A school for the mentally disabled in Jerusalem’s Old City prepared its Palestinian students for interactions with the Israeli police. There were frequent role-playing exercises, sometimes with real officers playing themselves. When police officers called out to Iyad al-Hallaq, a 31-year-old with autism, on May 30, he fled. He was cornered, and a rookie officer, apparently sensing a threat, shot and killed him. Al-Hallaq was unarmed and witnesses said his teacher had shouted at the officers that he was disabled. The shooting was so disturbing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a tragedy and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued an apology.
Hoping to start a “Palestinian Lives Matter” movement, activists tried to link al-Hallaq’s killing to that of George Floyd in Minneapolis five days earlier, turning his name into a rallying cry. Since then, outrage over police brutality has grown after police officers were videotaped pummeling and choking anti-government protesters. Prosecutors have recommended that the officer who shot al-Hallaq be charged with manslaughter but a conviction would be as exceptional as the killing was shocking. More likely, the outrage will dissipate, the prosecution will fizzle and little will change. The officer has not yet been formally charged. Since at least the 1970s, efforts in Israel to rein in violent officers and impose accountability for their actions have repeatedly failed. The result is a system that often lets officers off the hook for all but the most damning excesses, and sometimes even for those. The vast majority of complaints of police violence — 86 percent in the most recent year for which statistics are available — are never investigated.