After Pressure From U.S., Israel Reprimands Officers in Palestinian-American's Death

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said it would remove two officers and formally reprimand a third after the death of 78-year-old Palestinian American Omar Assad while detained at a checkpoint last month.

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem told The Associated Press investigations like these typically take years to unfold and don't hold the soldiers accountable, adding that it is likely American pressure played a role in the quick action.

In a statement, the IDF said it began to investigate the death after a Palestinian Justice Ministry autopsy found Assad had died from a heart attack brought on by the stress of being bound, gagged and detained, the Washington Post reported.

"The investigation 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," the statement said.

According to the AP, the autopsy also found Assad had bruises on his head, redness on his wrists where he was bound with zip-ties, and bleeding from his eyelids where he was tightly blindfolded.

Assad, who lived in the United States for about 40 years, had been detained on January 12 at a checkpoint in his home village of Jiljilya after he allegedly did not have any form of identification and "refused to cooperate with the security check," the IDF said.

The Post said soldiers dragged Assad from his car, at which point they bound and gagged him. According to the IDF's statement, Assad and the other detainees were "released and freed from all constraints" 30 minutes later. As the soldiers cut the ties, they left him lying face-down, with the statement adding the soldiers thought he was asleep.

"The soldiers failed in their obligations by leaving Assad lying on the floor without the required treatment and without reporting the incident back to their commanders," the statement said.

He was hospitalized and pronounced dead shortly after. The Post report said the Netzah Yehuda Battalion's commander has been reprimanded and the platoon commander and company commander will be fired from those positions and not allowed to work as commanders for two years.

Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem, told the AP even in cases of "shocking" killings or incidents captured on video, soldiers get comparatively lighter punishments, but Assad's American citizenship likely helped move his case along.

"[Assad's case] is very unusual," she said.

Newsweek previously reported U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Gwen Moore, both of Wisconsin, sent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken a letter calling for an investigation into the death. A spokesman for the State Department told a local newspaper officials were "seeking clarification" from Israel's government.

Sadot told the AP the human rights group is tracking another 30 investigations into similar deaths of Palestinians near where Assad died.

Omar Assad, Palestine
The Israeli military reprimanded three commanders the U.S. pressure to investigate the death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar Assad at one of the military's security checkpoints. Above, Palestinian relatives mourn during Assad's funeral in Jiljilya village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on January 13. Photo by Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images