Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern paid a condolence call on Tuesday evening to the family of Iyad Halak, a 32-year-old East Jerusalem man with special needs who was shot to death by police on Saturday.
Stern was accompanied on the visit by officials from the Jerusalem Municipality and also met there with Muslim religious leaders, expressing his sorrow to the family over the tragedy, his office said.
Halak was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, with police saying he had appeared to be holding a gun. But Halak was unarmed and had apparently not understood 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.
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, he said, according to reports in Hebrew media. The officer denied the commander’s account.
The two were questioned under caution on Saturday. One 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.
The rabbi said that he was received with warmth by the family, and that he had visited to stress the sanctity of life and that “all humans are created in the divine image.” Halak’s father was quoted telling the rabbi and the delegation he led that “we all want to live in peace.”
Stern stressed his full backing for the “sacred work” by Israeli police forces “for the security of Jerusalem’s residents,” and also expressed “sorrow and condolence over the death of Iyad. Solidarity in this incident is required of us all, as well as clear condemnation of acts of terrorism.”
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.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed sorrow over the incident, and said it would be quickly investigated.
Newly appointed Public Security Minister Amir Ohana also expressed sorrow for Halak’s death and vowed to investigate. But he said it was too early to “pass sentence” 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.”
According to Channel 12, Ohana canceled a Tuesday evening scheduled visit to the family after Halak’s father posted a video to Facebook in which he said he did not want to be visited by any Israeli government official.
Halak’s family said Monday that they didn’t believe Israel would do “anything” to the officers responsible 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 [the victim is a] Palestinian.”
She added, however, that “we will try to cause [the policeman] to get what he deserves for what he did.”
כמאה וחמישים מפגינים חוסמים את הרכבת הקלה בירושלים במחאה על הירי באיאד אלחלאק pic.twitter.com/9nOwQMrPoX
— יובל שגב | Yuval Segev (@Segev_Yuval) June 2, 2020
Following similar demonstrations earlier in the week, over 100 people protested against against police brutality Jerusalem on Tuesday night. After blocking entry to a light railway station, three protesters were arrested.
Some at the protest held signs drawing connections between the case of Halak and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked protests across the United States.
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.
“We tell him every morning to keep his phone in his hand so we can be in contact with him and make sure he has safely arrived at the educational institution,” Kheiri said.