On May 30, Israeli Border Patrol – a unit of the Israeli police which usually occupies checkpoints and security posts – shot and killed in broad daylight Eyad al-Halaq, an autistic Palestinian man from East Jerusalem. Official statements by spokespersons of the Israeli police force and officers on the ground indicated that al-Halaq was suspected of wielding a weapon, plotting to carry out a ‘terrorist’ attack because he was ‘wearing gloves,’ one of the guidelines put in place by the Ministry of Health in order to combat the coronavirus outbreak. However, eyewitness testimony, evidence on the scene, or lack thereof to support the police’s testimony, and accounts about al-Halaq and his personality paint a far, far different picture.
I spoke with one of Eyad’s relatives, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation and harassment by Israeli police (I will simply refer to them as Amir), in order to uncover the truth behind the horrific incident behind al-Halaq’s death. We must first explore who Eyad was and how he lived his life whilst under occupation.
According to Amir, Eyad’s parents struggled to find the appropriate educational accommodations and facilities for him when he was young due to his condition. There are scarce special education institutions in the occupied West Bank, with institutions that do exist being severely underfunded, understaffed, and the faculty receiving quite poor training. “Eyad’s parents jumped from institution to institution, trying to find a good fit for Eyad,” Amir told me. However, with the system of special education institutions being practically in ruins, many Palestinians are forced to turn to one of two primary options: either go to an Israeli institution where the staff does not speak Arabic and does not treat Palestinians equally, or attempt to locate an institution sponsored by an international organization. al-Halaq’s family opted for the latter, and to their luck they were able to enroll Eyad at Elwyn al Quds, an internationally recognized organization with excellent facilities – a blessing not all Palestinian families are fortunate to experience.
At Elwyn, Eyad was practicing to become an assistant chef and as part of his studies, he took part in cooking and preparing meals for those in need, something he was extraordinarily passionate about. In fact, for Eyad, Elwyn was his entire life. He went every day to it and followed his love in order to build himself a brighter future.
However, the coronavirus lockdown took its toll on Eyad. He was stuck at home feeling as if he had no purpose. As Amir explained to me, in the early hours of the morning on May 30, Eyad, after taking out the trash, decided he wanted to go to school and continue working on preparing meals for those in need.
As Eyad was walking to school, masks and gloves on, a Border Patrol officer at the security post asked Eyad to stop. Eyad, being autistic, did not make eye contact or engage with him. According to Amir, Eyad’s mother had previously explained to him how to interact with Border Patrol officers when they stop him, giving them his ID and such, and even made sure to always have him wear his disabled ID on his neck, so it is clearly visible to officers – as it was on the morning of May 30. This ‘training’ by Eyad’s mother has allowed him to survive previous encounters with Israeli Border Patrol and soldiers.
However, the Israeli officer, clearly looking for any excuse to use aggressive action, ignored all clear signs and shot Eyad in the foot. Eyad, obviously scared and panicked, began running away, eventually huddling behind a garbage container in an attempt to hide from the officer. Eyad’s caregiver, Warda Abu Hadid, was nearby, and after hearing the commotion from the chase, she ran out to Eyad.
As the officer, now joined by other armed Border Police officers, approached Eyad, Abu Hadid began begging and pleading to them not to shoot, screaming, “He’s disabled! He’s disabled!” several times. All the while one of the officers kept responding with “Terrorist! Terrorist!” For five to seven long minutes, the officers continued to berate and insult Eyad and his caregiver, screaming at her while pointing his rifle at her face, according to Amir. As the argument between Eyad’s caregiver and one of the officers continued, the other officer shot him in the back twice. At this point Eyad was lying on the ground, completely incapacitated by the pain from his bleeding leg. Amir says that the officer deliberately approached Eyad with the purpose of executing him, knowing well enough that he posed a threat to no one.
As Eyad’s caregiver sobbed in pain over the atrocity, one of the officers struck her and forcefully removed her hijab.
The story of this heinous crime does not end there. Following Eyad’s execution, Israeli forces raided Eyad’s family’s home under the pretense that he was a terrorist and his family was hiding weapons in their home. Moreover, only during the raid did the family learn that Eyad had been killed. Obviously, all the soldiers and officers involved in the raid knew that they were going to find nothing; the purpose of these raids is solely to cause pain and destruction to individual Palestinian families on a regular basis. As the officers forced their way into the al-Halaq residence, one of his sisters, Jumana, was attacked and beaten, Amir explained to me.
It is interesting to note, however, that Israel has apologized for the murder of Eyad. To say that such an apology is rare is a massive understatement.
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched in memory of Eyad, with all the proceeds going towards the school for disabled he attended in Jerusalem. So far, the campaign has raised over $16,000 in only a day or so.
By reviewing the simple facts and timeline of events presented above, one thing is clear to all: the policy of the Israeli police and military, both in the occupied territories and within Israel itself, is to shoot first and ask questions later – with questions rarely being asked ever.
However, while the incident itself sheds light on the realities on the ground for Palestinians in the occupied territories, it is crucial to highlight the fact that what killed Eyad al-Halaq was not the officer or his rifle. What killed Eyad al-Halaq was decades of brutal, military occupation and oppression. Israel has shifted its policy when it comes to oppressing Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and within its own borders. It has shifted from a policy of shooting in the head to shooting in the kneecaps. Instead of simply killing Palestinians, Israel has made sure to keep them alive in the most miserable circumstances possible – in order to make sure that they don’t forget what their lives are like.
Such a policy does not simply apply to the military. Israel has increasingly seized all civil resources and services that, according to the disastrous Oslo Agreements it so enthusiastically signed, are meant to be under the full control of the Palestinians. Eyad’s death did not come at the hands of three gunshots, but by a knife that was slowly but steadily cutting deeper into his gut, twisting and turning as it goes, in order to inflict the most pain and suffering – that knife being a decades long oppressive occupation which has strangled the life out of not just Eyad, but all Palestinians.