Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of a war crime

Police officer under house arrest after killing of special needs East J’lem man

Officers questioned after shooting dead man they thought was holding a gun; family of Iyad Halak, 32, says he was on autism spectrum, did not understand orders to stop

The mother of a Palestinian man with special needs, who police said was shot dead when they mistakenly thought he was armed with a pistol, cries as she shows his picture on her mobile telephone, at her home in East Jerusalem, on May 30, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
The mother of a Palestinian man with special needs, who police said was shot dead when they mistakenly thought he was armed with a pistol, cries as she shows his picture on her mobile telephone, at her home in East Jerusalem, on May 30, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

A Border Police officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from police custody under restrictive conditions as investigators probe the circumstances surrounding the shooting death on Saturday morning of an East Jerusalem man on the autism spectrum.

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

The policemen gave conflicting accounts of the events with the commander telling investigators he had urged his subordinate to cease fire, an order that was not followed, he said, according to reports in the Hebrew media.

The officer denied the commander’s account.

Police guard near the scene where an East Palestinian man was shot dead by police at the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem Old City on May 30, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two were questioned under caution on Saturday, the Kan news broadcaster reported.

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

Hebrew media reported there were at least seven shots fired toward Halak.

Iyad Halak (Courtesy)

Halak had been on his way to a special needs educational institute in the Old City where he studied. His father 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,” he said.

His father, Kheiri Hayak, told Channel 13 news that police searched the family home after the shooting, despite there being no evidence Halak was armed. “They found nothing,” he said.

Hayak said his son walked to the educational institute on the same route every morning and that police forces have likely seen him before. He told Channel 13 the incident occurred close to the entrance to the institute, about 100 meters away.

The father of a Palestinian man with special needs, who police said was shot dead when they mistakenly thought he was armed with a pistol, at his home in East Jerusalem, on May 30, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

His mother told Hebrew media that he was “killed in cold blood.”

“What did he do that they murdered him?” Rena Halak told the Ynet news site. “I lost an angel. They said he had a weapon. Why would someone with special needs need a weapon?”

Halak referred to her son as “autistic” in an interview with Palestinian media (Arabic).

Police near the scene where an East Jerusalem man was shot dead by police in Jerusalem on May 30, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Ofer Cassif of the predominantly-Arab Joint List party responded to the incident, saying that the man’s death was “murder by police” as a result of government incitement.

“The case today in Jerusalem can only be defined as murder by police,” Cassif tweeted. “The incitement from the corridors of the government has done its best and now every Palestinian is a terrorist until proven otherwise.”

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif in the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose daughter is autistic, said Halak’s death was “heartbreaking.”

“The death of a young person with special needs is heartbreaking and all of Israel bows their heads. This is not our way,” he tweeted.

In a statement on Saturday afternoon, police rebuffed the criticism by politicians, calling them “vitriolic and irresponsible.”

“The roles and missions of the police forces in Jerusalem, and especially in the Old City, are particularly complex and often involve [making] complex decisions, sacrifices and life endangerment,” the police said in post on social media (Hebrew).

The police said the area has seen multiple attacks in recent years, including against officers and Border Patrol forces.

Calling the death a “rare incident,” the police said the case was immediately referred for an internal affairs investigation. “It is appropriate to wait for the results of the investigation before reaching any definitive conclusions, and to avoid the ugly slander… of those who, on a daily basis, protect the security of Israeli citizens,” the statement read.

Hebrew media reported there were concerns of protests over the young man’s death on Sunday, when the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount compound is set to reopen. It was shuttered by the Islamic Waqf along with the Dome of the Rock on March 15 in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party denounced the shooting Saturday as a “war crime.” It said it holds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fully responsible for the “execution of a young disabled man.”

The PA has asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate the incident, a Channel 12 TV report said.

The shooting came after Israeli troops on Friday thwarted an attempted car-ramming attack in the northern West Bank, shooting the assailant, the military said. There were no injuries to the soldiers. Hebrew media reports said the driver, a Palestinian, was killed.

Israeli soldiers stand guard near the scene of an apparent attempted car-ramming attack by the West Bank settlement of Halamish on May 29, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

There have been a number of attacks and attempted assaults on Israelis and Israel Defense Forces troops in recent weeks, with a top defense official reportedly warning of a potential wave of violence if Israel unilaterally annexes parts of the West Bank.

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