Iyad al-Hallaq: Israeli court acquits officer charged with killing autistic man

The police officer killed Iyad al-Hallaq in Jerusalem’s Old City while he was on his way to a special needs school

An Israeli court has acquitted the border police officer who was charged with manslaughter after he shot dead autistic Palestinian man Iyad al-Hallaq in May 2020. 

The Jerusalem district court ruled on Thursday that the officer was acting in self-defence when he carried out the shooting of 31-year-old Hallaq.

Hallaq was in Jerusalem’s Old City on his way to a special needs school when the police officer shot him. 

According to the court, the officer was forced to make a split-second decision in a dangerous situation, and taking risks ‘is an integral part of military activity’.

The judges accepted the police officer’s claim of self-defence, saying that the officer made an “honest mistake” and “did not know that Iyad was an innocent man with special needs’.

The officer told the court that the incident lasted a few seconds and he was under the impression that a woman was about to be murdered.

“Only during the internal investigation did I learn that [the victim] was a man with special needs and not a terrorist,” he told the court. 

Hallaq’s parents expressed their shock at the sentence. His father called the result a “disgrace”, while his mother cried: “You are all terrorists, my son is under the ground.”

Far-right Israeli leader Ben-Gvir applauded the court sentence, praising the “hero soldiers that protect the State of Israel’.

Severe autism 

Hallaq had severe autism, with his parents saying that he had the mental age of an eight-year-old. 

One of Hallaq’s teachers, Wadeh Abu Hadid, witnessed the incident that took place near the Alwein school that he had attended for five years in order to learn how to cook.

In an official statement following the killing, Israeli police officers said that they had received a warning from their command that an “armed terrorist” had entered the Old City, and when Hallaq went past, he became a suspect. 

CCTV footage of the incident showed Hallaq near the school, where he was turning his head left and right and looking behind him.

Moments later, four policemen chased after him, making him panic and run. 

Hallaq called out for help from his teachers, who shouted that he was disabled in Arabic and Hebrew. Hallaq and his teacher, Abu Hadid, entered a shed for safety, but the officer followed them and fired three shots at Hallaq.

Hallaq’s family described him as a shy and calm person, who was well loved by all those around him.

The killing of Hallaq caused an international uproar, triggering a widespread campaign to hold the officer accountable. Many compared his killing to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States. 

Hallaq’s family has previously called for further investigations as well as tough charges against the officer, saying that Israeli forces have a long history of killing with impunity.