Family of autistic man fatally shot by police demand release of security video

Mother of Iyad Halak, 32, says police, government trying to keep footage hidden from public view

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)
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 family of an autistic Palestinian man shot dead by police in East Jerusalem earlier this month has called on authorities to release security camera footage of the fatal encounter, alleging a potential cover-up.

Iyad Halak, 32, was killed in Jerusalem’s Old City nearly two weeks ago 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.

His carer, 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.

His family has repeatedly called on police to release the security footage of the incident. On Friday, Halak’s mother, Rena, told Ynet that “13 days have passed and there’s no progress on this issue with my son. We will not keep quiet about this. The police and the government are trying to keep the footage hidden.”

Iyad Halak (Courtesy)

She also alleged discrimination as a motive for keeping the video out of public view. “If it was an Arab [man] who shot a Jewish [man], the video would have been aired all over the world, but in the case of my son, they are not releasing anything,” she said, further calling on the police officers involved to be prosecuted and jailed. “The place for these officers is in jail, for the rest of their lives. An officer who shoots a disabled person is a danger to everyone,” said Rena Halak.

Halak also criticized the authorities’ move to disperse protests following her son’s death. “What are they after? People keeping quiet? Let us protest. Don’t forget my son; anyone else could be next.”

This past week, activists in Tel Aviv set up a symbolic grave for Halak on Rothschild Boulevard.

Last week 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 the footage showing him being shot by police.

An Israeli activist places flowers on a symbolic grave along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv on June 12, 2020 in memory of Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli police two weeks prior in Jerusalem. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The family noted in its petition that security cameras are installed in the alleys through which police chased Halak, as well as in the room where he sought refuge.

Halak’s family members told reporters last week they did not believe Israel would do “anything” to the offending cops because the victim was Palestinian.

A protest in Jerusalem against the police killings of Iyad Halak and George Floyd, on June 2, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The policemen involved in the incident have given 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 the commander’s account.

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

Israel’s Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana has expressed sorrow for Halak’s death and vowed to investigate. He also 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.”

This past week, an eyewitness reportedly confirmed the testimony of Halak’s caregiver, 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.

Warda Abu Hadid, Iyad Halak’s caregiver. (Screenshot)

“I saw a young guy running strangely, like he didn’t know how to walk or he was disabled,” the witness said. “He came in my direction and fell on his back, a few meters away from me.”

“Some Border Police officers ran after him and stopped a few meters from the young man, who was wearing black trousers and a white shirt, and did not hold anything in his hand,” the witness said.

“I heard a police officer ask the young man in Arabic, ‘Where’s the gun?’ But it was clear that the young man could not speak because he was unable to respond.”

According to the witness, at this point, Warda Abu Hadid, Halak’s caregiver, arrived at the scene, while she testified that she came after hearing the initial shots and arrived before Halak, who ran in and collapsed wounded in a corner.

The witness said Abu Hadid shouted at the police officers in Hebrew: “He’s disabled,” then repeated it in Arabic.

“I froze on the spot and didn’t move with fear. This was the first time I saw such a chase. I looked mainly at the young man, who was on the ground shaking, and then heard a few more shots. One of the officers shouted at me to get away and I ran away,” the witness said.

Abu Hadid also told Israeli media she informed the police officers 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!”

She said he was then shot at least seven times.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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