Israeli policeman charged with manslaughter

in June 18th, 2021

FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian woman takes pictures of her friend posing in front of the Israeli barrier with a mural depicting Iyad al-Halaq, an unarmed and autistic Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli police, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma/File Photo

By Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli policeman has been charged with manslaughter in the killing of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem a year ago, the Justice Ministry said Thursday, in an incident that sparked protests and widespread condemnation.

Iyad al-Halaq, 32, was on his way to volunteer at a special needs school on May 30, 2020, when police chased and killed him.

The officer, who was not named in the published indictment, faces a jail sentence of up to 12 years if convicted.

At the time of his death, Halaq was "holding nothing in his hands and doing nothing that justified it, the defendant fired at his upper torso thereby taking an unreasonable risk that he will cause Iyad's death," the indictment said.

Palestinians have long complained of heavy-handed tactics by Israeli police and troops in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Protesters likened Halaq's case to the killing of African-American George Floyd in the United States by police.

"Nothing will bring us justice. Nothing will bring my son back to life," Halaq's mother, Rana, told Reuters.

"Other officers were involved in killing him. Where are their charges?" she said. "It was not hard to see that my son was disabled. Everyone could see that."

Israeli police say officers only use force or open fire when necessary, and that incidents like Halaq's death are investigated.

The indictment said Halaq was unarmed and wearing a coronavirus face mask and gloves in Jerusalem's Old City when police first saw him, and suspected him of carrying a weapon.

They told him to stop in Arabic and Hebrew and alerted other forces by radio that there was a suspected attacker. Two paramilitary border policemen who received the radio warning spotted Halaq running away and called on him to stop, the indictment said.

When Halaq continued running, the more senior of the two officers shot toward his legs and missed. They then chased Halaq into a garbage storage area whereupon the junior officer shot Halaq in the stomach, the indictment said.

Amid a spike in violent incidents in the West Bank, a 16-year-old Palestinian died on Thursday after being shot by an Israeli soldier during clashes a day earlier near city of Nablus.

The Israeli military said troops encountered dozens of Palestinians, one of whom ran towards a soldier and threw an explosive towards him.

"In response, the soldier operated to stop the suspect by firing into the air, and then by firing towards him," a military statement said.