Occupied Palestinian Territory – Today’s acquittal of an Israeli Border Police officer accused of killing an autistic Palestinian man in the Old City of Jerusalem in 2020 was strongly condemned by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement.
An Israeli officer shot and killed 32-year-old Eyad Hallaq on 30 May 2020, after pursuing and firing three bullets at him which hit the lower and upper parts of his body. Hallaq was on his way to an institution for people with disabilities where he regularly attended classes. The Israeli force targeted Hallaq even though he did not have a weapon, while his school counsellor yelled at the officers, warning them that he was autistic.
A Jerusalem court ruled that the officer acted in self-defence, describing the incident as a tragic mistake that forced the officer to act in a critical situation, given that “risk is an integral part of military activity”. The court acquitted the defendants despite their responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of an unarmed, disabled civilian. Field investigations conducted by Euro-Med Monitor’s team following the incident, plus testimonies gathered by the organisation of eyewitnesses as well as Hallaq’s relatives, indicate that the victim did not pose any threat that justified the use of lethal force or summary execution with three bullets.
The court’s comparison of Hallaq’s killing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to that of George Floyd in the United States of America is erroneous and does not legitimise it by any means, especially as the American police officer responsible for Floyd’s murder did not evade punishment and was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison. The acquittal of the officer responsible for Hallaq’s killing is further evidence of the Israeli judicial system’s lack of credibility, particularly since Israel is using its judiciary to provide legal cover for its policy of impunity.
Notably, Israel’s army announced last month that it had closed an investigation into the shooting and killing of two-year-old Palestinian toddler Mohammed al-Tamimi near the village of Nabi Salih in the occupied West Bank, without filing criminal charges or taking disciplinary action against the soldiers involved. The army said it would “rebuke” one of the soldiers involved in the incident, despite the latter’s confession of “manslaughter” and claim to have confused the child and his father for militants on the run.
In the same month that Hallaq was killed, three Israeli security guards killed Mustafa Younis, a 27-year-old Palestinian man with epilepsy, in front of Tel Hashomer Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. The incident occurred as a result of a disagreement between Younis and an Israeli woman in the medical centre where he was being treated, because he was not wearing a mask. The Israeli Public Prosecution closed the investigation involving the centre’s security guards in October 2021, claiming that the guards “acted according to the instructions provided by the police”.
The Israeli authorities’ continued policy of protecting violators and those involved in summary executions of Palestinian civilians necessitates immediate international intervention and places a responsibility on relevant UN bodies to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable. Israel has a long history of refusing to conduct independent investigations into incidents of deliberate killing of Palestinians, and instead conducting sham investigations that frequently result in acquittals of those responsible and legal cover to ensure their protection and impunity.
Repeated incidents of deliberate killing of unarmed Palestinian civilians may constitute a war crime, and thus independent and transparent international investigations must be launched in each incident as per the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016). According to data released by the Israeli government in 2017 in response to a request from the non-profit organisation Yesh Din, Israel has failed to charge perpetrators in 95% of its attacks on Palestinians.