Family of Palestinian slain by police sees probe dragging on

The parents of Eyah Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man who was fatally shot by Israeli police, Khiri and Rana, in Jerusalem, June 3, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 02 July 2020

Family of Palestinian slain by police sees probe dragging on

  • Eyad was fatally shot on May 30 just inside Jerusalem’s Old City as he was making his daily walk to the special-needs school he attended
  • Police said they believed the 32-year-old was carrying a “suspicious object” and said they opened fire when he failed to heed calls to stop

JERUSALEM: The family of a Palestinian man with autism who was fatally shot by Israeli police said on Thursday that it took a month for authorities to confirm the existence of security-camera footage of the shooting, raising concerns that no one will be punished for killing their son.
The existence of the footage had been in question throughout an investigation that the family says has been painfully slow. Rights groups say Israel has a poor record of investigating and prosecuting police violence against Palestinians.
“The police say the investigation is ongoing. Though it is late, we hope that it will end by delivering justice,” said Khiri Hallaq, the man’s father.
His son, Eyad, was fatally shot on May 30 just inside Jerusalem’s Old City as he was making his daily walk to the special-needs school he attended.
At the time, police said they believed the 32-year-old was carrying a “suspicious object” and said they opened fire when he failed to heed calls to stop.
According to various accounts, two members of Israel’s paramilitary border police force chased Hallaq into a nook and shot him as he cowered next to a garbage bin.
Hallaq’s teacher, who was with him, told an Israeli TV station that Hallaq, who had difficulties speaking, fell to the ground after being shot, then ran for cover next to the garbage container. She said she repeatedly cried out to police that he was “disabled” and tried in vain to stop the shooting. At least five bullet holes were seen in a wall of a small structure at the site.
At the time, the shooting drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the US and prompted a series of small demonstrations against police violence. The uproar crossed Israeli-Palestinian lines and drew Jewish protesters as well.
Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, said Israel was “very sorry,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “tragedy” and promised a thorough investigation.
Since then, however, the family has heard little while the two officers involved in the shooting have reportedly been released from house arrest.
On Wednesday, after a month of pressure by the family, Israeli officials confirmed in a court hearing that investigators are studying security-camera footage of the shooting, said the family’s lawyer.
Israel’s Haaretz daily had reported earlier this week that there may not be any footage, even though the streets and alleyways of the volatile Old City are lined with hundreds of security cameras.
The lawyer, Jad Qadamani, said the family has not been permitted to see any of the videos because they are evidence in an ongoing investigation.
Nonetheless, he said they are “more calm because we know the videos are there.” He called the footage “an important tool” in the investigation.
Qadamani said the family was frustrated that it had required so much effort for authorities to acknowledge the existence of the videos and that the investigation has dragged on for so long.
“Maybe there is a need to investigate, but not to this extent,” he said.
Cases involving police violence are referred to an independent internal investigations department under the Justice Ministry called “machash.” The ministry said the case remains under investigation and declined further comment. Israeli police referred questions to the ministry.
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, cases referred to the department rarely end with disciplinary action.
It said that over 80% of more than 5,400 cases sent to machash from 2015 to 2018 were not investigated at all, and no more than 3% of complaints resulted in indictments. About 20 cases each year result in disciplinary proceedings for the use of force, and most of those end up with little more than a reprimand or reduction in rank.
It said the figures were based on official data obtained through a freedom of information request.
The statistics “speak for themselves,” ACRI said. “With an overwhelming majority of complaints against police violence never investigated and a complete lack of accountability on behalf of authorities, the cycle of the abhorrent use of police force will never cease.”
It said the police profiling of minorities is also a “severe problem.”
Qadamani, the family lawyer, said it has been difficult for them to trust the system but they remained hopeful.
“The feeling is very problematic. I expect and very much want to believe that they will take the real and correct steps for justice for Eyad,” he said.

Political novices drawn to rally against Netanyahu

Updated 13 August 2020

Political novices drawn to rally against Netanyahu

  • The boisterous rallies have brought out a new breed of first-time protesters — young, middle-class Israelis

JERUSALEM: In a summer of protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the accusations of corruption and calls for him to resign could be accompanied by another familiar refrain: “I’ve never done this before.”

The boisterous rallies have brought out a new breed of first-time protesters — young, middle-class Israelis who have little history of political activity but feel that Netanyahu’s scandal-plagued rule and his handling of the coronavirus crisis have robbed them of their futures. It is a phenomenon that could have deep implications for the country’s leaders.

“It’s not only about the COVID-19 and the government’s handling of the situation,” said Shachar Oren, a 25-year-old protester. “It’s also about the people that cannot afford to eat and cannot afford to live. I am one of those people.”

Oren is among the thousands of people who gather outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem several times a week, calling on the longtime leader to resign. The young demonstrators have delivered a boost of momentum to a movement of older, more established protesters who have been saying Netanyahu should step down when he is on trial for corruption charges.

The loose-knit movements have joined forces to portray Netanyahu as an out-of-touch leader, with the country’s most bloated government in history and seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax benefits for himself at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is raging and unemployment has soared to over 20 percent.

Many of the young protesters have lost their jobs or seen their career prospects jeopardized. They have given the protests a carnival-like atmosphere, pounding on drums and dancing in the streets in colorful costumes while chanting vitriolic slogans against the prime minister.

Netanyahu has tried to dismiss the protesters as “leftists” or “anarchists.” Erel Segal, a commentator close to the prime minister, has called the gatherings “a Woodstock of hatred.”

Despite such claims, there are no signs that any opposition parties are organizing the gatherings. Politicians have been noticeably absent from most of the protests.

Israel has a long tradition of political protest, be it peace activists, West Bank settlers or ultra-Orthodox Jews. The new wave of protesters seems to be characterized by a broader, mainstream appeal.

“The partisan issue is totally missing, and the party organizations are not present,” said Tamar Hermann, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank and expert on protest movements.

Hermann said the protesters resemble many other protest movements around the world. “They are mostly middle class,” she said. “And they were kicked out of work.”

Oren, for instance, said he used to survive on a modest salary as a software analyst thanks to training he received in an Israeli military high-tech unit. Then he moved into tutoring — offering lessons in English, computers and chess to schoolchildren.

He said things were not easy, but he was “too busy surviving” to think about political activity. That changed when the coronavirus crisis began in March.

Oren’s business crashed.

With unemployment soaring, Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, formed a coalition with 34 Cabinet ministers, the largest government in Israel’s history. Beyond the generous salaries, these ministers, many with vague titles, enjoy perks like drivers, security guards and office space, and can hand out jobs to cronies.

A Netanyahu ally dismissed reports that people were having trouble feeding their families as “BS.”

Oren said he became “furious,” and about two months ago, he went to his first protest against the nation’s leaders. “They are there because we gave them the power and want them to help us. And they’re not doing anything,” he explained.

Oren now treks to Jerusalem from his home in the city of Kfar Saba in central Israel, about an hour away, three times a week. He is easily recognizable with his poster that says “House of Corruption,” depicting Netanyahu in a pose similar to Kevin Spacey’s nefarious “House of Cards” character, Frank Underwood.

Oren says he does not belong to any political party or any of the movements organizing the rallies, but that the diverse group of activists all want similar things. “No to the corruption, the poverty, the detachment. We’re just saying enough,” he said.

University student Stav Piltz went through a similar evolution. Living in downtown Jerusalem near Netanyahu’s residence, she quickly noticed the demonstrations in her neighborhood when they began several months ago. She talked to protesters as well as local residents at the cafe where she waitressed before she was laid off.

She said she noticed a common theme. “They feel that something is very critical now in the political climate and no one is listening to the citizens and the pain we are experiencing,” she said.

But Piltz said the spark that drew her to protest was a national strike last month by the country’s social workers.

Piltz, herself a social work student, said she has a history of social activism but has never been involved with party politics. The collection of women, coming from different religious, political, ethnic and racial backgrounds, was a powerful sight. “This is where I saw how much power we have when we are together,” she said.

The demonstrations, which have gained strength in recent weeks, are the largest sustained wave of public protests since hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in 2011 to draw attention to the country’s high cost of living. While those protests ultimately fizzled, two of their leaders entered parliament, and one, Itzik Shmuli, is now the country’s welfare minister.

Both Piltz and Oren said they are determined to keep up their activities in the long term.

“People have nothing to lose. So it’s very easy to go demonstrate these days, especially if you’re young and you see no future here,” Piltz said.

Hermann, the political analyst, said too many Israeli youths have been “politically ignorant” and that it is a “very good sign” for the country’s democracy that people are becoming involved.

The leaders, however, may not be so pleased to face a politically aware young generation.

“They are much more difficult to be controlled while they gain political views and confidence,” she said.