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Killing of autistic Palestinian by Israeli police draws parallels with killing of George Floyd

19th Jun 2020
Killing of autistic Palestinian by Israeli police  draws parallels with killing of George Floyd

Photo: Iyad El-Hallaq ( and mural of George Floyd killed on Israel Separation Wall in Bethlehem. (Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The fatal shooting of a severely autistic Palestinian man by Israeli police in occupied East Jerusalem drew parallels with the murder of George Floyd in the US, which has sparked widespread protests.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Iyad El-Hallaq, who was gunned down by Israeli police on May 30, as he walked to his special needs school.
The Israeli police force said officers suspected the 32-year-old was carrying a weapon and that they opened fire when he failed to obey orders to stop.

El-Hallaq, described by his mother as “a child in a man’s body”, was later found to have been unarmed. Both officers were detained in the wake of the incident; one was released under restrictive conditions, while the other is under house arrest.

In Tel Aviv, over 200 people protested outside the city’s police headquarters while over 150 left-wing activists, including a dozen Palestinians, marched on Jerusalem’s King George Street.

The demonstrators held signs that read “Palestinian Lives Matter” and “Justice for Iyad, Justice for George,” in reference to George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by his neck. Floyd’s death has sparked mass demonstrations in cities across the US.

“Police violence in East Jerusalem is policy, just like the policy against Black people in the US,” said Shahaf Weisbein, one of the organizers of the Jerusalem protest. “Police violence and the policies of occupation against the Palestinians are a sad routine. It is time to end the occupation, and for justice for all victims of police violence everywhere.”

The UN human rights office also condemned Israel over the shooting. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called the killing another case of “the routine use of lethal force by Israeli Security Forces against Palestinians, in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
“Security forces in policing operations must use the least force possible to address any situation. Non-lethal means in the case of Iyad would have saved his life,” it said in a statement.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, offered his condolences to the family of El-Hallaq.

He said the incident was “a tragedy that should and could have been avoided”, going on to call on the Israeli authorities to “swiftly investigate and make sure such incidents are not allowed to happen.”

Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, expressed regret over the shooting.
“We are sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halaq was shot, and we, of course, share in the grief of his family. I am sure this issue will be quickly investigated and conclusions will be drawn,” he told a cabinet meeting.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks after Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would press ahead with a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority has responded by saying it is no longer bound by agreements with Israel and the US — which backs Israel annexing part of the West Bank— including those relating to security.

El-Hallaq would walk every day from his home in Jerusalem’s Wadi al-Joz area to the Old City to go to the Elwyn El Quds Centre, which provides services for children and adults with disabilities.

El-Hallaq’s cousin, Dr Hatem Awiwi, said he was on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum and that he had trouble communicating with people. “He didn’t know what a police officer is,” Dr Awiwi told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. He saw a stranger and fled, and then they shot him.”

An Israeli police statement said units on patrol in the Old City “spotted a suspect with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol.”

They called him to stop and began to chase after him on foot. During the chase, officers also opened fire at the suspect, who was neutralised,” it added. “No weapon was found at the scene after the area was searched.”

However, his distraught father Khairi insists his son was killed in “cold blood”, adding, “They claim that they thought he carried a weapon! Why didn’t they search him? Why did they have to kill him without even making sure he was carrying the claimed weapon?”

An autopsy carried out found El-Hallaq was shot twice in the chest. “The findings increase the suspicion that the policemen committed crimes, and we expect those responsible for the investigation to move it forward and put the policemen on trial,” the family’s lawyer, Jad Qadmani, said.

Secretary General of the PLO, Saab Erekat, said it was “crime that will be met with impunity unless the world stops treating Israel as a state above the law.”

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