A week later, Netanyahu says police killing of autistic man was a ‘tragedy’

A week later, Netanyahu says police killing of autistic man was a ‘tragedy’

PM says Iyad Halak was ‘unjustly suspected’ when he was shot dead, and he expects incident to be ‘fully checked’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday for the first time addressed the police killing of an autistic man in Jerusalem last Saturday, saying Iyad Halak’s death was a “tragedy.”

“What happened was a tragedy. This is a man with disabilities, with autism, unjustly suspected, and we expect it to be fully checked. We all join in the family’s grief — it encompasses the entire Israeli public as well as the entire Israeli government,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting.

At last Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed sorrow for the shooting and said he was certain it would be investigated quickly, while the prime minister remained silent on the matter.

Halak, 32, was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City while he was on his way to his school for individuals with special needs. Police said he had appeared to be holding a gun, but Halak was only holding a cellphone — as his father told the media — and apparently had not understood officers’ orders to halt as he passed near the Lion’s Gate.

The shooting has drawn comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the US and prompted a series of small demonstrations against police violence toward Palestinians. Some Israeli figures have paid condolence visits to the grieving Hallaq family.

Iyad Halak (Courtesy)

His caretaker, who witnessed the incident, told reporters that Halak fled on foot and hid in a garbage room, where he was shot at least seven times.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court last week accepted a police request to bar the publication of minutes from a hearing on a petition filed by Halak’s family seeking the release of security camera footage showing him being shot by police.

The family filed the petition and asked the judge to compel the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to confirm whether it had collected the CCTV footage, saying they were concerned law enforcement would not use it in the probe of the May 30 incident.

Last week, Halak’s family members told reporters they did not believe Israel would do “anything” to the police who shot him because he was Palestinian.

The police officers involved in the incident gave conflicting accounts of the events, with a commander telling investigators he had urged his subordinate to cease fire, an order that was not followed, he said, according to reports in Hebrew media. The officer denied his commander’s account.

Rana, mother of Iyad Halak, 32, holds his photo at their home in East Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz, May 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The two were questioned under caution after the shooting. The officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from custody under restrictive conditions.

Investigators were looking into whether Halak was shot only after taking refuge in the garbage room, and not during the foot chase.

Halak’s caregiver told Israeli media she informed the police officers he was disabled and did not understand their commands, but said they ignored her cries despite him repeatedly screaming, “I’m with her, I’m with her!”

Amir Ohana, the new public security minister, who oversees the police, expressed sorrow for Halak’s death and vowed to investigate. But he said it was too early to “pass judgment” on the police officers involved, noting that they “are required to make fateful decisions in seconds, in an area that has been inundated with terror attacks, and in which there is a constant danger to their lives.”

Jacob Magid and AP contributed to this report.

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