Two IDF officers will be dismissed from their positions immediately and a third, a battalion commander, will be formally censured over the death of an elderly Palestinian earlier this month that the military says was a result of “moral failure and poor decision-making.”
Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, 78, of Jiljilya, a village north of Ramallah, was found dead on January 12 after he was detained by soldiers on his way home.
He had been arrested by troops belonging to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion at an impromptu checkpoint on his way home. He then began to shout at them, drawing attention to the soldiers who did not want other residents to know that a surprise inspection was taking place.
To quiet him down, one soldier put his hand over his mouth and then put a cloth gag over his mouth, which he immediately pulled off. Troops then zip-tied As’ad’s hands behind his back and brought him to an abandoned courtyard.
As’ad was detained along with several other Palestinians in an abandoned home, handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged for around half an hour. Believing that As’ad had fallen asleep and not seeing any signs of distress, troops did not call for medical assistance and did not attempt to wake him before they left.
He was later pronounced dead at a Ramallah hospital where he was taken by residents after another detainee saw he was unresponsive and called for a doctor. An autopsy performed under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority concluded last week that As’ad died of a “stress-induced sudden cardiac arrest due to external injuries.”
The command-level investigation took place alongside a Military Police investigation that is still ongoing, with a number of officers, soldiers and other witnesses being questioned to get additional evidence and corroborate testimony from Palestinian witnesses. The investigation was given to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi on Monday by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs.
The probe concluded that “the incident was a grave and unfortunate event, resulting from a moral failure and poor decision-making on the part of the soldiers. One of the IDF’s core values – to protect human life – was violated,” the military said, adding that “there was no use of violence during the incident apart from when As’ad was arrested after refusing to cooperate.”
“The forces failed in their obligations by leaving As’ad lying on the floor without the required treatment and without reporting the incident back to their commanders,” the investigation found.
It “also found professional gaps in the preparation and implementation” of the checkpoint where troops were stopping cars for random searches.
Kohavi said As’ad’s death was an extremely grave ethical failure and goes against IDF values.
“Leaving him alone and without checking his condition was a careless act that runs contrary to the values of the IDF, at the center of which is the requirement to protect the sanctity of any human life,” he said.
Following the investigation, the platoon commander and company commander of the troops involved in the incident were to be immediately removed from their positions and barred from any command position for the next two years.
The Netzah Yehuda Battalion commander will also be formally censured by Fuchs.
The Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which was established 20 years ago, is made up of religious soldiers, including haredim (ultra-Orthodox), new immigrants and those who identify with the radical Hilltop Youth settler movement.
The battalion, which is part of the Kfir Infantry Brigade, has been involved in several controversies regarding violence against Palestinian detainees in recent years.
According to Fuchs, the investigation found that there were other ways the soldiers could have dealt with As’ad’s arrest, such as keeping him in his vehicle instead of taking him to the abandoned building in freezing weather.
“Nobody should be left this way on the ground, no matter how old he is, even if he is asleep,” Fuchs said. “We arrested him, and therefore, it was our responsibility to take care of him. This was a very serious event with a major mistake and serious failure.”
“It’s hard to imagine him lying on the ground there,” he said, adding that though he did not believe the troops planned to do this, “it happened under our command, and we will learn from this event.”
As’ad was a former Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resident who had lived in the US for decades and returned to the West Bank 10 years ago, according to his brother. The Biden administration has sought “clarification” from Israel about As’ad’s death, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said following the incident.
The State Department had not seen the final reports from Israeli officials, Price said Monday.
“We continue to support an investigation that is thorough and comprehensive into the circumstances of the incident, and we welcome additional information to be obtained as soon as possible,” he said.
The Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem said: “The army’s announcement regarding the death of Omar Assad is adorned with empty words about ‘moral failure’ – concluding, as expected, with the faintest of rebukes. In fact, the fundamental moral failure is that of Israel’s senior echelons, leading a regime of Jewish supremacy, one in which the human life of Palestinians has no value.”
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.