Israeli Soldiers Bound, Gagged 80-year-old Palestinian for Over an Hour Before He Died, Army Finds

Investigation finds Palestinian-American Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad may have begun suffering from hypothermia and gag may have impeded his breathing when soldiers detained him, sources say

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Men stand next to a poster of Palestinian Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, in Jiljilya, earlier this month.
Men stand next to a poster of Palestinian Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, in Jiljilya, earlier this month.Credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The military has interrogated several officers and soldiers over the past few days as it investigates the death of an 80-year-old Palestinian who died of a heart attack soon after being detained by troops earlier this month.

Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad of Jiljilya, a village north of Ramallah, died on January 12 after being detained and cuffed by soldiers at an impromptu checkpoint in the West Bank.

As'ad was an American citizen, and U.S. lawmakers have called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances of his death. Palestinian officials have said that the soldiers, who were members of the Kfir Brigade's Netzah Yehuda Battalion, caused his heart attack by beating him.

Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad.

According to the investigation's findings thus far, As'ad was detained during a surprise inspection of Palestinians in Jiljilya.

The soldiers said As'ad began shouting at them and drawing attention, and they cuffed him, blindfolded him and detained him in accordance with an order they received. They said As'ad was detained along with other Palestinians, for fear that they would go on to the village and reveal that the surprise inspection was taking place.

The investigation has revealed that As'ad was left cuffed, blindfolded and a gag over his mouth for over an hour. The gag may have impeded his breathing and made it difficult for him to request help, according to sources familiar with the investigation. They further said As'ad's condition may have been worsened by very cold weather, and that he may have begun suffering from hypothermia. It is not yet clear who gave the order to detain the men.

The soldiers have told investigators that when they were done with their inspections, they removed the cuffs from As'ad and left him there, without giving him medical assistance or ascertaining his wellbeing.

After the soldiers left, residents called for help and he was transferred to a Ramallah hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Defense sources with knowledge of the investigation described the incident as "not good" and "serious."

Palestinian medical personnel and citizens arrived on the scene after the soldiers left, where As’ad was located and transferred to a Ramallah hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The investigation's findings will be provided to the military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, who will decide whether to take action against them. The military has not yet decided whether to suspend those involved.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said after As'ad's death that he had requested clarification from Israel about how the U.S. citizen was killed. "We've been in touch with the government of Israel to seek clarification about this incident, [and] the Israeli Defense Forces have indicated there's an ongoing investigation into the matter. And we support a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident," Price said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who represents As'ad's state of Wisconsin, called the incident a "horrible tragedy that demands a thorough investigation."

The Israeli military said that "an initial examination" indicated As'ad was detained after "resisting a security inspection," and that military police had begun investigating the incident.

The Military Defense, the department of the Military Advocate General Corps that is defending the soldiers under investigation, said that they were conducting "operational actvitiy whose goal was thwarting terrorism. The Palestinian was detained legally during the activity according to procedure, in light of his behavior, which endangered the activity and the troops, and he was released with the end of the activity with his condition undamaged and not requiring medical intervention. The circumstances of his death are not connect to the military force's conduct."

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