Israel's Army Chief Expresses Sorrow Over Death of Elderly Palestinian in First Meeting With U.S. Envoy

Kochavi tells Nides that a military police investigation into the death of 78-year-old Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, who died after being detained by Israeli soldiers, is still ongoing

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (R) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, February 4, 2022.
Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (R) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, February 4, 2022.Credit: IDF's Spokesperson's Unit
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Army chief Aviv Kochavi met with the U.S. ambassador on Friday and expressed sorrow over the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian who died after being detained by Israeli soldiers near Ramallah last month.

Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, who was also a U.S. citizen, was detained three weeks ago at a West Bank checkpoint by soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion. The army believes he died after being handcuffed, gagged and forced to lie on his stomach in the cold without any medical help from the soldiers guarding him.

In his first meeting with Ambassador Thomas Nides, Kochavi said that in addition to the Israel Defense Forces' thorough probe into As'ad's death – whose finding were released Monday – the military police are still investigating.

Kochavi reiterated that the incident was "a grave moral lapse," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said on Twitter.

Kochavi also discussed with Nides the military's main security challenges, and the two went over "common threats, mainly the threat posed by Iran," the IDF said.

They also discussed opportunities to expand security collaboration in the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East. Kochavi "expressed appreciation for the American commitment to preserve Israel's security and the cooperation between the Israeli and American militaries," the IDF said.

After the findings of the IDF investigation were released, Kochavi said the soldiers’ decision to leave As’ad without checking on him breached the military’s ethics. The IDF said the officers created an “enabling atmosphere” for such incidents and failed to enforce discipline.

According to the military investigators, as part of an anti-terror operation, As’ad was stopped while driving and he refused to be checked for weapons. Soldiers tied a cloth around his mouth and cuffed his hands, the report stated.

No other force was used on him and the soldiers did not see signs of distress. About half an hour later, the soldiers freed As’ad and other detainees from their handcuffs. The soldiers believed he was asleep and did not try to wake him, the report added.

The commander of the Netzah Yehuda Batallion will be reprimanded, and two officers, the company and platoon commanders, will be dismissed. But the soldiers involved are not likely to be held directly responsible for As’ad’s death.

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