Elderly Palestinian American man found dead after being detained in an Israeli raid

The U.S. State Department has expressed its support for an investigation into Wednesday’s death of an elderly Palestinian American man who his family and local officials said was detained by Israeli soldiers during a raid on an occupied West Bank village.

Omar Abdulmajeed Asaad, 80, was a U.S. citizen whose body was found in Jiljilya early Wednesday morning. confirmed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was found with a plastic zipper still around one wrist, according to Reuters.

“We can confirm the death of US citizen Omar Assad in a town near Ramallah. We have been in contact with Mr Assad’s family to express our condolences on this tragedy. We are providing, as you would expect, all appropriate consular assistance to the family at this time, ”said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“We have also been in contact with the Israeli government to seek clarification on this incident. And as you may have seen, the Israeli defense forces have indicated that there is an ongoing investigation into the matter,” Price continued. “We support a thorough investigation. of the circumstances surrounding this incident. Out of respect for the family at this time, of course, we do not have much more we can offer. ”

The Israeli Defense Forces told Reuters that soldiers raided Jiljilya overnight, and that a Palestinian was “apprehended after opposing a check.” The IDF claimed that the man was alive when soldiers released him, despite other prisoners claiming they were witnesses to something else. Israeli Army spokesman Amnon Shefler said the incident would be investigated “in a thorough and professional manner.”

Fouad Qattoum, the head of Jiljilya’s village council, told news media that Asaad was driving home after visiting relatives when Israeli soldiers stopped his car, handcuffed him, blindfolded him and led him to a building under construction, which documented by security cameras. Another resident of the village said he saw Israeli soldiers walking Asaad away at 3 a.m. Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Asaad had heart problems – for which he has been operated on in the past – and “could not withstand the conditions he was found in … sitting in the cold on a raw floor with his hands tied, no wonder he died,” Qattoum told The New Arab. “It’s an ugly crime.”

The 80-year-old’s body was found over an hour later by a local farmer, 52-year-old Murawaeh Arouri, who told The New Arab that he was detained by Israeli forces at the same place. Arouri told the publication that he was driving back to his village with his colleague when the IDF forced them out of the car and took them to an “abandoned house” where he saw soldiers standing around a corpse. He said the soldiers looked at the body and then “got up and left without saying anything.”

“Asaad was covered in his own jacket. I saw his foot first and told it to my colleague who thought I was hallucinating out of fear,” Arouri said. “We pulled the jacket away and I recognized him immediately. He had his hands behind his back, and the plastic wire that Israeli soldiers use to handcuff prisoners was cut next to him. We tried to shake him, but he did not respond, so we called the local doctor. ”

Dr. Islam Abu Zaher, who said he tried to revive Asaad but found no pulse, told Reuters that the cause of death was not immediately clear without an autopsy, but that it is possible that the elderly man “suffered a heart attack or a form for panic, “given his history of heart surgery. Chief of the Palestinian Medical Center, Ahmad Bitawi told Al Jazeera that doctors are currently doing scans of Asaad’s body and that his case has been transferred to forensic and public prosecutors.

“Abu Hani was martyred, affected by the deployment of the occupation soldiers at dawn today,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a Facebook statement Wednesday, referring to Asaad by the name he has called in his village.

Qattoum told local media that the village demands “an international commission of inquiry and accountability for the criminals,” according to Al Jazeera.

Asaad’s brother told Reuters that the 80-year-old was a former Milwaukee resident and U.S. citizen who lived in the United States for decades before returning to the occupied West Bank 10 years ago.

On Wednesday, a State Department reporter asked Price whether Asaad’s death is “the kind of thing you want to look at” given Israel’s escalating push to get into US Visa Exemption Program.

“There are strict criteria associated with admission to the visa waiver program,” Price replied. “It is a decision made by the Minister of Homeland Security in consultation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. So I want to point out the criteria associated with that. “

Israeli forces confront a Palestinian family whose home they say is "without a license" in Hebron, West Bank, January 12, 2021.
Israeli forces confront a Palestinian family whose home they say is “unlicensed” in Hebron, West Bank, on January 12, 2021.

Mamoun Wazwaz / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Overnight military attacks by Israeli soldiers are almost a daily practice in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians are exposed to live fire, arrests, assaults and killings. Last year, the Israeli army conducted more than 3,400 search-and-arrest operations, according to the UN. Israeli forces wounded nearly 350 Palestinians – including 109 children – during protests following these operations.

“There are Israeli reports that they are heading towards expelling more Palestinians or expelling Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and from Silwan, despite your repeated calls to the Israelis not to do so,” a reporter asked Price on Tuesday. “What can you do to persuade them not to go ahead with this action?”

Price responded that the United States has been “very aware that it is crucial for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions.” The reporter then stressed that the expulsion is not being carried out by Palestinians, but rather by Israelis.

“In this case, we have been clear that steps that exacerbate tensions and undermine efforts to promote a negotiated two-state solution include – would include evicting families from homes in East Jerusalem where these families have lived for generations, in some cases said Price. “We’ve been very clear about that.”

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