By Ray Hanania
Two news items were reported at the same time last week about compensation being offered to the families of Americans who were killed after being restrained by police — one in Rochester, New York, and the other in Jiljilya, a small village outside of Ramallah in the West Bank. The two incidents had many similarities, but their outcomes were dramatically different.
The New York victim, Daniel Prude, 41, was on drugs in March 2020 when he was restrained by police officers, who had been called to the scene by his brother. Prude died a week later. The medical examiner concluded that he had died of asphyxiation.
The Ramallah victim, Omar Assad, 78, was at an Israeli checkpoint in January this year when he was dragged out of his car by soldiers, handcuffed, blindfolded and forcibly shoved to the ground at a construction site, where he was held for hours late into the cold evening. The Israelis left Assad on the ground and he was found dead early in the morning. Israel said he had suffered a heart attack.
In both instances, the authorities asserted that the victims had “resisted.”
In the case of Prude, the media was very critical of the police and American politicians screamed about police brutality. Prude’s family filed a lawsuit against the Rochester Police Department and demanded answers and accountability. The case garnered headlines throughout the US as an example of the killing of Black people by police.
Given the powerful expressions of indignation and even a little bit of exaggerated blame — the police went there to help Prude, who was on drugs and acted very belligerently — Rochester decided to settle the lawsuit and pay the Prude family $12 million. How could they not, as his death was characterized as being another example of how police were murdering Black men?
Israel, meanwhile, is unresponsive to complaints filed by Palestinian families. The country has a dual system of justice that treats non-Jews differently from Jews, including 67 laws that reenforce such discrimination. Haaretz reported in February that a study showed that only 3.8 percent of criminal cases in which Palestinians were the victims resulted in charges being brought.
In the Assad case, the Biden administration made a public statement similar to the weak and ineffective one that Secretary of State Antony Blinken made in response to the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper only a few months after Assad was killed.
In the face of wishy-washy protests from President Joe Biden and Blinken — and the obfuscation by the mainstream news media — Israel’s government was under no real pressure to do anything, but it was announced last week that it would pay Assad’s relatives a measly 500,000 shekels ($139,000).
You would think that, given the circumstances of the two deaths, Prude’s family should have gotten $139,000 and Assad’s family $12 million. Prude was on drugs and fighting police, while Assad was only verbally protesting against his unjustified detention, but he was still roughed up by the Israeli soldiers and left for dead. Do the circumstances of a killing not have any weight in matters like this? Are the determining factors more about public perception and political clout, where one victim gets many powerful voices demanding justice while the other does not?
Tragically, politics determines the value of an American life. The voices of public and government anger carry more weight in determining justice than the facts of the case.
Maybe if Biden or Blinken expressed greater outrage when fellow Americans like Assad and Abu Akleh are killed at the hands of a foreign government the accountability would be greater.
The amount of money paid has more than just an economic impact for the surviving family members — it is symbolic. Awarding $12 million to Prude’s family screams remorse, accountability and a desire to avoid a repeat of the tragedy. It says that the Rochester authorities do not want this to happen again.
Israel’s awarding of a paltry sum to Assad’s family screams arrogance, contempt and a lack of respect for the rule of law. Worse, it says that the government of Israel really does not care when an American is killed by its soldiers. That should offend Americans as much as seeing one of their own murdered by Israeli troops.