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Israeli Border Police officer acquitted of charges in the fatal shooting of autistic Palestinian man

<i>Family photo</i><br/>A Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli border police officer of “involuntary reckless manslaughter” in the fatal shooting of Eyad al-Hallaq
Family photo
A Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli border police officer of “involuntary reckless manslaughter” in the fatal shooting of Eyad al-Hallaq

By Kareem Khadder and Ingrid Formanek, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) — A Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli border police officer of “involuntary reckless manslaughter” in the fatal shooting of Eyad al-Hallaq, an unarmed Palestinian man.

The unnamed police officer was charged in the fatal shooting of al-Hallaq that took place on May 30, 2020 in Jerusalem’s old city, according to Jerusalem District Court documents viewed by CNN.

The defendant was granted anonymity by the court following a request from the Israeli Border Police, according to Khaled Zabarqa, one of the lawyers for the al-Hallaq family.

On Thursday the court determined the officer had acted in what he believed was “self-defense” and accepted his defense that he made an “honest mistake” as a result of a “misunderstanding” of the situation at that time, court documents say.

Al-Hallaq had autism, and the mental age of a six-year old, al-Hallaq’s family told CNN the day he died, and that he was on the way to his special educational needs school when the fatal incident took place.

Zabarqa said al-Hallaq had a “special needs” document issued by Israeli National Insurance, a government entity.

An Israeli police statement on the day of al-Hallaq’s death said “police units on patrol spotted a suspect with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol. They called upon him to stop and began to chase after him on foot, during the chase officers also opened fire at the suspect, who was neutralized.”

According to court documents, the police officer told investigators that after he shot al-Hallaq once, he shouted at him in Hebrew not to move. The victim’s mother, Rana al-Hallaq, told CNN her son didn’t understand or speak Hebrew.

A police spokesman later confirmed to CNN that officers who checked the man’s body found no weapon on him.

The ruling judge, Chana Miriam Lomp, said she believed the police officer who said he thought he was facing an “armed terrorist”, and did not realize al-Hallaq was “an innocent man with special needs”, according to the court transcript of the ruling.

‘Unjust and unfair’

The verdict was read in the presence of al-Hallaq’s parents, family, and their lawyers.

“Unjust and unfair” is how Rana al-Hallaq, 60, labeled the verdict in a phone conversation with CNN, adding that she was “outraged and dismayed” by the decision.

“We were shocked by the ruling, we had a slight hope the court would find the officer guilty, so we could get justice for the killing of our son,” al-Hallaq said.

Eyad was 32 years old at the time of his death.

“I welcome the acquittal,” Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far right Minister of National Security, was quoted as saying in a statement released by his Jewish Power party.

“Our heroic fighters who go out to defend us and the entire State of Israel, will receive a hug and full support from me and the Israeli government”, the statement continued.

The acquitted officer will return to active duty, and participate in a “commander’s course,” according to a Border Police statement released Thursday. The course allows for a future promotion.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “strongly” condemned the acquittal in a Thursday statement, calling it “evidence of the Israeli judicial system’s complicity in the occupation.”

“The ruling is political,” family lawyer Zabarqa told CNN, alleging it showed the current Israeli government’s influence in the court’s ruling.

It’s a “second killing of Eyad al-Hallaq and disregard for Palestinian blood,” Zabarqa said.

“This ruling gives legitimacy to the killing of Palestinians by Israel,” he added.

The al-Hallaq family and their legal representatives intend to appeal the ruling, all the way to Israel’s supreme court, if needed, the mother and Zabarqa said.

“He was my life,” al-Hallaq’s mother told CNN, saying she is determined to find justice for her “beloved son.”

“I will fight even in my grave for the justice of my son,” adding, “Whatever it takes to get justice, I will fight for it.”

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