Israeli court acquits police officer of killing autistic Palestinian

Israeli court acquits police officer of killing autistic Palestinian
An Israeli police officer who killed an innocent autistic Palestinian man has been acquitted of all charges.
2 min read
06 July, 2023
Iyad Hallak's mother had hoped she would get justice for her son [Getty]

An Israeli court on Thursday acquitted a police officer of recklessly killing an unarmed Palestinian man with autism in Jerusalem's Old City.

Iyad Hallak, 32, was shot dead in May 2020 while walking in illegally occupied East Jerusalem, after officers mistook him for an armed assailant.

The Jerusalem district court said the defendant was "acquitted" of "reckless homicide".

The officer standing trial "made an honest mistake thinking he was dealing with an armed terrorist who posed a real danger", the court said, noting he had expressed "remorse" for his error.

Hallak had aroused the suspicion of officers as he milled close to a border police position near Jerusalem's Old City, the court claimed in its decision.

The officers approached him and yelled at him to stop, causing Hallak to run away, the court added.

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The defendant joined the chase and another officer shot towards the Palestinian's legs but missed, the court found.

Hallak then entered an alley, where the defendant shot and hit him in the leg.

Hallak then stood up and pointed at a woman he knew who had rushed to the scene, prompting the defendant to fatally shoot him in the chest.

Hallak's family had said he had the mental age of an eight-year-old, and witnesses said Hallak panicked after being shouted at by police.

The officer had been charged in June 2021, with the justice ministry having said the previous October that he had not followed police rules for opening fire, and that Hallak had "posed no danger to police or civilians at the scene".

At the time, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called Hallak's death a "war crime" and an "execution", while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a "tragedy".

His funeral drew thousands of mourners, while online the hashtag #PalestinianLivesMatter echoed the fury of mass protests against police violence and racism in the United States.

Palestinians have long complained of judicial biases in favour of Israeli soldiers. 

According to data collected by Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, between 2017-2021, the odds of a complaint leading to an indictment against a soldier for harming a Palestinian is under 1 per cent and only 4.4 per cent of cases opened resulted in indictments.