US demands ‘thorough’ criminal probe into troops who left bound Palestinian to die

State Department says it remains deeply concerned by death of Omar As’ad, 78, at hands of Israeli soldiers, calls for ‘full accountability’ by those responsible

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Omar As'ad, a Palestinian-American who died after being violently detained by IDF troops in the West Bank on January 12, 2022. (Courtesy)
Omar As'ad, a Palestinian-American who died after being violently detained by IDF troops in the West Bank on January 12, 2022. (Courtesy)

The US said Tuesday that it expects Israel to fully probe the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man who suffered a lethal heart attack after being bound, gagged and abandoned at a construction site in the middle of winter by Israeli soldiers last month, calling for those responsible to be held fully accountable.

The US statement was issued a day after the Israeli military published the findings of its internal investigation into the January 12 incident, which concluded that the soldiers “showed a clear lapse of moral judgment” and a failure to “protect the sanctity of any human life” in the death of Omar As’ad.

“The United States expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case, and we welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible,” the statement said.

“We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government.”

The State Department noted that disciplinary action was being taken by the Israeli army against the battalion commander and other officers responsible for the unit involved.

But it said it “continue[s] to be deeply concerned by the circumstances” of As’ad’s death.

A Military Police investigation into the As’ad’s death is ongoing. Once complete, the findings will be passed to the Military Advocate General, who will decide whether criminal charges should be filed.

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.

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.

Omar As’ad. (Courtesy)

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.

The US was quick to react to the incident shortly after it occurred, with State Department spokesman Ned Price telling reporters hours after As’ad’s death that US authorities had been in touch with his family to express condolences and offer consular assistance while also reaching out to Israel to demand clarification over what had happened.

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

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