USA Imposing Sanctions on IDF Military Unit for Civilian Abuse in the West Bank

The news site Axios reported on Saturday that Washington plans to impose sanctions on Israel's Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which has been operating in the occupied West Bank, and sanctions are expected in the next few days

by Sededin Dedovic
USA Imposing Sanctions on IDF Military Unit for Civilian Abuse in the West Bank
© Don Murray / Getty images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would oppose any sanctions that could be imposed on Israeli military units for alleged human rights abuses, after US media reported that Washington was planning to take such a step.

US news portal Axios reported on Saturday that Washington plans to impose sanctions on Israel's Netzah Yehuda Battalion, which operated in the occupied West Bank, although the Israeli military said it had not been informed of such measures.

Israeli police forces arrest a Palestinian protester in Jerusalem© Ilia Yefimovich / Getty Images

According to Israeli media reports, the military unit expected to be targeted by the sanctions is the Netzah Yehuda – an infantry battalion founded about a quarter of a century ago to include ultra-Orthodox Jews in the army.

According to the battalion's website, about 1,000 soldiers currently serve in the unit. Israel has long tried to get more religious ultra-Orthodox Jews to join its armed forces, despite their exemption from conscription. In 1999, the first unit of 30 Haredi soldiers was launched and was designated as "Nahal Haredi".

This nationalist project was initiated by the Netzah Yehuda Association in full cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the IDF. In recent years, there have been several incidents related to this military unit, some captured on video, in which Netzah Yehuda soldiers have been accused of abusing Palestinian prisoners, reports Al Jazeera.

On Friday, the United States announced a new round of sanctions related to Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, the latest sign of growing US frustration with the policies of Netanyahu, whose coalition government relies on settler parties.

"If someone thinks they can impose sanctions on a (Israeli army) unit, I will fight with all my might," Netanyahu said. Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday that he had spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and asked him to reconsider the issue.

National Unity Party leader and War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz© Amir Levy / Getty Images

Gantz said such sanctions would be a mistake because they would damage Israel's legitimacy during the war. "We have great respect for our American friends, but imposing sanctions on the unit is a dangerous precedent and sends the wrong message to our common enemies in a time of war," Gantz said, vowing to "take action to ensure this decision does not pass." Blinken said on Friday that he had made "decisions" regarding allegations that Israel violated a series of US laws that prohibit providing military aid to individuals or security forces that commit gross human rights abuses.

Blinken, without elaborating, said his ministry was conducting investigations under a law that prohibits sending military aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights with impunity. He then added: "I think it's fair to say that you will see results very soon.

I have made decisions; you can expect to see them in the coming days." Killing 'without good reason'
Separately, on Sunday, the head of Israel's Labor Party, Merav Mihaeli, called for the disbandment of the Netzah Yehuda army unit, saying it was killing Palestinians "for no good reason." "Sanctions are a recognition of reality and an understanding that Israel's behavior in the territories cannot continue," Mihaeli said on Platform X.

"The violent and corrupt behavior of the Necah Yehuda battalion and those around him has been known for years, and nothing has been done to stop it." Earlier this week, investigative news organization ProPublica reported that a special US State Department panel known as the Israel Lehi Vetting Forum recommended to Blinken several months ago that several Israeli military and police units be disqualified from receiving US aid, following allegations of human rights abuses.

In this handout photo provided by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) checks the face of© PPO / Getty Images

The alleged incidents took place in the occupied West Bank and mostly occurred before Israel's war on Gaza began on October 7, the paper said.

Before the Gaza war, violence was already on the rise in the West Bank, and since then it has increased with frequent Israeli military attacks, rampages by Israeli settlers in Palestinian villages, and Palestinian attacks on Israeli forces and settlers.

The Israeli military said the Netzah Yehuda Battalion is an active combat unit that operates in accordance with the principles of international law. "If a decision is made on the issue (sanctions), it will be reviewed," it said, pledging to "continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and in accordance with the law." In 2022, battalion commander Necah Yehuda was reprimanded and two officers were fired over the death of an elderly American of Palestinian descent who was detained by the unit's soldiers in the West Bank, an incident that raised concerns in Washington.