Opinion |

What if This Dead 80-year-old Palestinian Was Your Grandfather?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
The family of As'ad beside his body in Jiljilya in the West Bank, on January 13.
The family of As'ad beside his body in Jiljilya in the West Bank, on January 13. Credit: Nasser Nasser/AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If I could only meet with the soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda battalion who abused 80-year-old Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad to the point of death, I would ask them just one question: What would have happened is As’ad was your grandfather? We don’t need to preach or give more educational seminars, this question is more than enough to upend their world.

From past experience, they would have responded with aggression, confusion and loss of control. This question is outside the realm of thought in which they were trained. It is impossible to stand in the dark of night at a checkpoint, to abuse an old man and think about your grandfather. They would say: how can you compare them, my grandfather isn’t a terrorist, we didn’t have a choice, those were the orders, what did you want us to do, Israel’s security.

But these soldiers have to be asked this question time after time. They are haredim who serve in a battalion with this pompous – almost laughable – name, Netzah Yehuda ("Eternity for Judah"), which already has a not-so-short record of abusive acts against Palestinians. It’s no coincidence that the IDF sends a Haredi battalion with a biblical name to face the Palestinian population and oppress it. For them, the abuse is done in the name of God.

Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad.

Reading the testimony of the soldiers in the army’s inquiry, a quick and efficient inquiry of the type the IDF never conducts, turns the stomach. But the soldiers’ bad luck is that this time their victim carried an American passport, and the Americans, as opposed to the Israelis, want to know the truth. A sort of very strange trait. That is why the IDF had to investigate, and even quickly – almost an event of science fiction when it concerns IDF investigations about the abuse and killing of Palestinians.

The victim’s advanced age, 80, was also to the soldiers’ detriment. One of them may have claimed that As’ad looked to him to be 20 years younger than his age, so he thought it was permitted to throw him to the ground on a cold night, gagged, blindfolded and handcuffed, given treatment he wouldn't give to a stray dog. But even the most coldhearted couldn’t remain apathetic, even if only because of the man’s age.

It is impossible to remain unmoved in light of the soldiers’ testimonies. It turns out that there are levels of bestialization and brutality, but this case broke a record. In their defense, the abusers claimed that they didn’t notice the signs of distress of the man they had turned into a sack of potatoes, threw to the ground and left there for over an hour, choked and cuffed. But what signs of distress can a bound man whose mouth is sealed shut and whose eyes are covered show? For his ears to shake? For his hair to stand on end? Poor As’ad shouted at them that he was not a terrorist when they stopped him making his way home late at night – because what did they expect? That he prostrate himself on the ground and kiss the soldiers’ feet? And what would their grandfathers have done?

Haaretz’s Yaniv Kubovich reported that the soldiers said they received an order – it’s not clear from whom, perhaps from the Lord of Armies Himself – to handcuff anyone who arrived at the roadblock and to gag their mouth, so those inside the village wouldn’t know about the fighters' “operational” activities.

Defense sources told Haaretz that this was a “bad incident, a serious incident,” seemingly because of the bad name that it could give to the moral army in America – but don’t worry, the Americans will also quickly forget. In any case, the Military Advocate General Corps has already rushed to correct the impression and shirk responsibility for the entire matter: “The circumstances of his death are not related to the actions of the military force,” they ruled. They know, they investigated, it is over and done.

Everyone played their part: The soldiers abused, the old man died, the Americans protested and the IDF investigated. No one will be put on trial, and certainly no one will be punished as they deserve. After all, As’ad died from a heart attack and everything that came before had absolutely no connection to his death, and was also proper, moral and legal.

I have only request from the soldiers: In spite of everything, please think – if just for a moment – what would have happened if As’ad had been your grandfather, and that he died this way.

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