J Street is calling on the US government to open an investigation into the death of Omar Assad, a 78-year-old Palestinian-American who died after being stopped at an Israeli military checkpoint last month. Mr. Assad ran a grocery store in Milwaukee, became an American citizen, and lived in the US for 40 years before moving back to his hometown of Jiljilya in the occupied West Bank.
On January 12, Israeli soldiers dragged Mr. Assad from his car in the early hours of the morning, leaving the elderly man bound, blindfolded and gagged at a cold construction site. Witnesses said Mr. Assad was left blindfolded on his stomach, had stopped breathing, and his face had turned blue. An autopsy found he died of a stress-induced heart attack. For Palestinian civilians, arbitrary arrests, excessive force and deaths at the hands of Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank are distressingly frequent. Accountability and consequences for those responsible are very rare.
After US officials expressed concern over the death of this US citizen, an internal Israeli investigation resulted in professional suspensions for the officers involved, with a report finding the incident to be “grave and unfortunate” and a result of “moral failure and poor decision-making.” We thank the State Department for subsequently calling on Israel to conduct a thorough criminal investigation and administer full accountability in this case.
Given the appalling nature of what happened to this US citizen and because no systemic changes have been recommended, J Street is calling on the US government to open its own investigation.
Specifically, we urge the US to determine whether the nature and method of Mr. Assad’s detention are common practice in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and whether US-supplied military equipment is used in such instances contrary to US law, Palestinian rights and Israel’s own true security interests.
We are proud to echo the request from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-4), who have called on the State Department to “launch an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Assad’s death, including the manner of Mr. Assad’s detention and whether any equipment procured by United States funds was used by Israeli forces. We also ask the US Department of State [to] determine whether any US laws protecting Mr. Assad, an American citizen, were violated.” This kind of Congressional leadership plays a vital role in conducting oversight into the ongoing injustices in the occupied Palestinian territory and achieving real accountability — especially when US citizens are affected and US laws may be implicated.