Iyad Halak (Courtesy)
Police in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday morning shot dead a man who they said was thought to be “holding a suspicious object that appeared to be a gun.” The man reportedly had special needs and did not understand the officers’ calls to stop.
Hebrew media reported that East Jerusalem resident Iyad Halak, 32, was not armed.
Police said the man was asked to stop by officers stationed near the Lion’s Gate, a site of multiple attacks in the past, which led to a brief chase on foot. Police fired at the suspect to “neutralize” him during the chase; Hebrew media reported there were at least seven shots fired toward Halak, some as he hid in a garbage room.
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Halak had been on his way to a special needs educational institute in the Old City where he studied. His father told the Kan public broadcaster he believed his son was holding his cellphone when he was first 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,” he said.
His father, Kheiri Hayak, told Channel 13 news that police searched the family home after the shooting, despite there being no evidence Halak was armed. “They found nothing,” he said.
Hayak said his son walked to the educational institute on the same route every morning and that police forces have likely seen him before. He told Channel 13 the incident occurred close to the entrance to the institute, about 100 meters away.
His mother claimed to Channel 12 that he was “killed in cold blood.”
Police have opened an investigation and two Border Police officers were questioned over the shooting.
MK Ofer Cassif of the predominantly-Arab Joint List party responded to the incident, saying that the man’s death was “murder by police” as a result of government incitement.
“The case today in Jerusalem can only be defined as murder by police,” Cassif tweeted. “The incitement from the corridors of the government has done its best and now every Palestinian is a terrorist until proven otherwise.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose daughter is autistic, said Halak’s death was “heartbreaking.”
“The death of a young person with special needs is heartbreaking and all of Israel bows their heads. This is not our way,” he tweeted.
In a statement on Saturday afternoon, police rebuffed the criticism made by politicians, calling them “harsh and irresponsible.”
“The roles and missions of the police forces in Jerusalem, and especially in the Old City, are particularly complex and often involve [making] complex decisions, sacrifices and life endangerment,” the police said in post on social media (Hebrew).
The police said the area has seen multiple attacks in recent years, including against officers and Border Patrol forces.
Calling the death a “rare incident,” the police said the case was immediately referred for an internal affairs investigation. “It is appropriate to wait for the results of the investigation before reaching any definitive conclusions, and to avoid the ugly slander… of those who, on a daily basis, protect the security of Israeli citizens,” the statement read.
Hebrew media reported there were concerns of protests over the young man’s death on Sunday, when the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount compound is set to reopen. It was shuttered by the Islamic Waqf along with the Dome of the Rock on March 15 in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The shooting came after Israeli troops on Friday thwarted an attempted car-ramming attack in the northern West Bank, shooting the assailant, the military said. There were no injuries to the soldiers. Hebrew media reports said the driver, a Palestinian, was killed.
There have been a number of attacks and attempted assaults on Israelis and Israel Defense Forces troops in recent weeks, with a top defense official reportedly warning of a potential wave of violence if Israel unilaterally annexes parts of the West Bank.