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Israel: police officer may face reckless manslaughter charge for killing autistic Palestinian

Palestinian protesters hold banners to show solidarity with the martyr Iyad Hallaq a disabled Palestinian man who was shot dead by Israeli police in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 2 June 2020 [Abedalrahman Hassan/ApaImages]
Palestinian protesters hold banners to show solidarity with the martyr Iyad Hallaq an autistic Palestinian man who was shot dead by Israeli police in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 2 June 2020 [Abedalrahman Hassan/ApaImages]

An Israeli police officer who shot dead a severely autistic Palestinian man earlier this year may stand trial for reckless manslaughter. Eyad Hallaq, 32, was shot in the chest on 30 May in the Old City of Jerusalem after he ran away in a panic when he heard Israeli soldiers shouting at him.

His carer, Warda Abu Hadid, tried frantically to alert the soldiers to the fact that Hallaq was severely autistic and did not understand what was happening, but her warnings fell on deaf ears. Israeli police officers later said that they gunned down Hallaq because they suspected that he was carrying a gun and he ran away when they ordered him to stop.

Though the decision to prosecute has taken five months, the officer who fired the fatal shots will now be charged with reckless manslaughter and face a hearing where he can dispute the charges before the case goes to trial. If convicted, the officer could face up to 12 years in prison. The officer's commander, who was at the scene of the shooting, has not been charged.

Hallaq's family criticised the slow pace of the investigations and questioned the prosecutor's claims that security cameras in the area had not been working at the time of the shooting. His parents are concerned that their son's killing will be whitewashed, especially after the camera malfunction claim. Police in Israel are usually very quick to release security-camera footage to the public when their own officers or other Israelis are attacked. The 32-year-old's relatives also condemned the decision not to prosecute the commander as "unacceptable".

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The family's lawyer, Jad Qadamani, criticised the prosecution service, according to a report by Associated Press. Qadamani has claimed that the prosecution should have filed much tougher charges because there was sufficient evidence to charge both the officer and commander with premeditated murder.

The Israeli Justice Ministry said the recommendation to prosecute the soldier was made after considering all the evidence, including eyewitness accounts.

"All the circumstances of the incident were considered," said the ministry, "including the fact that the deceased did not pose any threat to the police officers or the civilians at the scene, and that the police officer fired a shot not in accordance with police orders, that were well known to him, and didn't adopt more proportionate alternatives that were at his disposal."

Parallels were drawn between Hallaq's killing and that of George Floyd in Minneapolis, prompting local demonstrations against police violence similar to those seen in America.

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