WASHINGTON - The Biden administration said Tuesday it continues to be "deeply concerned" by the circumstances surrounding the death of an 80-year-old dual Palestinian-American citizen found dead after being violently detained by Israeli soldiers.
Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad was detained three weeks ago at a makeshift checkpoint in Jaljalia, north of Ramallah, when he was returning home in his car. He was detained and taken to an abandoned house nearby by IDF soldiers, where he was left in the courtyard and died shortly after.
“The United States expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case, and we welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible. We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
"We note the public statement on the report of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Commanders’ Investigation into the case and its findings, including the determination that 'the incident showed a clear lapse of moral judgment' and a failure to 'protect the sanctity of any human life,'" Price added.
Israeli military representatives had forwarded the findings of the probe into the incident to the U.S. military attaché in Israel after IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi received them. The findings showed a grave "moral lapse" by the soldiers involved in the incident.
The State Department's statement comes one day after two members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to probe the circumstances surrounding the death of As’ad, who had previously lived in Milwaukee.
Price also noted the Israel Defense Forces' public summary of the investigation highlighted that “disciplinary action is being taken against the commander of the 'Netzah Yehuda' Battalion and other officers responsible for the unit involved in the incident, and that the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division investigation of the case is ongoing.”
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“We convey, again, our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Mr. As’ad. The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad,” Price's statement concluded.
“We strongly support human rights and the rule of law as the foundation of United States foreign policy,” wrote Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Gwen Moore. “As a Palestinian American, Mr. As'ad deserves the full protections afforded U.S. citizens living abroad and his family deserves answers.”
'American citizenship made the difference'
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the IDF's investigation a “sham,” and alleged that it was only pursued because As’ad also held American citizenship. “Israel commits crimes against Palestinians every day,” the Palestinian prime minister told Haaretz. “The Israeli establishment has never taken an interest in the identity of a victim as long as he is Palestinian. In this case, American citizenship has made the difference. Israel kills and commits crimes based on [the victim’s] identity card.”
Palestinian Foreign Ministry staff similarly called the Israeli army’s investigation into the case a “deception,” with Ahmed Adik, an adviser to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, telling Haaretz it was “one big show designed mainly to satisfy the Americans.”
“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in cold blood and no one lifted a finger,” Adik said. “This process only proves that there are dozens of other instances that have not been dealt with because the others are Palestinians without foreign citizenship. In the American administration and the international community, they need to realize that there’s a need to take steps against Israel.”
As'ad's family further called for an independent U.S.-led investigation following the Israeli military's findings. “The lack of real accountability for the Israeli soldiers that killed our father once again demonstrates why the Israeli military cannot investigate itself, and why we need an independent U.S.-led investigation into our father’s killing, like members of Congress are calling for,” they said in a statement.
“What’s clear is that the Israeli government and military don’t value Palestinian lives, and that includes Palestinians with U.S. citizenship. Justice requires all the facts of our father’s tragic death to come to light, and for all of those involved to be held responsible for the atrocities they’ve committed. We cannot bring our father back to us, but we hope that accountability will spare the lives of other Palestinians who deserve to live with full freedom and justice,” they added.