After the death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar Assad, who was detained by Israeli soldiers at an impromptu West Bank checkpoint, the Israeli military said on Thursday that it is considering filing charges against two soldiers.
The Israeli military has stated that military lawyers have informed the attorneys of the two soldiers that they are considering filing charges against their clients for their actions on the night that Mr. Assad was killed. Since investigators have not been able to link the two men’s actions to Mr. Assad’s death, the men’s lawyers have stated that they do not believe their clients will face manslaughter charges. The decision on whether or not to press charges against the soldiers is pending a hearing.
According to the Israeli investigation, Mr. Assad died in the middle of January after being bound, temporarily gagged, blindfolded, and left on the cold ground for 30 minutes because he was unable to show them identification when they stopped him while he was driving home late one night after visiting friends. According to the autopsy results, he died of a heart attack.
An official Israeli military investigation released earlier this year found that soldiers who detained Mr. Assad and did not offer medical aid when they saw that he was unresponsive on the ground were guilty of “a clear lapse of moral judgment.” Soldiers told investigators they freed Mr. Assad from his bonds without first making sure he was still alive because they assumed he was asleep.
The commander of the Netzah Yehuda battalion that detained Mr. Assad was reprimanded, and two junior soldiers were removed from their command positions at the time.
The United States has voiced its concern about the case and urged the Israeli military to bring those responsible for Mr. Assad’s death to justice on multiple occasions.
On Thursday, the Israeli military announced that they had discovered “unspecified anomalies and irregularities” in the actions of the commander of the soldiers guarding Mr. Assad and the commander of the checkup force. However, it claimed it was unable to prove that their actions directly caused Mr. Assad’s death.
The men’s attorneys claim that one of the commanders may have overstepped his authority, and the other may face charges of negligence. The attorneys have stated that neither client is likely to face manslaughter charges.
The lawyers for the two soldiers said in a statement, “We applaud the prosecution’s decision not to try the two and hold them responsible for the tragic death of the elderly Palestinian.” We will be arguing that no charges are warranted at the hearing.
Hadi Assad, Omar Assad’s son, expressed doubt in the Israeli military’s ability to conduct a fair investigation into the events of that night and to hold anyone accountable for his father’s death.
The Assad family was offered about $140,000 by the Israeli government earlier this year to drop their court case in Israel, but they declined.
When asked for comment, the U.S. Department of State did not immediately respond.
This possible indictment is just the most recent in a long line of criminal proceedings against members of the Netzah Yehuda battalion, an ultra-Orthodox unit formed in 1999 to enlist more Orthodox Jewish Israelis.
According to the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which has only 500 soldiers, has the highest conviction rate of any Israeli military unit since 2010 for offenses against Palestinians. Soldiers from this unit have been convicted of beating Palestinian drivers in the West Bank on camera and have been indicted for allegedly abusing handcuffed Palestinians and detainees who were subjected to electrocution as a torture method.
According to an analysis conducted by Yesh Din based on records obtained through Freedom of Information requests, 17 of the 83 soldiers convicted since 2010 by Israeli military courts of offenses against Palestinians served in Netzah Yehuda.
A growing number of Israeli politicians are demanding that the battalion be disbanded or relocated from the West Bank as a result of the recent string of incidents. Israeli military leaders have defended the battalion as an essential force in the fight to reduce violence in the West Bank.