Last week the news and social media alike have been awash with shock and disgust over the police brutality that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May. There have been protests around the world. People are rallying around the Black Lives Matter campaign. This led to the backlash claim that ‘All Lives Matter’ which sparked more fury that not all lives are in danger in the same way.
For many people in Jerusalem, in Palestine and in Israel this has resonated deeply. Equality does not exist here and all lives are not given equal chances.
Only a few days after George Floyd was killed, an innocent Palestinian was shot and killed in the Old City of Jerusalem. He was autistic. He was unarmed. He posed absolutely no threat. He was not arrested for questioning. He was not restrained. He was deemed suspicious, so he was shot several times, reportedly at close range in the chest until he died.
Does this sound like a society where all lives matter? Where you are innocent until being proven guilty? Where the police can be trusted to act proportionately in the best interests of the public?
The man was Iyad Halak, a 32 year-old from the Wadi Al Joz neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. On Saturday 30 May he set out as usual from his home to walk to his special needs school in the Old City. The police called on him to stop (suspecting he was carrying a weapon) and he was scared and fled. He was chased and allegedly found cowering in an alleyway, where he was shot several times and killed.
The incredibly sad thing about this story is that it is not unusual. Israeli police forces use undue force and brutality against Palestinians on a daily basis. When people are injured or worse, killed, the only justification police forces need give is that they suspected the victim was a terrorist and were defending themselves and the state of Israel.
The difference between the situation here and in the United States, is that the ongoing occupation creates a conflict environment where warfare methods can be more readily deployed.
Had it not been for Iyad’s disability which gives him an additional vulnerability, it might barely have made Israeli news let alone received any international attention.
It is almost inconceivable that the police approach would have been the same had the suspect (and I mean victim) been wearing a kippeh. Iyad’s mother says “We are convinced that those who killed him will not be punished” and “Justice does not exist.”
Instead of working towards equality and justice, Israel plans to annex further Palestinian territory over the coming months. According to statements by the Israeli Prime Minister, this looks set to result in thousands being denied their rights, and Palestinians being coerced into leaving their homes and land.
Over the past week, there have been some protests in Palestine and Israel over Iyad’s death and showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign. People are afraid to come out however. They have been here before and 72 years of occupation has led to a weariness about the prospect of change.
My friend who lives in New York says that in the United States ‘it really feels like a moment of national reckoning on race‘. And let’s hope so.
Unfortunately, the path towards equality and justice looks set to remain blocked here. It’s got a checkpoint on it and if you don’t have the right name, the right documents, the right religion, you’re not getting through.
Injustice is not ok in the United States and it’s not ok here, so how will change happen?