Witnesses: Elderly Palestinian Who Died After Israeli Detention Lay Motionless as Soldiers Looked On

Fellow detainees say Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, who was cuffed, gagged, and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers, was left lying on the floor on his stomach for 30 minutes or more

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
Mamduh Abd al-Rahman, earlier this week at the site where he As'ad were detained.
Mamduh Abd al-Rahman, earlier this week at the site where he As'ad were held.Credit: Alex Levac
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The 80-year-old Palestinian American who died shortly after being detained by Israeli soldiers two weeks ago was lying on his stomach for a long time, and showing no movement and making no sounds, while Israeli soldiers were present, two witnesses told Haaretz.

The soldiers, from Netzah Yehuda battalion, said they handcuffed Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, covered his eyes and gagged him so he wouldn’t be able to alert others to an operation they were carrying out. A doctor who was called to treat As’ad after the soldiers left reported that the man was dead by the time he arrived. He took As’ad to a local clinic, where he was formally pronounced dead.

As’ad was arrested as Israeli soldiers were setting up a makeshift checkpoint in the center of Jaljalia village near Ramallah. As’ad arrived at the checkpoint around 3 A.M. by car, coming from a visit with friends. He objected to the soldiers’ demand that he get out of the car, prompting an argument that lasted for about 15 minutes.

A local resident watching from a balcony told Haaretz he heard As’ad and the soldiers bickering. Around 3:20 A.M. the soldiers arrested As’ad and led him to an abandoned house, some 150 meters from the car, he recalled.

The soldiers told army investigators that they handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged As’ad in that house’s courtyard. The Yedioth Aharonoth daily reported that the soldiers told Military Police investigators they had seated As’ad on a chair, but Palestinians later detained by the Israeli army have given accounts contradicting the soldiers’ version.

The area where Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad was found. Credit: Alex Levac
The place where the soldiers erected a temporary checkpost.Credit: Alex Levac

Some 15 minutes after As’ad was brought to the yard, the soldiers arrested two other Palestinians – Mamduh Abd al-Rahman, aged 52, and another unidentified person – as they were on their way to a market in a nearby village.

Abd al-Rahman told Haaretz the soldiers took him into the courtyard through the gate, pushing him and keeping his head lowered so that he couldn’t look to the side. They later sat him on the floor, a few meters from As’ad.

“It was very cold, but after a few moments I dozed off, so a soldier came over and kicked me. That was when I saw a man’s leg not too far from me. I hadn’t noticed him there before because he didn’t make a sound,” Abd al-Rahman said. As’ad was lying motionless on his stomach, he recalled.

Abd al-Rahman called attention to the situation to the third detainee, who replied he was imagining things. Ten minutes later the soldiers arrested two other Palestinians. One of them, Zayed Muhammed, recalled that he also hadn’t initially noticed As’ad because it was dark and he was seated far away. Muhammed said he only noticed As’ad after the soldiers left, and he was lying on his stomach. The two witnesses said all the detainees were seated on the ground, but only As’ad was handcuffed.

Abd al-Rahman reported that at one point, one of the soldiers sat down near As’ad and pulled a piece of fabric over his face. He then heard the soldier cutting something that he later understood was a plastic handcuff. He then saw three soldiers whispering to each other before exiting and leaving a fourth who trained his weapon in the direction of the detainees.

Mourners attend the funeral of Palestinian-American Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, 80, who was found dead after being detained and handcuffed during an Israeli raid, in Jiljilya village in the West Bank, thiCredit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

After 4 A.M., when the soldiers left on foot, the detainees started searching for their ID cards and keys, locating them on the roof of As’ad’s car.

“When I got up, I removed the cover over Omar’s face and then realized who it was. I checked to see if he had pulse in his wrist and then in his neck and found nothing. There was still one plastic handcuff left on his wrist,” Abd al-Rahman recalled. The Palestinians alerted a doctor from a nearby clinic.

The doctor, Dr. Islam Abu Zaher, said one of the detainees appeared in the clinic at 4:09 A.M. and asked him to come quickly to the courtyard, as there was a man there who was probably dead.

The doctor arrived there about a minute later. He said that he found As’ad lying on his stomach with one plastic handcuff still attached to his wrist.

“His face was very blue, with no signs of life, and I estimate it had been at least 15 minutes since he had stopped taking in oxygen,” Abu Zaher said, noting that it was very cold outside that night.

“It didn’t appear that anyone had tried to help him, tried to resuscitate him or give him any medical attention,” Abu Zaher said. After trying unsuccessfully to resuscitate As’ad, he moved the man to the clinic, where he was declared dead. As’ad’s body was taken to Ramallah Hospital for an autopsy.

Although the Israeli army is now conducting an investigation into As’ad’s death, neither Muhammed nor Abd al-Rahman has been questioned. One of them told Haaretz that investigators had approached a friend of his who was also detained that night to make a statement.

As’ad returned to his native West Bank village 11 years ago after living in the United States for many years. He refused to visit the U.S. for fear he wouldn’t be allowed to return because he didn’t have a Palestinian identity card. His family received word this week that Israel had approved legal status for him and his wife.

Amer, As’ad’s brother, told Haaretz that his family was demanding his death be investigated. “We want an investigation undertaken in accordance with the law. We want the officer in charge put on trial,” said Amer, who lives in the United States and happened to arrive in the West Bank for a visit a day before his brother died.

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