forces in Jerusalem on 30 May 2020 [Twitter]

The mother of Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man was killed by Israeli forces in Jerusalem on 30 May 2020 [We Are Not Numbers #Gaza/Twitter]

For a start, there seems to have been a standing order in place for many years for Israel’s occupation forces, police and soldiers alike, to kill as many Palestinians as possible. The order comes from the very top.

One member of the Israeli parliament, Ahmed Tibi, insisted this week that Hallaq was killed despite his disability because he was a Palestinian. Tibi told the Knesset that Hallaq’s teacher was close to him when he was shot, and she shouted to the police several times that he was disabled, but they shot him regardless. “They killed him with three bullets before my eyes,” she told the media.

Tibi reiterated that killing a Palestinian or Arab intentionally and without reason is common policy for Israel’s police and soldiers. He reminded the Knesset that occupation forces did something similar just 20 days earlier when, reported Haaretz, Mustafa Younis was shot five or six times while he was incapacitated and lying on the ground after receiving treatment for his psychiatric condition at a local hospital.

After an already wounded Palestinian youth in the West Bank city of Hebron was shot and killed in 2017, Israel advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, Sari Bashi, explained that, “It’s not just about potentially rogue soldiers, but also about senior Israeli officials who publicly tell security forces to unlawfully shoot to kill.”

READ: The US has no right to claim leadership of the free world 

Israel’s renowned human rights organisation B’Tselem said in a report in January that most killings of Palestinians by occupation forces “were a direct outcome of Israel’s reckless open-fire policy, authorised by the government and military and backed by the [Israeli] legal system.”

Moreover, such encouragement for Israeli police and soldiers to kill Palestinians and Arabs is backed by the Trump administration in Washington, even though US Ambassador David Friedman tweeted: “We are all saddened by the death of Iyad Al Halak [sic]… and extend our deepest condolences to his family and to those who mourn this tragic loss. We welcome Israeli officials’ expression of sorrow and commitment to a swift investigation into the incident.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, William Youmans, an assistant professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University in the US capital, described Friedman’s statement as “cynical PR on Israel’s behalf”. His language avoids assigning blame or even referring to the murder in direct terms, Youmans pointed out. “He refers to cold-blooded murder as ‘death’ and a ‘tragic loss’, as if Eyad was killed in a natural disaster.” The academic said that Friedman attempted to legitimise Israel’s self-investigations, which he noted are “notoriously toothless when it comes to prosecuting soldiers who murder Palestinians.”

America has been supporting Israeli crimes and violence against Palestinians and their rights ever since the rogue state was created in 1948 after the murderous ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of their homes, towns and villages. The facts of this are clear and well known; many books have been written about the Nakba chronicling what happened.

In the wake of Hallaq being shot and killed by Israeli forces, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, tweeted: “My heartfelt condolences to the family of #EyadHallaq, an unarmed #Palestinian, shot and killed yesterday in #Jerusalem. A tragedy that should and could have been avoided! The authorities should swiftly investigate and make sure such incidents are not allowed to happen.”

A group of people gather in front of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to stage a protest after Israeli forces shot dead a mentally disabled Palestinian Iyad Elkhalak in East Jerusalem on Saturday, in Jerusalem, on 2 June, 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

A group of people gather in front of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to stage a protest after Israeli forces shot dead a mentally disabled Palestinian Eyad Hallaq in East Jerusalem on Saturday, in Jerusalem, on 2 June, 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

His remarks were not so different to Friedman’s, but the UN official is not an apologist for Israel, as the US Ambassador is. He must now push the international organisation to take practical measures to stop such crimes happening.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) actually called on Israel to open a full, independent, impartial, competent and transparent investigation into Hallaq’s killing. “Those responsible must be held to account,” it insisted.

“[The UN] has for years documented and publicly reported on the routine use of lethal force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians, in Gaza and in the West Bank including East Jerusalem,” ONCHR continued, but “there are very low levels of accountability for the use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians, with a handful of indictments in relation to hundreds of killings over the past five years.”

READ: Hamas spokesman condemns killing of Floyd, Eyad Hallaq 

In fact, the whole world is well aware of Israel’s crimes against the people of occupied Palestine, but nothing tangible is ever done to bring its ability to act with impunity to an end. Governments only issue verbal condemnations for public consumption, while continuing to offer the occupation state every possible support which encourages it to carry out more crimes and violations of Palestinian human, civil and political rights.

Israel receives arms from the US, Britain and France, three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Those arms are used against the Palestinians, so what deterrent is there for Israel to put an end to its criminal actions? These pillars of the international community are complicit in the killing of Eyad Hallaq and every other Palestinian killed by the rogue state over the past seven decades and more.

Why did the Israeli police kill a Palestinian man with special needs? The answer is simple: because they could do so with no fear of being held accountable for the crime. That is the disgraceful reality of life in occupied Palestine. Every single Palestinian knows this fact, so why is it so hard for the international community to understand, and do something about it? That’s the real question which demands an answer.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.