Investigators told the family of an autistic Palestinian man who was shot dead by Israeli police six weeks ago that security cameras at the site of the shooting were not recording at the time, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department said in a statement Monday.
The revelation drew calls from the family of Iyad Halak that a probe be launched out of concern that police are hiding evidence in the case.
Halak, who was 32, was fatally shot on May 30 just inside Jerusalem’s Old City as he was making his daily walk to the special-needs institution he attended. At the time, police said they believed he was carrying a gun and said they opened fire when he failed to heed calls to stop.
According to various accounts, two members of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police force chased Halak into a garbage room and shot him as he cowered next to a bin. Halak’s teacher, who was with him, told an Israeli TV station that she repeatedly cried out to police that he was “disabled” as she tried to stop them. He was shot at least seven times.
His family has repeatedly called on police to release security camera footage of the incident.
Halak’s parents, accompanied by the legal representatives, met with PIID representatives for an update on the investigation, the statement said.
During the meeting PIID informed the family that all material from CCTV cameras covering the incident were gathered immediately after the shooting, including from cameras inside the garbage room where Halak was shot. However, the family was told those cameras were not connected “at the relevant time and did not record the shooting,” the statement said.
The investigation is in its “very advanced stages,” and when completed will be passed on to prosecutors, who will decide whether to charge the officers involved, the PIID said.
The PIID noted it had taken testimony from eyewitnesses and also questioned the relevant police officers.
Attorney Gad Kadmani, one of those representing the Halak family, told the Walla news site that an investigation was needed into the absence of video footage.
“Our grave concern is that they hid evidence,” the family statement said. “We are requesting an investigation be opened.”
“We were informed today that the security camera at the site of the killing was not working, so there is no evidence about what happened,” said Jad Qadamani, another attorney for the family.
“This is totally unacceptable and illogical and we look at it with lots of suspicion,” he said.
“Clearly, they want to hide what happened,” Qadamani said.
At the time, the shooting drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the US and prompted a series of small demonstrations against police violence. The uproar crossed Israeli-Palestinian lines and drew Jewish protesters as well, and Israeli leaders expressed regret over the shooting.
But since then, the family has complained about the slow pace of the investigation.
Last month, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court 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 from the incident.
Halak’s family members told reporters at the time they did not believe Israel would do “anything” to the offending cops because the victim was Palestinian.
The two policemen involved in the incident have given conflicting accounts of the events, with a commander telling investigators he had urged his subordinate officer to cease fire, an order that was not followed, he said. The officer denied the commander’s account.
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.
An eyewitness has reportedly confirmed the testimony of Halak’s teacher, saying he was shot while he lay on the floor, and that officers were told at the time that he was disabled.
According to the Haaretz daily, the second, unnamed, witness was sitting in the garbage room, in actual fact a storage area used by cleaners, where Halak was shot, and gave testimony on the day of the shooting to an investigator from the left-wing watchdog B’Tselem.
The witness said that Halak ran into the room and collapsed on the floor.
According to the witness, at this point, Warda Abu Hadid, Halak’s teacher, arrived at the scene, while she testified that she had come after hearing the initial shots and had arrived before Halak, who had run in and collapsed wounded in a corner.
The witness said Abu Hadid shouted at the police officers in Hebrew: “He’s disabled,” and then repeated it in Arabic.
Abu Hadid also told Israeli media that she informed the police officers that he was disabled and could not understand their commands, but said they ignored her cries, despite him repeatedly screaming, “I’m with her, I’m with her!”
Human rights groups say Israel has a poor record of prosecuting cases of violence against Palestinians.