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Israel to pay compensation for death of elderly US-Palestinian man after IDF arrest

Defense Ministry to pay NIS 500,000 to family of 78-year-old Omar As’ad, which will drop legal claims over incident top Israeli officials acknowledged as a ‘grave moral failing’

Omar As'ad. (Courtesy)
Omar As'ad. (Courtesy)

The Defense Ministry will compensate the family of an elderly Palestinian-American man who suffered a heart attack after being bound, gagged and abandoned at a construction site in the middle of winter by Israeli soldiers.

Israel has agreed to pay the family of 78-year-old Omar As’ad some NIS 500,000 ($140,000) in compensation for his death, a Defense Ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel, confirming a Friday report by the Kan public broadcaster.

In return, “the relevant parties agreed to dismiss the claim [regarding the death that was] submitted to the court against the state,” the spokesperson said.

“At the same time and in light of the unfortunate event’s unique circumstances, it was agreed before the court that the family would receive 500,000 NIS,” the spokesperson said.

Top Israeli officials have called the death a “grave moral failing,” which may explain why Jerusalem agreed to make an exception by agreeing to the payment.

Israel had faced intense pressure from the US to investigate the death and bring those responsible to justice, with As’ad also holding US citizenship.

An Israel Defense Forces probe of the January 12 incident called As’ad’s death an “ethical failure” by the soldiers involved. Two officers were removed from their positions and a third was formally censured. A criminal probe is also ongoing.

As’ad’s death sparked a sharp response from the Biden administration, with the State Department emphasizing in the multiple statements issued on the matter that it takes the safety of its nationals abroad very seriously.

Palestinian relatives mourn during the funeral of Omar As’ad, 78, who was found dead after being detained and handcuffed during an Israeli raid, in Jiljilya village in the West Bank, on January 13, 2022. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Even after the IDF’s internal probe, the US has continued to call for a “thorough criminal investigation” and US Ambassador Tom Nides met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi for an update on the investigation.

Kohavi echoed the earlier IDF statement, telling Nides that “this was a grave moral incident that is contrary to the values of the IDF.”

A group of Democratic lawmakers has also sounded off on As’ad’s death, demanding an investigation and expressing concern over Israeli military practices in the West Bank more broadly.

According to the initial IDF probe, As’ad was detained by soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion who set up an impromptu checkpoint in the central West Bank village of Jiljilya, stopping cars and checking the identification documents of people inside.

The investigation found that As’ad — who refused to identify himself when asked and yelled at the soldiers — was tackled by the troops, who then bound his hands with zip ties.

They then moved him to a nearby construction site, where he was left on the ground in the near-freezing January night.

Palestinian relatives carry the body of Omar As’ad, at his funeral; As’ad was found dead after being detained and handcuffed during an Israeli raid, in Jiljilya village in the West Bank, on January 13, 2022. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

In order to prevent him from calling out and telling others about the checkpoint, the soldiers also gagged him, first with their hands and then by tying a strip of fabric over his mouth for a short amount of time, the probe found.

Three other Palestinians were brought to the same building. When the Netzah Yehuda soldiers decided to pack up the checkpoint roughly half an hour later, they untied the four Palestinians and let them go, according to the investigation.

By that time, As’ad was unresponsive. The soldiers left him on the ground at the construction site. They later told military investigators they thought he was asleep.

As’ad, an American citizen who had lived in the US for many years, was found dead a few hours later with one zip tie still around one of his hands and a blindfold over his eyes.

An autopsy conducted by the Palestinian Authority and reviewed by the IDF determined that he had died of a stress-induced heart attack, brought on by being tackled to the ground, bound and gagged. As’ad had previously undergone open-heart surgery and was in poor health, according to his family.

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