FRONT PAGE: Palestinian American Who Died After Israeli Detention Was Unresponsive When Released, Witnesses Say – The Washington Post

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JILJILYA, West Bank — The elderly Palestinian American man who was found dead early Wednesday after being detained by Israeli soldiers in a late-night encounter was unresponsive when they left him blindfolded on the ground, according to two villagers who say they witnessed the episode.

An Israeli soldier had appeared to check on Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, 80, who was lying motionless on the paving stones of an unfinished house here, and then, almost immediately, all the troops left, recounted one of the villagers, Mraweh Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman, also detained, stated that he quickly went to As’ad and pulled off a coat over his head, as well as a scarf around his eyes. He checked for a pulse and said so. He did not feel anything.

Rada Tawfik Bakri, who watched part of the incident from the window of his home, said he went to the scene soon after the Israelis left and also found that As’ad was unresponsive.

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The efforts of a local physician to resuscitate As’ad in the courtyard of the under-construction house were unsuccessful. His body was then taken to a nearby hospital and then to Ramallah, a West Bank city.

The Israeli military has said that As’ad was detained by soldiers for only a short time and was alive when he was released. According to an official from the Israel Defense Forces who spoke anonymously, “The initial investigation by the commanders on the field indicated that As’ad was detained by soldiers for only a short time and was still alive when the IDF soldiers left him the field.” According to him, failing to aid a detainee who is in serious medical distress is a violation to military protocol and could be a prosecutionable offense.

The U.S. State Department has called on Israel to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the death of As’ad, a former Milwaukee grocery store owner who raised five children in the United States before moving back to the occupied West Bank a decade ago.

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The Israeli military has said little publicly about the circumstances of his death except that soldiers were in the area of his village, Jiljilya, to investigate terrorist activity and that As’ad was detained after he “resisted a check.” At the time, As’ad had been driving home from a cousin’s house. Abdullah As’ad, another cousin, said that As’ad died from a heart attack. As’ad had a history with respiratory and cardiac disease.

Tuesday evening had begun, as it often did, with Omar As’ad joining others to play cards at his cousin’s home less than a mile away from his own house.

In recent years, As’ad had rarely traveled far from Jiljilya, which he and his wife had made home after more than 40 years in the United States. The couple had built a large house using money they earned in the Chicago and Milwaukee grocery markets. Family members confirmed that their children, and more than 15 grandchildren remained in the United States. Abdullah As’ad described the charming village of hillside homes as “he was comfortable here”. “He had no problem with the Israelis or anyone else.”

The gathering continued past midnight, and at about 3 a.m., Omar As’ad left to drive himself home, as he had done many times, Abdullah As’ad said.

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Bakri, who lives along the route, said he had been up late, sitting around the heater in his living room with his wife and son, when he got a Facebook message from a neighborhood group warning that Israeli soldiers were in the area. They were stopping cars along an unpaved road just outside Jiljilya’s village center for the second night in row.

About 3 a.m., Bakri said he heard shouting outside his door. Bakri pulled down the shades to see a group of soldiers gathered around a car’s window. He couldn’t understand what they were shouting. He said, “I didn’t want to open my window.” “You don’t want the soldiers to see you.”

After a few minutes, he saw the soldiers open the car door and pull the driver out by his coat. Bakri could not see the face of the driver but eventually he recognized it as As’ad. He was taken to the rear of the car by the soldiers, where at least six others gathered around him. Later, his relatives noticed that As’ad didn’t have his U.S. passport and that he did not have a local ID card. This is something soldiers always ask for at the beginning of every encounter.

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Then, Bakri said, he watched the soldiers walk As’ad up a nearby lane and out of sight. Bakri recalls that the soldiers pulled over the next car and directed it down the same lane about half an hour later.

At about 4: 15 a.m., Abdulrahman and a friend were approaching the same intersection, carrying vegetables to a wholesale market in the West Bank city of Nablus. When Israeli soldiers pointed flashlights into the eyes of their friend, Abdulrahman, who was driving, he stopped.

A soldier opened Abdulrahman’s door and shoved him to the side, he said. A second soldier joined Abdulrahman and ordered him to go up the lane. After only a few meters, they ordered the friend to pull over behind two cars and then get out.

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The soldiers yelled, “What do you have in your truck?” and “Be quiet or I’ll shoot.” The Israelis took their ID cards and cellphones, Abdulrahman said. One soldier shoved Abdulrahman toward the under-construction house’s paved courtyard. Abdulrahman was previously detained five times by Israelis, but this time he claimed that it was more aggressive. Abdulrahman replied, “I speak a little Hebrew, and I told him that I was sick. Slowly, slowly.”

The soldiers ordered them to sit on the paving stones, where they could see two other Palestinians also being detained. Abdulrahman stated that another figure was visible 10 feet away. It was only after 20 minute or so as the sky began lightening. It lay motionless on the ground.

Shortly after, a soldier squatted close to the figure. Abdulrahman initially thought that the Israeli was tieing his boot. But he appeared to be checking on Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman stated that the soldier stood up and began to speak quietly with other soldiers. Abdulrahman watched as a soldier returned to him and partially removed the plastic handcuffs which were keeping his wrists bound.

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“Then they just left,” he said of the soldiers. “They didn’t say anything to us.”

When he pulled aside the coat draped over the man’s head, Abdulrahman was shocked to find it was As’ad, someone he knew from the village. He said, “I screamed at them, but he didn’t move.”

And after he felt for a pulse and didn’t find one, he said, he yelled to his friends, “Get a doctor!”

The senior Israeli military official declined to comment on the witness accounts, saying that the IDF is waiting for findings from its investigation. According to him, Palestinian officials had refused to turn As’ad’s corpse over to Israeli medical examiners.

As’ad’s family said Palestinian examiners performed an autopsy before they released his body to them for a funeral Thursday but have not shared the results.

“Why would they bother him?” asked Nazima Abdullah, 75, As’ad’s widow, speaking in the living room of their house on Friday. “He was an old man.”

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