(The following report appeared today in Mondoweiss. Some of the images are from Rabeea Eid and Suhair Badarni.)
The cold-blooded murder of Iyad Al-Hallak by Israeli “border guard” policemen in occupied Al-Quds (Jerusalem) on Saturday, May 30, came as a shock for many Palestinians, even though they are used to hear of shooting of innocent Palestinians for any or no reason. Iyad, 32, had Autism and was on his way to a special school near Al-Aqsa mosque, where he was training to work as a cook. His last moments were not photographed, but an instructor from his school, Warda Abu Hadid, was near him when he tried to hide from the policemen in a small room used by the garbage collectors.
She was on her way to work when she heard shooting and took cover in the room. Soon Iyad entered the room looking for shelter also. He was already wounded and stretched on the floor bleeding from his leg. When three policemen followed Iyad in, she told them that he was disabled and could not do any harm. They shot him from short range in his chest anyway.
Iyad’s loving parents, who dedicated much of their lives caring for their beautiful boy, told later of a youth that had difficulties performing basic tasks and was not even conscious to the meaning of occupation. But the occupation killed him anyway – giving new meaning to the notion of innocence.
A demonstration led by groups caring for disabled Palestinians
There were several demonstrations around the country in protest of the murder of Iyad. But the demonstration in Haifa on June 2 was special, as it was not organized by political parties or activists but by civil society organizations that care for Palestinians with disabilities. Most of these organizations were established by caring relatives, and the way that Iyad was attacked exposed for them in the most painful way the double vulnerability of being both Palestinian and disabled at the same time.
The activists for the disabled turned to “Herak Haifa” to help organize their protest and an event on Facebook called for a demonstration on Tuesday, June 2, in “Prisoner’s Square” in the German Colony, Haifa’s tourist center.
Hundreds of people gathered in the square, some with Palestinian flags. Between the participants there were many disabled people, some in wheelchairs. The placards with slogans were of all sizes, prints and styles, clearly prepared by the participants, with no central organizing body. About as many slogans were related to “Black Lives Matter”, in clear solidarity with the struggle against racism in the United States, as to the recent Palestinian martyrs.
I brought a few posters with me, calling for the arrest of killer cops and commemorating the martyrs. I put them on a fence and they were soon taken by participants. Soon I noticed someone returning a placard to where the small pile was. I went to see what this unwanted placard was. It was written in unexperienced handwriting in Arabic: “I’m a disabled Palestinian”. At first, I thought the writer wanted to be one of the protesting crowd, like everybody else. But then I thought that, in the spirit of solidarity, I could carry this placard instead – and I continued carrying it all along the demonstration.
Marching through downtown Haifa
People continued to gather and soon they poured into the main street and closed it. Nothing was planned in advance, but we just felt that the protest should be heard and seen loud and clear. We were already about 500 people and we started to march toward downtown Haifa, the city’s commercial center. It was a very lively march with people chanting slogans all along the way. At each junction the crowd stopped, closing the traffic, while some of the activists were discussing between themselves what is the next move.
At one turn the crowd entered a side street, that is never used for demonstrations, just to appear in a surprise in “Atzmaut St.”, the main commercial street of downtown Haifa and the route that connects the city’s east and west. The street was closed both ways, just in front of the central train station, as some of the demonstrators sat in its middle.
By that time the police, which did not seem ready for the demonstration, already had brought in a few horse-mounted policemen and some special unit in anti-riot gear, but it was still a small force, that tried to throw a line blocking the main road in front of the demonstrators. Some people wanted to retreat, but as the crowd started to move again it just walked peacefully through the police line and marched in the main street back to the German Colony.
When we came back to prisoner’s square it was already more than 2 hours since the demonstration begun, but people were still chanting and singing liberation songs, full of energies and hope. Before dispersing they immediately declared another demonstration for Tuesday next week, this time organized by the Palestinian feminist activists.
You can watch a short video of the demonstration in “Ha’atzmaut” starting to move here…