After death of autistic man, UN says lethal force often Israel’s ‘first resort’

United Nations’ human rights office calls for policemen responsible for killing of East Jerusalem resident Iyad Halak to be brought to account

People protest against the police shooting of Palestinian Iyad Halak, in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, May 31, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
People protest against the police shooting of Palestinian Iyad Halak, in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, May 31, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The United Nations’ human rights office on Tuesday condemned Israel over the police shooting of an East Jerusalem man with autism, accusing Israeli security forces of being to quick to use lethal force.

Iyad Halak, 32, was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City over the weekend, with police saying he had appeared to be holding a gun. But Halak was unarmed and had apparently not understood the officers’ orders to halt as he passed near the Lion’s Gate. He reportedly fled on foot and hid in a garbage room, where he was gunned down.

Halak had been on his way to a special needs educational institution in the Old City where he studied. His father, Kheiri Hayak, told the Kan public broadcaster he believed his son was holding his cellphone when he was first spotted by the police.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called Halak’s killing another case of “the routine use of lethal force by Israeli Security Forces against Palestinians, in Gaza and in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

“Security forces in policing operations must use the least force possible to address any situation. Non-lethal means in the case of Iyad would have saved his life,” it said in a statement.

Iyad Halak (Courtesy)

The agency charged Israel was not transparent about its rules of engagement, which it said went against the Jewish state’s obligations under international law.

“Where lethal force appears to be routinely the first rather than the last resort, the killing of people like Iyad is likely to occur, mistaken or otherwise,” it said.

The UN office also accuses Israel of often failing to hold responsible parties to account for their actions and called for “a full, independent, impartial, competent and transparent investigation into why Halak lost his life.

“Those responsible must be held to account,” it added.

The statement from the UN came after Halak’s family said Monday they didn’t believe Israel would do “anything” to the offending cops because their victim was Palestinian.

“The policeman who did it should get what he deserves, he needs to be imprisoned,” Iyad’s sister, Diana, told the Walla news site. “But I know they won’t do anything to him; they won’t because [Iyad was a] Palestinian.”

The policemen 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, according to reports in Hebrew media. The officer denied the commander’s account.

The two were questioned under caution on Saturday. 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. Witnesses said there were at least seven shots fired in his direction.

Border Police officers patrol in the area of Jerusalem’s Old City where police shot dead an East Jerusalem man with special needs who they thought was carrying a gun, May 30, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

A caregiver who accompanied Halak told Israeli media Sunday that she told the police officers he was disabled and did not understand their commands, but they appeared to ignore her cries.

Hundreds attended Halak’s funeral late Sunday, marching through the streets of East Jerusalem and chanting nationalist slogans of revenge.

Ahead of the funeral, demonstrations were held against police brutality on Saturday and Sunday night in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some held signs drawing connections between the case of Halak and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked protests across the United States.

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