Israeli soldiers will not face criminal charges over death of Palestinian-American
PHOTO CAPTION: Illustrative photo via Reuters
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Military Advocate General said on Tuesday that soldiers who left a Palestinian-American man outside overnight after detaining him and who was later found dead will not be criminally prosecuted but will face disciplinary measures.
Israeli forces detained 78-year-old Omar As'ad at a makeshift checkpoint in his West Bank hometown of Jiljilya last January. The soldiers left him supine and unresponsive at a construction site, saying they assumed he had fallen asleep. He was later found dead in the early morning with a plastic zip-tie still around one wrist.
The military said As'ad had "loudly and persistently" resisted attempts by Israeli soldiers to lead him from his car to the security checkpoint. Due to his refusal to cooperate, the soldiers temporarily gagged him with a strip of cloth and cuffed his hands with a zip tie, it said.
Following an initial probe, the military dismissed two officers and reprimanded a battalion commander over As'ad's death, which it said resulted from "a moral failure and poor decision-making".
On Tuesday, the army's chief legal body said in a statement its decision was made "following the hearings and after a thorough examination of the investigation materials, which indicated no causal link was found between the errors in the conduct of the soldiers and (As'ad's) death".
A Palestinian autopsy found that As'ad, a former Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resident who had a history of heart problems, had suffered cardiac arrest caused by stress. Palestinian officials attributed this to him having been manhandled by the Israeli soldiers.
The Military Advocate General said a military medical official found it impossible to determine that As'ad's death was caused specifically by the soldiers' conduct, and that the soldiers could not have been aware of his medical condition.
It said the military laments As'ad's death "and works to prevent the recurrence of such incidents".
Washington at the time said it was "deeply concerned" and expected "a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability".
Palestinian leaders have called for the soldiers involved to be prosecuted in an international court.
A report by Israeli rights group Yesh Din based on military data from 2017 to 2021 found that Israeli soldiers were prosecuted in less than 1% of hundreds of complaints filed against them on alleged offences against Palestinians.
In rare cases where soldiers were convicted of harming Palestinians, the military courts handed extremely lenient sentences, demonstrating "a reluctance on the part of the military law enforcement system to take appropriate action concerning crimes committed by soldiers against Palestinians," the group said.
(Reporting by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)