Jerusalem24 – A statement made by Israeli Police Chief Kobi Shabtai reveals the police’s intention to get the court case against the officer indicted for the killing of Eyad Al-Hallaq “shut down and dismissed”, according to Khaled Zabarka, the lawyer representing the Al-Hallaq family.
Zabarka tells Jerusalem24 that “a lot of pressure is being put on the investigation unit in the police, in order to dilute the case and reach the point where it will be dismissed.”
“He is disabled!”
32-year-old Eyad Al-Hallaq, an autistic man with the mental age of an eight-year-old child, was shot and killed on 30 May 2020 after he was pursued by two Israeli police officers on his way to the special needs school he attended in occupied East Jerusalem.
Al-Hallaq’s counselor at the school, Warda Abu Hadid, who was a few steps ahead of Al-Hallaq when she heard “a commotion” behind her and turned to see Al-Hallaq running past her, yelled at the police “He is disabled, he is disabled!” in Hebrew.
According to eyewitness testimony, shots were then fired at Al-Hallaq’s legs and he took refuge in a trash room, where he was shot a further three times as he lay on the ground. According to the testimony of the indicted officer, Al-Hallaq’s body was stripped and checked for weapons; none was found.
His killing sparked a strong reaction both domestically and worldwide, with parallels being drawn to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States, five days before Al-Hallaq was shot and killed.
A court session was held last Wednesday at the Jerusalem District Court in the ongoing trial of one of the officers responsible for Al-Hallaq’s death. The 21-year-old officer, whose name is under gag order, was indicted in June 2021 for reckless homicide, a charge that carries a maximum of 12 years in prison. The case against the commanding officer involved was closed and no charges brought.
Zabarka points out that despite the public outcry which led to the indictment of one of the officers involved, the judicial process has been slow to unfold.
Eyad’s parents Rana and Khairy Al-Hallaq petitioned the High Court of Justice in 2020 concerning the slow progress of the investigation.
Over one year elapsed after the killing of Al-Hallaq before an indictment was filed. In the 15 months since, only two court sessions have taken place. “This is too long for a case like this one,” says Zabarka. “And the next one is scheduled four months from now.”
The next court session will take place on 23 January 2023 and will hear eyewitness accounts.
An “endorsement of the crime”
On the same day as the latest court session on 21 September, Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said in a speech at a Border Police ceremony that “fighters who acted and erred based on the information available to them at the moment will receive the backing they deserve from us”.
Zabarka calls the statement “obscene”.
“It’s a very dangerous statement to make,” says Zabarka. “It implies the police supports the killers.”
Shabtai continued, “We trust the court to reach the truth, and at the same time it is important for me to say that we are the ones who sent the officer on his mission, and it is our responsibility to stand by him even under these circumstances.”
Zabarka sees this as an endorsement of the crime. “The officer on trial has been proven to be a killer, there is an indictment against him. He is being indicted for unintended murder.”
“It is very clear that the Israeli police and other right-wing parties are pushing towards getting the case closed and dismissed.”
Israel’s Justice Ministry has said there is no video footage of the incident, despite an investigation by Israeli daily Haaretz revealing that there are no fewer than 10 private security cameras in the 150 meters between the Old City’s Lion’s Gate where the chase began and the trash room where Al-Hallaq was shot and killed. According to Haaretz, this “raises concerns that Israeli authorities’ investigation will end with no clear conclusion.”
Culture of impunity backed by shoot-to-kill policy
Haaretz published in November 2020 the results of an investigation which examined a selection of events involving Israeli forces between 2018 and 2020 which led to the death or injury of 18 Palestinians, including 9-year-old Abd Al-Rahman Shatawi who was shot in the head.
In each of the events reported by Haaretz, none of the officers were prosecuted. An Israeli military spokesperson told Haaretz at the time that five of the cases were closed to due to lack of evidence.
According to current procedures, which Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid reaffirmed support for in July, any Israeli police officer may respond by shooting to kill when they feel they are in a life-threatening situation. And in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military officially revised its open-fire policy in December 2021 to allow soldiers to shoot Palestinians even if they are fleeing or present no immediate threat.
Human rights organizations have accused Israel of systematically engaging in extrajudicial executions, shooting to kill Palestinians as they are fleeing or laying incapacitated or even unconscious on the ground.
Zabarka says this is reflective of Israeli policy, which “legitimizes the targeting and shooting of Palestinians under the mere suspicion of danger.”
“Eyad Al-Hallaq was a person with special needs,” stresses Zabarka. “He was assassinated in cold blood by the Israeli police, without having committed any action.”