The US State Department issued a statement Tuesday expressing dissatisfaction with Israel’s investigation into the January 12, 2022, death of a Palestinian Authority resident with US citizenship following an IDF interrogation.
Dual citizen Omar As’ad, 78, died hours after he had been detained by Israeli forces in the village of Jaljulia in the Binyamin region.
An immediate IDF military police investigation was launched, with initial findings presented Monday to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who subsequently issued orders to remove the two officers involved, among other actions.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also condemned the incident and noted that the investigation by the IDF Military Police Criminal Investigation Division is continuing as well.
But that apparently wasn’t enough.
State Department Demands ‘Thorough Criminal Investigation’
“We continue to be deeply concerned by the circumstances of the death of Mr. Omar Assad, a US citizen who was found dead on January 12, 2022, after Israeli soldiers detained him in the West Bank,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“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.
“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,” Price said. “We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government. We convey, again, our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Mr. Assad. The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens abroad.”
Findings of the Report
In their report, the investigators called the incident “serious and unfortunate,” adding that it indicated “a value failure on the part of the force and a clear lapse of moral judgment, with a serious violation of the value of human dignity.”
Investigators found that the force failed in its responsibility by leaving the site of the interrogation, without verifying As’ad’s condition, and there were professional gaps in the planning and execution of the mission.
Kochavi slammed the forces who left As’ad without checking him first during a visit Tuesday to an officers course for company and battalion commanders in the Ground Forces.
Kochavi: Actions Show ‘Numbness of Senses’ Contrary to IDF Values
“The departure of the forces from the scene and leaving As’ad without verifying his condition indicates a numbness of the senses and is contrary to IDF values, at the core of which is the duty to maintain the dignity of every person as a person,” Kochavi said in a statement.
The IDF chief of staff ordered that all IDF forces review the report and learn its lessons to prevent recurrence of such an event. The company commander and the platoon commander were both immediately dismissed and will not be allowed to serve in command positions for a period of two years.
The commander of the Netzach Yehuda battalion is also set to be reprimanded by IDF Central Command head Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who also denounced the soldiers; actions.
In addition, the report was submitted to the military prosecutor’s office to legally determine which, if any, further steps are determined necessary vis a vis those who were involved in the incident.
Gantz ‘Expresses Sorrow’ Over Death
Israel’s defense minister likewise emphasized the IDF would act against detours from “IDF values.”
Speaking in a statement on Tuesday, Gantz said that along with the “full support” the government gives to the IDF to carry out its mission, “we will act against any deviations from the norms of IDF values, as we saw in the death of Omar As’ad.
“I was updated about the investigation, which was approved by the chief of staff, and I want to express sorrow at his death,” Gantz said. “The Military Police probe into this incident will continue.”
No ID, Refused Inspection
As’ad was stopped for routine inspection by an IDF force while driving a vehicle but did not carry an ID card and refused to be inspected.
Because he resisted, IDF soldiers gagged and handcuffed him and took him to the yard of a nearby building where three other suspects were being held as well.
About 30 minutes later As’ad and the other suspects were released.
Investigators said in the report presented to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi the soldiers said they saw no signs of distress or other warning signs that As’ad was having health problems. The soldiers said they believed he had fallen asleep and did not try to wake him – but a few hours later he was reported dead.
PA: Cause of Death was a Heart Attack
Partial findings from an autopsy submitted by the Palestinian Authority concluded As’ad – who had previously undergone open heart surgery and in fact was in poor health – died from a heart attack.
IDF military police opened an investigation into the incident, gathering evidence and questioning officers, soldiers and other witnesses.
David Israel contributed to this report.