Over a week after Israeli police shot and killed an unarmed autistic Palestinian in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the killing a “tragedy”. Iyad al-Halak, 32, was on his way to a special needs institution when he was shot dead by police in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 30. Halak reportedly became confused when police confronted him and ran to hide in a garbage room. A police spokesman said in a statement that the officers suspected he was carrying a weapon.
Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister in Netanyahu’s unity government, Benny Gantz, publicly apologised for Halak’s death at last week’s cabinet session. Netanyahu, who was sitting next to him, kept silent. On Sunday, Netanyahu finally addressed the controversy in remarks to his cabinet. “What happened to Iyad al-Halak is a tragedy. This was a man with disabilities, autism, who was suspected – and we (now) know wrongly – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive venue,” He said, without apologising for Halak’s death.
Halak’s caregiver, Wardda Abu Hadid, told Israeli media that she had repeatedly warned the officers that Halak was severely autistic and could not understand what they were shouting. “He’s disabled, disabled,” she remembered shouting at them. “Wait a moment, take his ID card, check his ID. Suddenly they fired three bullets at him, in front of my eyes,” she told Channel 13. “I shouted, ‘Don’t shoot him.’ They didn’t listen, they didn’t want to hear.”
Many Palestinians have drawn comparisons between Halak’s death and the murder of George Floyd in the United States, who died after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. The incident has sparked a series of small demonstrations in Israel and Palestine, where people have held signs reading “Palestinian Lives Matter” – a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.
Netanyahu also addressed Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is responsible for the police, at the cabinet meeting, telling him that he“expect[s] your full investigation into this matter.” The internal affairs division of the police is investigating the shooting. Halak’s family told reporters last week that they did not believe Israel would do “anything” to the police officers who killed him because he was Palestinian. So far, it is unclear whether any action has been taken against the officers involved.
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