IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi was presented on Monday with the findings of the command-level investigation into the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man on January 12.
The investigation was given to Kohavi by the head of the Central Command, Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs. Steps are expected to be taken against the battalion commander of Netzach Yehuda, Haaretz reported on Monday.
The Military Police investigation is still ongoing. Several Palestinians who witnessed the event have given testimony.
Several officers and soldiers have been interrogated over the death of As’ad, who lived in Jiljilya, a village north of Ramallah. According to Haaretz, four soldiers led by a platoon commander had set up a checkpoint on a road in the village and were stopping cars for random searches.
After he was arrested, As’ad was detained along with several other Palestinians in an abandoned home where he was guarded by one soldier. According to Haaretz, the troops were given the order to set up the checkpoint by a company commander from another unit operating in the village.
Several other Palestinian men were arrested by the troops, but only As’ad was handcuffed. An hour after he was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged, the soldiers left. The soldiers did not call for medical assistance and left him there uncuffed, believing that he had fallen asleep.
He was later pronounced dead at a Ramallah hospital, where he was taken by residents after another detainee saw that 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.”
As’ad was a former Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resident who had lived in the United States 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.
Senior military officials were quoted by Haaretz as saying that the troops “did not see a human being before them. They detained him without sufficient reason.”
Though the officials said that the troops did not murder As’ad, “It’s a horrific incident. These weren’t just any soldiers. There was a platoon commander and above him a company commander.”
He had been arrested by troops belonging to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion at an impromptu checkpoint on his way home after he began to shout at them, drawing attention to the troops who did not want other residents to know that a surprise inspection was taking place.
The Netzach Yehuda battalion, which was established 20 years ago, is made up of religious soldiers ranging from ultra-Orthodox Israelis to new immigrants to 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.
In October, Military Police arrested four troops from the battalion on suspicion that they beat and sexually assaulted a Palestinian in the back of a military vehicle after he was arrested. When they arrived at the troops’ base, one of the soldiers placed the barrel of his gun on the man’s backside.
In 2019, five soldiers and their commanding officer who held the rank of lieutenant were arrested and placed on trial for severely beating a father and son whom they had detained.
They were charged with aggravated abuse and aggravated battery.
The soldiers allegedly cursed, slapped, punched and hit the suspects with fists and blunt objects, targeting their heads as well as other body parts, while the two Palestinians were tied up and blindfolded. The soldiers also allegedly kicked the suspects in the groin and pulled their hair.
In 2015, a soldier serving in the battalion was accused of attaching electrodes to a Palestinian detainees’ neck and electrocuting him. When the detainee pleaded with him to stop, he increased the voltage. Several days later, he did the same to another Palestinian man who had been arrested. The soldier was sentenced to seven months in prison.