US expected to sanction IDF unit over alleged human rights abuses

Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with fury to reports that the Netzah Yehuda unit would be subject to US sanctions

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 22 April 2024 00:53 BST
Only thing standing between Gaza and ceasefire is Hamas, Antony Blinken says

A unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is expected to be sanctioned by the Biden administration this week after a ProPublica investigation claimed that the State Department sat for months on evidence of serious human rights abuses.

Reports of the expected move have enraged the Israeli government headed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and comes as US-Israel relations continue to degrade under the stress of Israel’s military onslaught in the Gaza Strip.

The investigation published by the non-profit investigative outlet ProPublica on Wednesday revealed that an internal State Department investigation had, months ago, identified several Israeli police and military units facing credible accusations of violating human rights – some even faced allegations of torture. It’s an investigation required by law, with the panel having been set up as part of the so-called “Leahy law”, which prohibits US funding from going to military or security units found to have committed atrocities.

According to ProPublica, the State Department board leading this investigation made recommendations to halt US assistance to these units months ago; secretary of state Antony Blinken has not acted upon or published the findings, until now.

Now, Axios reports that the agency will take action this week and issue a ban on US military assistance to the Netzah Yehuda battalion, a controversial unit of the IDF which was set up to include ultra-Orthodox Israelis and is described by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as a “West Bank militia” serving as part of the IDF. The unit draws recruits from the right-wing Israeli settler movement, which often is engaged in violent clashes with Palestinians. The settlement movement has also increasingly come under scrutiny by the Biden administration in recent weeks.

At a press conference on Friday, Mr Blinken was asked about the ProPublica investigation and told reporters that he would issue his response to the internal State Department probe “in the days ahead”.

Axios also reported on Saturday that the Netzah Yehuda battalion was not the only unit identified in the State investigation but others targeted in the probe had supposedly “remedied” their behaviour, evading sanctions.

The Independent has reached out to the State Department for comment.

Founded in 1999, the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion was created to allow the service of Israel’s Haredi Jewish minority. The battalion’s existence is a point of conflict within that community, which largely opposes Israel’s mandatory military service requirements.

According to Axios, the battalion’s human rights record has been on the US government’s radar since at least 2022 after its members left an 80-year-old Palestinian-American man gagged and bound in the cold for hours, leading to his death.

Mr Netanyahu responded to news of the impending sanctions of the IDF Netzah Yehuda unit on Twitter, writing: “It is forbidden to impose sanctions on the Israel Defense Forces!”

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low,” said the prime minister. “The government headed by me will act by all means against these moves.”

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