US envoy Friedman ‘saddened’ by police killing of disabled East Jerusalem man
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US envoy Friedman ‘saddened’ by police killing of disabled East Jerusalem man

Ambassador commends Israel for ordering ‘swift investigation’ into death of Iyad Halak, an autistic man shot by officers who said they mistakenly believed he was armed

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Tuesday expressed sorrow at the death of an East Jerusalem man with autism shot to death by police officers, commending Israel for ordering an investigation.

Iyad Halak, 32, 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.

“We are all saddened by the death of Iyad Al Halak this weekend and extend our deepest condolences to his family and to those who mourn this tragic loss,” Friedman said in a tweet.

“We welcome Israeli officials’ expression of sorrow and commitment to a swift investigation into the incident,” he added.

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.

Iyad Halak (Courtesy)

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 Sunday for the deadly shooting.

“We are sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share the family’s grief,” Gantz told the cabinet meeting. “I am sure this matter will be investigated quickly and conclusions will be reached.”

Newly appointed Public Security Minister Amir Ohana had earlier 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.”

Halak’s family said Monday that 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 he’s Palestinian.”

She added, however, that “we will try to cause him to get what he deserves for what he did.”

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

Halak was carried in an open green coffin on the shoulders of the mourners, his body draped in a Palestinian flag.

Chanting “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, Mohammad’s army has began to return” and “to the street, revolutionaries!” the crowd marched down Salah A-Din street toward the Maqbarat al-Mujahideen, literally “the cemetery of those who pursue Jihad.”

The cry relates to an event in the seventh century when Muslims, led by the Prophet Mohammad, massacred and expelled Jews from the town of Khaybar, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia.

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.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration in Jaffa against the Israeli police after border police officers shot and killed Iyad Halak, an unarmed autistic Palestinian man whom they said they suspected was carrying a weapon, May 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

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.

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