Palestinian autistic man’s killing a ‘tragedy’ says Israeli PM

The mother of Iyad Halaq holds up a mobile phone photograph of him (30 May 2020) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Iyad Halaq would only speak to his mother and father, his cousin said

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the killing of an autistic Palestinian man by Israeli police last month as a “tragedy”.

Iyad Halaq, 32, was shot in occupied East Jerusalem as he walked to his special needs school on 30 May.

Police said officers suspected Mr Halaq had a weapon and that they opened fire when he failed to obey orders to stop. It was discovered he was unarmed.

Mr Netanyahu had not commented publicly on the killing until now.

On Sunday he offered his condolences and said he expected a full investigation into the shooting.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Netanyahu said Israelis “share in the sorrow” of Iyad Halaq’s family

“What happened with Iyad Halaq is a tragedy,” Mr Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting. “This is a man with limitations – autism – who was under suspicion, we know, wrongly, of being a terrorist in a very sensitive location.”

The Halaq family’s lawyer Jad Qadmani said “suspicion of criminal action on behalf of the officers is growing”, and he expected “those responsible for the investigation will proceed and bring the officers to justice”, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

In recent years there has been a spate of attacks – many of them deadly – by Palestinians against Israelis in and around the Old City, with assailants shot dead by police in many cases.

What happened to Iyad Halaq?

Last Saturday, Iyad Halaq was walking from his home in Jerusalem’s Wadi al-Joz area to the Old City to go to a centre for children and adults with disabilities.

An Israeli police statement said units “spotted a suspect with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol”.

“They called upon 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.”

An autopsy found Mr Halaq was shot twice in the chest.

Mr Halaq’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 said Mr Halaq did not know what a police officer was and had just fled.

What was the reaction to his death?

The shooting sparked widespread anger, with thousands attending Mr Halaq’s funeral, while many Palestinians and Israelis took the streets to protest over his death.

Activists have drawn parallels with the killing of George Floyd in the US, which has sparked widespread protests. Social media users have been using the hashtag “Palestinian lives matter” to share their outrage.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iyad Halaq’s funeral was accompanied by calls for revenge

Last week, Israel’s defence minister and Alternate Prime Minister, Benny Gantz, said the cabinet was “really sorry about the incident” of Mr Halaq’s killing.

It comes at a time of rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of Mr Netanyahu’s declared intention to annex parts of the occupied West Bank – something which has been met with outrage by Palestinians.