Apr 20, 2024 - World

Scoop: U.S. expected to sanction IDF unit for human rights violations in West Bank

Israeli soldiers of the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox battalion "Netzah Yehuda" take part in their annual unit training in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights, near the Syrian border on May 19, 2014.

Israeli soldiers of the battalion "Netzah Yehuda" take part in an annual training on May 19, 2014. Photo: Menahem KahanaAFP via Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to within days announce sanctions against the Israel Defense Forces "Netzah Yehuda" battalion for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, three U.S. sources with knowledge of the issue told Axios.

Why it matters: It would be the first time the U.S. imposed sanctions on an Israeli military unit.

  • The sanctions will ban the battalion and its members from receiving any kind of U.S. military assistance or training, the sources said.
  • A 1997 law authored by then-Senator Patrick Leahy prohibits U.S. foreign aid and Defense Department training programs from going to foreign security, military and police units credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations.

Driving the news: On Thursday, ProPublica reported that a special State Department panel that investigated alleged violations of human rights based on the Leahy law recommended months ago that Blinken disqualify multiple Israeli military and police units that operate in the West Bank from receiving U.S. aid.

  • At a press conference in Italy on Friday, Blinken was asked about the recommendation and said he had made determinations based on the panel investigation.
  • "You can expect to see them in the days ahead," Blinken said.

A U.S. official said Blinken's determination about the Netzah Yehuda unit is based on incidents that occurred before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and all took place in the West Bank.

  • One source said the several other IDF and police units that were investigated won't be sanctioned after they remedied their behavior.
  • The State Department declined to comment.
  • A White House official said: "We are not and have not been considering sanctioning units in the IDF. Without confirming what may be under consideration, under the Leahy Act, certain units would be ineligible for American security assistance until the violations are remedied."

Flashback: The Netzah Yehuda battalion was formed as a special unit for ultra-orthodox soldiers. All of its members are men.

  • Over the years, the unit stationed in the West Bank became a destination for many "Hilltop Youth" — young radical right wing settlers who weren't accepted into any other combat unit in the IDF.
  • The U.S. State Department started investigating the Netzah Yehuda battalion in late 2022 after its soldiers were involved in several incidents of violence against Palestinian civilians, Haaretz reported at the time.

Zoom in: One incident was the death of 80-year-old Palestinian American Omar Assad in January 2022.

  • Assad was arrested by Netzah Yehuda soldiers at a checkpoint in his village in the West Bank late at night. After he refused to be checked, soldiers handcuffed and gagged him and left him on the ground in the cold. He was found dead a few hours later.
  • In January 2023, the battalion was moved from the West Bank to the Golan Heights. Haaretz reported at the time that the decision was a result of the many incidents in which its soldiers used violence against Palestinian civilians.

What they're saying: "Sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

  • He said the intention to impose the measures as the IDF fights Hamas is the "height of absurdity and a moral low" and that his government will "act by all means against these moves."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House.

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