Truthout / January 20, 2022
Assad Assad, the nephew of Omar Abdulmajeed Asad, describes his uncle as a very social and caring man. Omar immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s and became a small business owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He and his wife had seven children and many grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Ten years ago, Omar Asad decided to retire in the village of Jaljulia, in Ramallah, Palestine, where he was originally from.
Asad loved family gatherings and regularly went around to check up on and visit relatives, according to his nephew. He attended a big family gathering on January 11 and was driving back around 2:30 am. At this time, members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) — the military force that carries out the occupation of Palestine — were executing an overnight raid in Jaljulia. Night raids are a common practice by IDF soldiers, serving to intimidate Palestinians in their most vulnerable state by invading their safest places while they are sleeping.
As Asad was driving home through his village, he was reportedly pulled out of his car by IDF soldiers who aggressively handled him, handcuffed him with plastic zip ties, gagged his mouth, blindfolded him and forced him to lie on his stomach. Soldiers then dragged him for about 200 meters and beat him to death. His nephew said there were about 40 soldiers just watching this handcuffed elderly man, aged 80, be repeatedly hit by armed soldiers across his entire body. Asad suffered from a subsequent heart attack, and was left to die on the ground, unconscious and handcuffed.
“He was buried with bruises across his entire body,” said Asad’s nephew, Assad. “What kind of threat does an 80-year-old man pose to armed Israeli soldiers? He was barely able to walk and they viciously beat him to death.”
Omar Asad was an American citizen, a fact that has garnered his story much more media attention than it might have otherwise received. However, this fact shouldn’t matter — and in many ways, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of a Palestinian’s national protections as a typically stateless person, Israel exhibits a reckless disregard for Palestinian life. And its strongest ally, the United States, has responded apathetically to the killing of Omar Asad. On January 13, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the department got in touch with Asad’s family to express their condolences, and that it has also “been in touch with Israel to ‘seek clarification’ about ‘this incident.’” Somehow, the United States managed to “two-sides” the beating and killing of an 80-year-old man — a standard feature of any commentary they provide on Israel’s violent actions.
Despite Israel’s existing occupation of Palestine and apartheid system that subjugates Palestinians within its borders and beyond, the United States is considering adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program. This would mean that U.S. and Israeli citizens traveling between the U.S. and Israel won’t need visas to enter either country. Outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan claims that Israel will join the program by mid-2022. This move would systematically solidify Israeli apartheid into the U.S. immigration system. Palestinians and Muslims are already subject to severe scrutiny in the United States, leading to many being deported and denied entry at the border merely for their identity as Palestinians.
Omar Asad’s brutal killing illustrates how Palestinian Americans are unprotected by the United States, whose loyalty is to Israel first. Most countries on the visa waiver list maintain a reciprocity requirement, meaning both countries must allow in nearly all citizens of the other. Israel and its U.S. supporters have previously lobbied for an exception that would allow it to deny U.S. citizens entry to Israel under the auspices of “national security.” This would subject U.S. citizens to Israel’s existing apartheid policies at the border — and serve as a blank check for the Israeli government to blacklist, profile and ban entry to U.S. citizens, especially of Palestinian, Arab or Muslim descent.
Meanwhile, Palestinian American and Muslim communities in the U.S. have organized and mobilized to demand action by the U.S. government for Asad’s death. Someone who had community ties in Milwaukee, his family and the Milwaukee’s Islamic community hosted an ‘azaa, or gathering to offer condolences to the family. His daughter, Hala Hamad, told The Washington Post, “We want a thorough investigation from the U.S. government and the U.N. because [Israel] can’t investigate their own crimes.” Ned Price had previously said they were going to reference Israeli investigations into the “incident.”
It is imperative we demand accountability from the very source of funding for Israel’s war crimes — the United States itself.
American Palestine advocacy organizations like American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights regularly ignite campaigns to lobby for condemnation or action against the killing, exile, imprisonment and torture of Palestinians within the homeland, who may be stateless or have varied national privileges. In lobbying for accountability and condemnation of the killing of Omar Asad, a U.S. citizen, it is imperative we demand accountability from the very source of funding for Israel’s war crimes — the United States itself. My organization, Americans for Justice in Palestine Action (AJP Action) is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization advocating for legislation supporting the human rights of the Palestinian people. AJP Action has mobilized its constituents through an action alert, which makes it easy for constituents to directly contact their Congress members and demand the U.S. State Department pursue an independent investigation, per the family’s wishes. Around 3,000 emails were sent from constituents to their members of Congress demanding accountability for Omar Asad. Almost 200 tweets were sent, and more than 1,300 supporters engaged in the cause.
Although we have yet to see the fruits of these actions in terms of any solid government action, Rep. Marie Newman (D-Illinois), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) have issued public statements expressing remorse or condemnation of the killing of Asad. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), had also expressed condolences on Twitter.
As AJP Action Advocacy Director Ayah Ziyadeh told Truthout,
It is only January 19, and six Palestinians have been killed this year. We as American constituents demand our tax dollars not fund extrajudicial killings, land theft, home demolitions and other war crimes in Palestine. Omar Asad’s family deserves accountability and justice. We as Palestinian Americans demand an end to the funding of the apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. As an enabler of these unlawful killings and the illegal occupation of Palestine, the U.S. must end its complicity and begin holding Israel accountable for its actions.
The Palestinian American community and the Palestine solidarity movement at large stands with Omar Abdulmajeed Asad and his family, and we commit to working toward their requisite justice and successive peace.
Malak Shalabi works for the organization Americans for Justice in Palestine Action (AJP Action); she is an immigration attorney based out of Seattle, Washington