Remembering the victims. AFP photo
In a grisly reminder America's not the only home to state racism and deadly abuse by those wielding its power, Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem's Old City shot and killed at point-blank range Iyad Khairi Halak, a severely autistic, 32-year-old Palestinian man - to his father, "a sick boy" - as he cowered on the ground, bleeding, terrified and uncomprehending, behind garbage cans. Halak was walking as usual to the Elwyn school for people with disabilities, when Border Police confronted him; afraid of the police as he was of all strangers, Halak began running in panic towards his beloved school, at which point the soldiers gave chase yelling "Terrorist!" and "Where is the pistol?" - though he had nothing in his hands but COVID-mandated mask and gloves - and opened fire. Hit in the foot, Halak limped to a nearby garbage nook. Hearing the noise, his caregiver Warda Abu Hadid ran to him along with three soldiers, and for roughly five minutes shouted to them in both Arabic and Hebrew, "He's disabled! Check his I.D! He's disabled!" In response, one soldier fired at least three shots from his M-16 at Halak at close range, hitting him in the chest. Afterwards, the soldiers failed to give Halak medical treatment; instead, they held a gun to Hadid's head, hauled her to the police station, ripped off her head covering, and eventually took her to a notorious prison for a three-hour interrogation, after which she was released “shivering and in a state of hysteria."
Meanwhile, Israeli forces raided the Halak home, where they assaulted family members and searched the house. Iyad's relatives only learned of his death when one of the soldiers asked when they planned to hold the funeral. Halak's parents and siblings had devoted their life to his care. His mother Rana described him as "a gentle soul" with the mind of a toddler; at the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum, he was intensely shy, unable to make eye contact, and afraid of loud noises, blood - she shaved him each morning - and the soldiers all around him. He liked to watch old cartoons in his small neat room, and he loved attending the Elwyn school, where he volunteered in the kitchen making meals for his fellow-students, and which he'd learned to walk to alone after much coaching. "32 years, I raised him, step by step," his mother told Israeli journalists. "Everyone who took care of him said there was no Palestinian who was looked after like him. But your people think he was garbage. That's why he was murdered." Though Israel has withheld surveillance video of the scene, the military report said officers "neutralized" Halak. Lawyers for the shooter said he fired "because he felt his life was in danger, based on information (given) to him by the competent authorities...suspicious indications in the field, and a movement that looked like preparation for drawing a weapon.”
Iyad's home town. Photo by Alex LeVac
Iyad's mother in his room. AP photo
Local mural showing Halak with a cactus he planted during the coronavirus lockdown. It's based on the last photo his family took of him.