JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli court on Thursday acquitted a policeman who shot dead an autistic Palestinian in 2020, ruling that the victim was mistaken for a militant under circumstances arising from the “unique intensity” of trying to secure Jerusalem.
Iyad al-Halaq, 32, was on his way to volunteer at a special needs school when police chased and killed him – an incident that sparked protests and widespread condemnation amid simmering Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Prosecutors in 2021 filed negligent manslaughter charges in Jerusalem District Court against the policeman. Unnamed in the indictment, he was described as a junior recruit of the semi-military border police, which draws extensively on conscripts.
Judge Miriam Lomp voiced sympathy for the victim’s family while acquitting the defendant on the basis of what she described as his misidentification of Halaq as a threat after he joined other policeman already in pursuit of the Palestinian.
“There is no ignoring that militarised action is characterised by a unique intensity – a sense of uncertainty that surrounds every operational theatre when one event chases the next,” the 70-page ruling said.
Palestinians have long decried what they say is heavy-handed tactics by Israeli police and troops in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank – among territories where they seek statehood.
“My son is buried in the cemetery and the killer is free and can travel around. This is injustice,” said Halaq’s mother, Rana, clasping her head in her hands.
His father, Kheiry, said he hoped an appeal would be lodged to a higher court.
The Israeli justice ministry department, which oversees investigations of the police, said it will decide how to proceed after studying the verdict.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also condemned the judgement. “The so-called courts and judicial system in Israel are an integral part of the occupation system itself,” it said in a statement.
Israeli police say officers only use force or open fire when necessary, and that they had suspected Halaq – who did not heed Hebrew and Arabic warnings to stop, and was wearing a COVID-19 mask – of carrying a weapon in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The unarmed Halaq ran away, prompting a pursuit in which one officer shot at his legs and missed, after which the defendant fatally shot him in the stomach, the indictment said.
(Reporting by Dan Williams, Roleen Tafakji and Sinan Abu Mayzer; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Devika Syamnath)
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