JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army on Thursday moved toward indicting two commanders over the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man who was dragged from a car, bound and blindfolded after being stopped at a checkpoint.
The Israeli military nonetheless played down the role of the two commanders in the death of Omar Assad, saying it was “not possible to establish a correlation” between their conduct and his abrupt death, without elaborating.
Israel has come under criticism from human rights groups that say it rarely holds soldiers accountable for the deaths of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The case of Assad, who lived for four decades in the United States before returning to his Palestinian hometown of Jiljilya in 2009, has drawn intense international scrutiny. His family still living in the U.S. has demanded an American investigation, as have several members of Congress.
After launching a criminal investigation to clarify the circumstances of his death, the military's legal authority on Thursday informed the lawyers of the two officers that it's preparing to indict them over their misconduct, the military said. The accused officers, one who commanded the force at the checkpoint where Assad was detained and another in charge of guarding detainees, have a right to a hearing first.
Questions remain about what happened to Assad after he was detained by Israeli forces at a checkpoint in the West Bank in January. The Israeli army said troops thought he was asleep when they unbound his hands and left him face-down in an abandoned building where he had been detained with three other Palestinians.
He was pronounced dead at a hospital after other Palestinians who had been detained found him unconscious. A Palestinian autopsy showed that he died from a heart attack brought on by injuries sustained while he was detained.
The Israeli military reprimanded a senior officer and removed two others from leadership roles after concluding that Assad’s death resulted “from a moral failure and poor decision-making on the part of the soldiers" — a rare acknowledgement of error.
Palestinians say they suffer systematic mistreatment living under military occupation. The Israeli rights group B’Tselem says it is tracking more than two dozen open investigations into the killings of Palestinians in the West Bank. Even in the most shocking cases — and those captured on video — Israeli soldiers often get relatively light sentences.