Omar Assad’s family says Israeli settlement claim is a lie

Man and woman sit on chairs on a paved area surrounded by trees in the evening

A family photograph shows Omar Assad, left, and his wife Nazmieh sharing a meal on the patio of their home in the occupied West Bank village of Jiljilya in 2019.

The family of a Palestinian American grandfather who was found dead after being abducted, bound, gagged and violently abused by Israeli soldiers in January are denying Israel’s claim that they reached a compensation deal.

In recent days, Israeli media reported assertions from Israel’s defense ministry that the state would pay the family of 78-year-old Omar Assad around $140,000 in compensation for his death.

In return, “the relevant parties agreed to dismiss the claim [regarding the death that was] submitted to the court against the state,” a defense ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel last week.

But this is false, according to Stanley Cohen, the family’s lawyer.

“Once again, the Israeli government has issued a categorical lie about events on the ground in Palestine,” Cohen told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday.

“As US counsel for the family of Omar Assad I can state they have rejected the offer announced by the Israeli military and media as a ‘settlement’ for the murder of a 78-year-old Palestinian American whose life was taken while doing nothing but going home at night in the West Bank,” Cohen added.

Cohen confirmed that the family has filed a complaint with the Israeli attorney general in order to ensure that the statute of limitations for any future legal action in Israel would not run out.

He added that the family is keeping all options open, including seeking a criminal prosecution in Israel and filing a civil lawsuit in the US.

They have also commissioned an independent forensic investigation into Assad’s death, Cohen said.

In April, Assad’s family asked the US Department of Justice to open its own investigation into the “murder of a US citizen,” Cohen said.

But so far the US government has not responded. The Electronic Intifada’s inquiries about the case to the Justice Department have gone unanswered.

Bound, gagged and left dead

Assad spent four decades raising his family and running small grocery businesses in Milwaukee and the Chicago area in the US.

About a decade ago he and his wife Nazmieh returned to his native village of Jiljilya, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to build a house and enjoy their retirement close to family.

In the early morning hours of 12 January, when Assad was returning home from a typical evening playing cards, talking and eating at a relative’s home, he was stopped by Israeli soldiers.

Assad – who underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and lived with other health problems – was dragged from his car, bound, gagged and then marched to a construction site where other Palestinians were being detained.

According to eyewitnesses, the father of seven and grandfather of 17 was left lying on the ground. At one point, one of the Israeli soldiers went over to check on him, after which the soldiers left almost immediately.

Other Palestinians then went to Assad’s aid and found he wasn’t breathing. Efforts to revive him failed.

“When the IDF [Israeli army] soldiers realized Omar Assad had died in their custody,” Cohen wrote to the Justice Department in April, they “hastily snuck away in the night.”

As The Washington Post reported, an autopsy found Assad died after “a stress-induced heart attack probably brought on by being bound and gagged and held in a cold construction site.”

The examination also “found evidence that Assad had been tightly bound and blindfolded, with abrasions on his wrists and bleeding on the insides of his eyelids.”

Lies and impunity

Israel initially lied about the encounter, falsely claiming that Assad had been briefly detained and then released.

The army then held a week-long internal investigation which resulted in disciplinary action, but no criminal charges, against three officers.

Israeli prosecutions of soldiers who injure or kill Palestinians are vanishingly rare. In effect, Palestinians are killed on a near-daily basis by Israeli forces with complete impunity.

When the victim is an American citizen, however, the case can attract more attention.

In February, the US State Department said it wanted to see a “criminal investigation” into Assad’s death.

But as with the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian American correspondent for Al Jazeera shot dead by an Israeli soldier in May, the US government has not matched its lip service with any actions that bring about real accountability.

Israel’s false claim that it reached a settlement with Assad’s family appears to be an effort to make an embarrassing matter go away.

The Biden administration has similarly treated the deaths of American citizens at Israel’s hands as little more than a public relations problem.

Like Abu Akleh’s relatives, Omar Assad’s family is refusing to let the killing of their loved one be swept under the rug – either by Tel Aviv or Washington.

“We will continue to fight in the effort to obtain justice for a US citizen murdered for the crime of being Palestinian,” Cohen, the family’s US lawyer, said.