A new photo of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American who died after his detention by Israeli military forces in the West Bank last month has surfaced in Israeli media.
The soldiers involved in the incident that led to Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad's death claim the photo, published Wednesday by Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, exonerates them.
The photo shows As’ad's final moments, lying on the sidewalk, bound and gagged, along with several other Palestinian detainees in the West Bank village of Jiljilya. Standing guard nearby is an Israeli soldier from the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion.
Soldiers involved in the incident have held up the photograph to claim that As'ad was alive when released and that he was not unsupervised or held separately from other detainees, the report said.
The soldiers also claim the other detainees did not warn them that As’ad’s condition had deteriorated or that he required assistance. They said they hoped the photograph was sufficient evidence to prevent criminal charges.
Jiljilya village council head Fouad Qattoum said As'ad was returning home after visiting relatives when Israeli soldiers stopped his car, bound him, blindfolded him and led him to a building still under construction. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry claimed that the American citizen was "assaulted" and beaten by Israeli soldiers, a claim denied by Israel.
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According to the Israeli military, As’ad died of a heart attack Jan. 12 after being detained overnight “after resisting a security inspection” during an anti-terror operation to find weapons.
Following an investigation, the IDF, which called the incident a “moral lapse,” stated that the elderly As’ad (whom Haaretz previously reported was 80 at the time of his death) died after being handcuffed, gagged with a fabric strap and forced to lie on his stomach in the cold while in custody, allegedly without any attempt at medical intervention by the soldiers guarding him.
In a report issued last month after an internal investigation of the incident, the IDF said that once the operation was over, the soldiers freed As’ad and the other detainees from their handcuffs. The soldiers said they believed he was asleep and did not try to wake him.
“The investigation found the incident to be serious and unfortunate. It indicates a moral failure and a failure of judgment and severely harms human dignity,” said the report.
According to the report, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi stated that the soldiers' decision to leave As’ad without checking on him goes against the IDF’s moral obligations. IDF officials said the officers had created an “enabling atmosphere” for such incidents to occur and that they failed to enforce discipline.
The United States has demanded clarifications from Israel regarding the incident and the circumstances of As’ad’s death.
Following the incident, the IDF said the commander of the Netzah Yehuda battalion would be rebuked and that two subordinate company and platoon commanders would be dismissed.