Israeli Police Officer Charged One Year After Death of Eyad Hallaq, Autistic Palestinian Man

Israeli prosecutors charged a border police officer Thursday with reckless manslaughter just over one year after he shot and killed an Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man. Hallaq, 32, was shot in Jerusalem's Old City on May 30, 2020, while traveling to a special-needs institution.

The officer has not been publicly identified, but submitted to the Jerusalem District Court after being charged, the Associated Press reported. If found guilty of reckless manslaughter, he may serve up to 12 years in prison.

Hallaq's family had denounced Israeli authorities' review of his death previously and requested more severe charges. Rights groups have asserted that security officials are seldom charged in shootings of Palestinians, and those who are prosecuted often face light sentences.

The commander of the unidentified officer, who was present during Hallaq's deadly shooting, is not facing any charges.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Eyad Hallaq
A mural depicting Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli police in Jerusalem's Old City last year, is seen on Israel's controversial separation barrier, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, April 9, 2021. Israeli prosecutors on Thursday, June 17, 2021 charged a border police officer with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting. Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo

The area is a frequent site of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, and the Old City's narrow streets are lined with hundreds of security cameras that are monitored by police. But as the investigation proceeded last summer, prosecutors claimed that none of the cameras in the area had worked, and there was no footage of the incident.

The Old City is part of east Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed to its capital in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, and the city's fate is one of the most divisive issues in the conflict.

Prosecutors from the police internal investigations department said in a statement that the decision to charge the officer "was made after deep examination of the evidence, examination of all the circumstances of the incident and the claims heard during the officer's hearing." They said Hallaq's death was a "serious and unfortunate incident" and that the officer shot him "while he took an unreasonable risk that he would cause his death."

According to accounts at the time, Hallaq was shot after running away and failing to heed calls to stop. Two members of Israel's paramilitary Border Police then chased Hallaq into a garbage room and shot him as he cowered next to a bin.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement in October, when prosecutors recommended charges against the officer, that the wounded Hallaq pointed to a woman he knew and muttered something. The officer then turned to the woman and asked her in Arabic, "Where is the gun?"

She replied, "What gun?" At that point, the officer under investigation fired again at Hallaq.

The woman mentioned in the statement appears to be Hallaq's teacher, who was with him that morning. At the time of the shooting, she told an Israeli TV station that she had repeatedly called out to police that he was "disabled."

In the charges filed Thursday, prosecutors described how the accused shot Hallaq in the stomach when he had his back against a wall in a corner, then shot him a second time in the chest while Hallaq was sprawled on the ground injured.

Hallaq's family was not immediately available for comment, but had previously expressed concerns the killing would be whitewashed, especially after the alleged camera malfunction. In cases of attacks against Israeli security forces, police often quickly release security-camera footage to the public.

Palestinians and human rights groups say Israel has a poor record of prosecuting cases in which soldiers and police kill Palestinians under questionable circumstances.

An Associated Press investigation in 2019 found that the Israeli military opened investigations into 24 potentially criminal shootings of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip over the past year. None had yielded convictions or even indictments, and in most instances, the army had not interviewed key witnesses or retrieved evidence from the field.

The Israeli military says it investigates all cases in which Palestinians are killed and that its soldiers often have to make split-second decisions in hostile situations. Palestinians have carried out dozens of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks against Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank in recent years.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of Arab parties in Israel's parliament, responded on Twitter, calling the indictment for reckless manslaughter "an infuriating and denigrating charge."

Hallaq's shooting drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the U.S. and prompted a series of small demonstrations against police violence. The uproar crossed Israeli-Palestinian lines and drew Jewish protesters as well. Israeli leaders expressed regret over the shooting.

Israel-Palestinian Tensions
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian teenager Ahmed Zahi Dawoud, who according to medics died of wounds sustained at the hands of Israeli forces during clashes, during his funeral in the village of Beita, south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, on June 17, 2021. - The Palestinian teenager died on June 17 of gunshot wounds inflicted the day before, when the Israeli army opened fire during clashes in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images