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Omar Assad

Loved ones grieve during the funeral of Omar Assad, a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man who died while being violently detained by Israeli occupation forces in Jiljilya in the West Bank on January 12, 2022. (Photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Progressives Join Push for Probe of Palestinian-American's Death in Israeli Custody

"When countries fail to support efforts to hold perpetrators of grave human rights abuses accountable, they contribute to perpetuating the systematic repression of millions of Palestinians and senseless loss of life," said a Human Rights Watch director.

Brett Wilkins

Progressive U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday joined calls for the Biden administration to conduct an independent investigation into the death of an elderly Palestinian-American man in Israeli military custody earlier this month. 

"This racist violence and impunity is only possible because of the apartheid government of Israel, supported by the U.S., continues to systematically dehumanize Palestinians."

"Israeli soldiers' cruel treatment of U.S. citizen Omar Assad was inhumane—they abused him, then left him to die in the cold without medical attention," tweeted Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.).

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress—tweeted that she is joining Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) in asking the Biden administration to investigate the 78-year-old former Milwaukee grocer's January 12 death. 

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) also joined his colleagues' call, tweeting that Assad's "loved ones deserve answers, and any act of wrongdoing demands accountability."

A leaked summary of an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) probe confirmed that Assad was pulled from his car before being blindfolded, gagged, and zip-tied while being detained at a construction site in Jiljilya in the occupied West Bank. 

In a rare admission, IDF officials on Tuesday called the deadly incident "a grave and unfortunate event resulting from a moral failure and poor decision-making on the part of the soldiers." 

According to the IDF, the soldiers who detained Assad believed he was sleeping when they cut the zip ties binding his hands and left him face-down in the abandoned building where he was being held. 

Witnesses said Assad, who suffered from heart problems, had gone blue in the face by the time the soldiers left. A Palestinian autopsy concluded Assad died of a heart attack "caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to."

Assad's relatives also want a U.S. investigation, which they say "is necessary to help us bring about justice and accountability, not just for the sake of our father, but for the sake of the countless Palestinians who are killed by the Israeli military with impunity," according to a family statement. "No family should have to endure this kind of loss."

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday said the United States "expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case." 

The AP reported Tuesday that the IDF plans to reprimand the commander of the battalion involved in Assad's death, and that "the platoon commander and company commander will both be removed from their positions and barred from commanding roles for two years."

The Israeli human rights B'Tselem noted that Israel rarely holds its soldiers accountable for killing or harming Palestinians, and that Assad's case is likely receiving special attention because he was a U.S. citizen. 

"Investigations usually take years and usually close with nothing," Dror Sadot, the group's spokesperson, told the AP. "This is very unusual."

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that "Israeli authorities have closed the doors to domestic justice, leaving Palestinians facing a wall of impunity for decades. When countries fail to support efforts to hold perpetrators of grave human rights abuses accountable, they contribute to perpetuating the systematic repression of millions of Palestinians and senseless loss of life."

García said: "Though Israel has acknowledged the officers' misconduct, the system that allowed this to happen remains firmly in place. Would there have been any action taken had this not received international attention from Congress and the media?"

Attempts to hold Israel accountable for the 2003 death of Rachel Corrie—an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement who was crushed to death by an IDF armored bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in then-occupied Gaza—were unsuccessful

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