Palestinian Omar As’ad, 78, likely perished from a stress-induced heart attack caused by the circumstances of his detention by Israeli soldiers, according to an official Palestinian Authority autopsy whose results were released on Wednesday.
Israel has come under American pressure to investigate the death of As’ad, who was also a United States citizen. The Palestinian retiree was found dead with a zip-tie around one of his hands and a blindfold over his eyes shortly after troops finished a routine patrol in the central West Bank village of Jiljilya earlier this month.
A team of Palestinian doctors commissioned by Ramallah’s public prosecutor wrote that As’ad’s death was caused by “stress-induced cardiac arrest due to external injuries.” The autopsy listed several such injuries, including “bruises and abrasions” caused by the elderly As’ad having been bound and blindfolded.
As’ad was detained by Israeli soldiers as he drove through his hometown at 3 a.m. on a frigid January night. According to the army, he “resisted a security check.” As’ad had previously undergone open-heart surgery and was in poor health, according to his family.
Soldiers tied As’ad’s hands and blindfolded him, according to a Palestinian witness. An hour later, after Israeli troops had left the scene, he was found dead of a heart attack in a half-constructed building.
As’ad was detained along with four other Palestinians from a nearby town, who claim that the soldiers saw that As’ad was unresponsive but left anyway, without providing him with medical care. The military says he was released before he died.
The army’s Military Police division has opened an investigation into the incident. According to a report leaked widely in Hebrew media, investigators believe that the nighttime cold may also have played a role in As’ad’s sudden passing.
Palestinians and left-wing groups have long been critical of Israeli military investigations, which they say rarely bring results. According to a report by the B’Tselem rights group, just three percent of cases where the nonprofit suspected wrongdoing by Israeli troops resulted in an indictment between 2000 and 2015.
As’ad hailed from the quiet, well-heeled town of Jiljilya in the central West Bank north of Ramallah. In 1969, as newlyweds, he and his wife Nazmiya moved to the United States, where they spent over four decades raising their children and managing a number of grocery stores. In 2010, they returned to Jiljilya to live out their retirement together.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters earlier this month that Washington would ask for “clarification” from Israel over As’ad’s death. Several US representatives also issued condemnations and called for an investigation.
“We support a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident,” Price said.