Eyad Hallaq's life mattered

The autistic Palestinian man was killed by Israeli forces just outside his special-needs school

The mother of Iyad Hallak, a 32-year-old Palestinian man with autism who was shot dead by Israeli police when they mistakenly thought he was armed with a pistol, mourns her son at their home in annexed east Jerusalem on June 1, 2020 Last week a police officer who believed he was armed shot him dead, leaving his family searching for answers and igniting widespread grief and anger. Thousands of mourners massed for his funeral while the social media hashtag #PalestinianLivesMatter echoed fury over police violence and racism in the United States. Hallak, brown-haired, well-built and with broad shoulders, cut an imposing figure but had the mental age of an eight-year-old, according to his bereaved family.
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Protecting the most vulnerable should be a fundamental principle of any society. But in occupied Palestine, Israeli forces have made it clear that no Palestinian is to feel safe in their own homeland.

Last weekend, Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, was killed by Israeli forces who said they believed he may be carrying a weapon. The man was unarmed, and had fled the officers in fear, unable to communicate properly because of his disability. He died just a few metres away from his special-needs school, in East Jerusalem. The officer who killed him said he thought Hallaq was a terrorist because he was wearing gloves.

In the year 2019 alone, Israeli forces killed 132 Palestinians, including children, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). These killings add to nearly 300 deaths in 2018, 183 of which were the killing of demonstrators.

These extrajudicial killings largely go unpunished, or with very little consequences for the perpetrator – sometimes as little as community service.

Israeli settlers, meanwhile, have been responsible for the killing of 75 Palestinians in the West Bank over the course of last year, according to OCHA.

Hallaq was shot dead less than a week after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed in police custody in the United States, prompting protests all over the country. Parallels have inevitably been drawn between the two killings, with demonstrators in Jaffa and Jerusalem even holding up placards of both Floyd and Hallaq over the weekend.

But in Palestine, occupation adds a layer of complexity to issues of inequality and police brutality. Arab Israelis, who make up nearly a quarter of the population, have long suffered from discrimination. But in addition to these inequalities within Israel, occupation forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have a long history of using excessive force and arbitrary detention against Palestinians.

Occupying forces have a variety of means to repress Palestinians. For instance, Israel's policy of "administrative detention" – imprisonment without trial, renewable indefinitely –resulted in the detainment of Palestinian Member of Parliament and human rights activist Khalida Jarrar for almost two years without charge, before her release in 2019.

In Palestine, occupation adds a layer of complexity to issues of inequality and police brutality

These fundamental inequalities and abuses are set to increase in the coming months. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he will begin annexing 30 per cent of the West bank from July, a move that contravenes international law and can only push any prospects of peace and justice further away.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, has called for a halt to the annexation plans, stating that "any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process."

If this is allowed to happen, more innocents such as Hallaq may be at risk of losing their lives; the situation will grow more tense and the day-to-day safety of Palestinians will continue to be subject to the callous whims of Israeli occupying forces.