In the living room of her home in the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, a tired Ranad al-Halaq sits between a sea of grieving family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers who have come to pay their respects.
It’s been two days since her only son, 32-year-old Eyad al-Halaq, was gunned down by Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem, where he was enrolled at a center for Palestinian adults and children with disabilities.
In the hours since, she has relived the moment her son was killed over and over again, recounting the chilling tale of his slaying as told to her by one of the only eyewitnesses to the event, Eyad’s school teacher.
Eyad, who was born with autism, left his family’s home in the early hours of Saturday morning to make his way to the Elwyn El Quds center less than two kilometers away.
“Eyad always had a problem with calculating or remembering time,” Ranad told Mondoweiss. “So the second he would see the sun come up, he would think it was time to go to school. So that’s what he did on Saturday.”
Typically, Eyad’s mother or one of his two sisters accompanies him to school. On Saturday, however, because the family had the day off from work, they slept in. But when they woke up to their phones ringing just after 6 a.m., they realized that Eyad was not at home, and never made it to school.
He was close to the school when the Israeli police started yelling at him to stop moving,” Ranad recounted. “He was confused and scared and started to run away,” she continued, adding that when the police started shooting their guns in the air, Eyad’s teacher ran out towards him to try to stop the police.
“She saw what was happening and was yelling at the police to stop, saying that he has special needs,” she continued. “But they didn’t stop, and kept yelling ‘terrorist!’ in Hebrew.”
Eyad allegedly became more fearful, tearing off his protective gloves and mask and handing them to his teacher before running away. He then hid behind a dumpster nearby and was “curled up like a baby”, crying “I’m with her, I’m with her,” referring to his teacher.
“Then the officer came and shot him in the chest while he was hiding behind the dumpster in fear,” Ranad said.
The police officers then allegedly ran up to Eyad’s teacher, their guns pointed at her head, demanding that she turn over the weapon that Eyad had handed to her.
“They thought he had a gun or something,” Ranad recounted. “But when she held out her hands all she had was his mask and gloves.”
‘He loved that school more than anything’
When Eyad was diagnosed with autism as a young boy, friends and family expressed their sorrows to Ranad and her husband. Raising a child with a disability, especially in Palestine where mental disabilities are still taboo, would not be easy.
But for the past 32 years, Eyad has brought nothing but joy to his family, Ranad says, adding that he was the “salt of the home”, a common Arabic saying used to refer to people who give their family life, or flavor.
“He was a quiet, gentle, sweet, and kind soul,” she said. “It was hard for him to communicate with most people, but he could sit with anyone and make them feel happy, just with his presence.”