‘Iyad was the flower of the family. They cut him down too early’

The family of Iyad al-Hallaq, the Palestinian with autism killed by police, describes a man who had recently begun to cook and was terrified of Israeli soldiers. 'They took my mother's joy and left a wound that won't heal.'

The mother of Iyad Hallak, the Palestinian man with autism who was killed by Border Police officers, holds up a photo of her son, Jerusalem, June 2, 2020. (Activestills.org)
The mother of Iyad al-Hallaq holds up a photo of her son, June 2, 2020. (Activestills.org)

Iyad al-Hallaq had waited to return to school “with bated breath,” said his sister, Diana al-Hallaq. During the coronavirus outbreak, the Elwyn school for children and adults with special needs, where Iyad studied, was shut down. Iyad, a 32-year-old Palestinian man with autism, cried because he wanted to study, and their mother had to explain to him over and again that the school was closed. When he was still not convinced, their mother took him there twice to show him, explained Diana.

“Our mother felt he was different [from a young age],” said Diana. “The moment we understood that he has autism, my mother loved him even more. She believes in God, and she saw Iyad as an angel who was sent to her from heaven to protect us and her.”

When the school reopened, al-Hallaq was “elated,” continued Diana. “They learned many things there: how to cook, how to take care of themselves, how to take care of plants and the environment. He came home and wanted to help our mother cook. She was so happy that he was happy.”

“Iyad was the flower of the family. They cut him down too early. He was our joy, a pure soul.”

On Saturday morning, al-Hallaq left his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz toward the school, as he had down many times before. When he passed by a group of Israeli Border Police officers, they suspected al-Hallaq was carrying a weapon and ordered him to stop. Instead, al-Hallaq fled the scene, fearing for his life. The officers chased him down and opened fire. They reportedly found him lying wounded in a dumpster room, accompanied by one of the Elwyn teachers who pleaded with the soldiers. According to reports, one of the officers opened fire from close range, killing al-Hallaq.

Al-Hallaq had started walking to school alone only in recent years. “His mother was too scared to let him go. It took us a long time to convince her,” said Sami, Diana’s husband. “The result was that he was shot to death on the way to school. I have no idea how my mother-in-law can go on without him. He is her soul, her life, the light in her eyes.”

For more than two years, Diana said, al-Hallaq was accompanied by an escort who would walk him to school every day. The escort explained to him how to walk on the sidewalk, how to stop at a crosswalk, how to cross the street. She even took him to the local police station and introduced him to the officers there.

“This was common practice,” noted Diana. “That’s how they have done it at the school ever since there was an incident with another child, in which a student was shot by soldiers after he was asked to stop but didn’t. He didn’t die, but since then the school made sure that the police get to know the children. [Iyad] was very scared of the soldiers and the police, and when he saw them, he would always withdraw into himself and run away. Our area has lots of soldiers and police.”

Even then, their mother was too worried to let him walk to school on his own, and would accompany him to and from school every day, said Diana. “Only after she saw that he knew how to do it on his own did she let him walk alone.”

“He was our mother’s love, her entire life,” laments Diana. “She would hold his hand like he was a baby, and he would walk with her to the market or the mosque or the clothing store. He was like her shadow. She worried about him and whether other kids would bother or hurt him.”

“He wasn’t only my brother — he was like my son. Everything I bought for my children, I bought for him too.”

“I can’t stop crying over him, and I don’t know what my mother will do without him,” said Diana. “They would sit for hours in his room, playing and eating and laughing together every day. They took him from her. They took her joy and left her with great sorrow and a broken heart. They left her with a wound that will never heal until the day she dies.”

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.