Israeli forces shot and killed an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem as he walked to special needs school

Abbie Cheeseman
Rana, mother of Iyad Halak, 32, holds his photo at their home  - AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean

Israeli forces shot and killed an unarmed autistic Palestinian man on his way to a special needs school in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, prompting comparisons to the police violence in the US and accusations of excessive force by Israeli forces.

In a statement, Israeli police said they spotted a suspect “with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol” and opened fire on 32-year-old Iyad Halak, when he failed to stop. No weapon was found on him.

Israel’s Channel 12 news station said members of the paramilitary border forces fired at Mr Halak’s legs and chased him into an alley. A senior officer was said to have called for a halt to fire as they entered the alley, but a second officer ignored the command and fired six or seven bullets from an M-16 rifle.

Mr Halak’s father told AP that police later came and raided their home, but didn’t find anything.

The shooting has caused widespread outcry on social media with many comparisons to the racially charged death of George Floyd in the US last week.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s ‘alternate’ prime minister and defence minister apologised for the death of Mr Halak in a cabinet meeting on Sunday morning. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, made no mention of the incident in his opening remarks.

Both officers were taken into custody and interrogated for several hours and an investigation has been opened.

“We must resist the expected cover-up and make sure that the police will sit in jail,” Ayman Odeh, the leader of the main Arab party in parliament, wrote on Twitter.

“Justice will be done only when the Halak family, their friends and the rest of the Palestinian people know freedom and independence.”

Mr Halak had been on his way to the school for students with special needs when he was shot and killed, a trip that he made every day. According to the Times of Israel, his father told public broadcaster, Kan, that he suspected Mr Halak had been carrying his phone when he was 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,” his father reportedly said.

In west Jerusalem, about 150 protesters, some pounding drums, gathered to demonstrate against police violence on Saturday. “A violent policeman must stay inside,” they chanted in Hebrew. At a smaller protest in Tel Aviv, one poster read “Palestinian lives matter.”