Israeli Police Killing Of Palestinian Leads To Apologies And Echoes Of The U.S.

Jun 5, 2020
Originally published on June 6, 2020 6:01 am

A fatal Israeli police shooting of an unarmed Palestinian man in Jerusalem last weekend has led to a government apology and protests comparing the case to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Eyad Hallaq, 32, was on his way to a school for special needs students in the historic Old City of Jerusalem on May 30 when police shouted, "terrorist!" before shooting him as he fled, an eyewitness told Israeli TV.

The human rights group B'Tselem cites at least 11 cases during 2018 and 2019 of Israeli forces fatally shooting Palestinians as they fled. Hallaq's killing has elicited particular shock because the victim had autism.

The eyewitness, his school counselor Warda Abu Hadid, told local media she shouted to the Israeli officers, "he's disabled," as the wounded Hallaq shouted, "I'm with her." Minutes later, a police officer, who police say mistakenly thought Hallaq had a gun, fatally shot him.

Hallaq's mother told reporters her son used to fear passing the police on his way to class and she had told him that he would be safe if he had his ID with him.

Police have not identified the officer who killed Hallaq, who remains under house arrest as police investigate.

"Policing in Jerusalem and in particular in the Old City is a particularly complex task that involves complex decisions and the risk of life," the police said in a statement following the shooting.

Officers patrolling in the Old City have faced numerous attacks by Palestinians in recent years.

Israeli officials have been remorseful about Hallaq's death. "We are very sorry," Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a cabinet meeting, vowing a swift investigation. "The family deserves a hug," said Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

But Ohana said he did not want Israel to be engulfed in the kind of street protests happening in the U.S., saying he did not want to "bring Minneapolis here."

Over the past week, several hundred protesters gathered in small demonstrations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Their chants and posters echoed the language of U.S. protests against police brutality and the killing of Floyd. In one protest in downtown Jerusalem, demonstrators chanted, "I can't breathe" and carried signs that read "Palestinian Lives Matter" and "Justice For Eyad, Justice for George."

"This [killing] is not a mistake, this is not an aberration," Hala Marshood, 28, a Palestinian protester said by phone to NPR. "It's a systemized policy towards Palestinians, oppressing an entire population."

There's been an outpouring of grief from Israelis from across the spectrum, particularly parents of children with autism. Aviad Friedman, an Israeli father of a child with autism, paid Hallaq's father a condolence visit, despite friends warning him against traveling alone to a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem.

In an emotional op-ed on a religious Jewish website, Friedman said his son was also identified as suspicious and was detained aggressively by police in Jerusalem's Old City eight years ago.

"I do not think [the Hallaq killing] is similar to the incident in Minneapolis," he wrote, citing the stress Israeli police face in Jerusalem. But he added, "I expect and hope there will be a real hard investigation ... to give final justice to Eyad's father's family."

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Days after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, there was another police killing halfway across the world in Jerusalem. There, Israeli police shot an unarmed Palestinian man. While these shootings have occurred in the past, this one sparked protests, multiple Israeli apologies and comparisons to events in the U.S. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thirty-two-year-old Eyad al-Hallaq (ph) was on his way to his school for special needs students when police shot him. This has happened many times before - unarmed Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. But in this case, his story has elicited shock because he had autism. It's been all over the Israeli news.


RANAD AL-HALLAQ: (Non-English language spoken)

ESTRIN: Here's his mother telling Israeli TV about his autism and that he was always afraid of Israeli officers. She'd tell him, just show them your ID, and you'll be OK. But an eyewitness said this time, police shouted terrorist and opened fire, wounding him. He ran for cover. Minutes later, an officer shot him again, killing him. A police spokesman says officers thought he had a gun. He didn't. The officer who fired the shot is under house arrest. And Israeli officials have been remorseful.


BENNY GANTZ: (Non-English language spoken)

ESTRIN: The defense minister, Benny Gantz said, "we are very sorry" and vowed a swift investigation. The public security minister, Amir Ohana, said in parliament, the family deserves a hug.


AMIR OHANA: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: But the Israeli minister defended the police. He suggested Hallaq's autism made his behavior suspicious. Twenty-eight-year-old Palestinian Hala Marshood disagrees.

HALA MARSHOOD: Like, this is not a mistake. This is not an aberration. This is not an individual soldier's mistake. It's a systematized policy towards Palestinians, oppressing an entire population. The apology doesn't matter to us.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: She's been one of the protesters hitting the streets in demonstrations circulating on social media. Some protesters have chanted, I Can't Breathe and held signs saying Palestinian Lives Matter and other slogans comparing Hallaq to George Floyd. But Israeli professor of U.S.-Israel relations, Eytan Gilboa, thinks the comparison is unfair.

EYTAN GILBOA: I think there's a huge difference because in Jerusalem, there have been many cases of Palestinians dressed as civilians using knives to kill Israelis. It was a mistake. It was a tragic mistake. The United States is a different story. You have a history of racism in police forces and violence.

ESTRIN: But Israel has that history, too, says Hagai El-Ad of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

HAGAI EL-AD: Once in a while, there are specifically horrific cases that get some more attention. But they do not change the overall grim picture of almost blanket impunity for any Israeli security forces that kills Palestinians, no matter what the circumstance is.

ESTRIN: The Israeli protests against police brutality have been much smaller than the protests in the U.S. That's a relief to Israeli Public Security Minister Ohana. He said he hoped no one would, quote, "try to bring Minneapolis here." Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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