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The Netzah Yehuda unit of the Israeli army. (Photo: Naama, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

The decision to sanction the Netzah Yehuda unit follows a recommendation made months ago by a special State Department panel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is poised to announce sanctions against the Israeli army’s ‘Netzah Yehuda’ battalion for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, the American news website Axios reported, citing three US sources familiar with the matter.

This move holds significant importance as “it would be the first time the U.S. imposed sanctions on an Israeli military unit,” according to Axios. 

The sanctions are expected to prohibit the battalion and its members from receiving any form of US military assistance or training, as outlined by a 1997 law authored by then-Senator Patrick Leahy, the paper noted. 

The Leahy law prohibits US aid and Defense Department training programs from being provided to foreign security, military, and police units that are credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations.

The decision to sanction the Netzah Yehuda unit follows a recommendation made months ago by a special State Department panel tasked with investigating alleged human rights violations under the Leahy law. 

On Wednesday, the investigative website ProPublica published a report disclosing that a special committee under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had advised the minister that the United States should limit arms sales to Israeli military units accused of human rights violations.

“But Blinken has failed to act on the proposal in the face of growing international criticism of the Israeli military’s conduct in Gaza, according to current and former State Department officials,” ProPublica reported. 

According to Axios, however, Blinken acknowledged the recommendation during a press conference in Italy on Friday, stating that determinations had been made based on the panel’s investigation. 

“You can expect to see them in the days ahead,” Blinken said.

Axios further reported that “Blinken’s determination about the Netzah Yehuda unit is based on incidents that occurred” before October 7. 

The Netzah Yehuda battalion, initially formed as a special unit for ultra-Orthodox soldiers, has faced scrutiny over the years due to its involvement in incidents of violence against Palestinian civilians. 

Notably, the battalion was investigated following the death of 80-year-old Palestinian American Omar Assad in January 2022. Assad was arrested by Netzah Yehuda soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint, and he was later found dead after being handcuffed and gagged by soldiers.

“Over the years, the unit stationed in the West Bank became a destination for many ‘Hilltop Youth — young radical right wing settlers,” according to Axios.

Israeli Reactions

In response to the impending sanctions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced opposition, stating that sanctions should not be imposed on the Israeli army.

“Sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces,” he said on X, adding that this is the “height of absurdity and a moral low” and that his government will “act by all means against these moves.”

War cabinet member Gadi Eisenkot also rejected the move saying on X that “”The idea of imposing sanctions on a combat battalion in the IDF is fundamentally wrong.”

For his part, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich slammed the move as “absolute madness,” suggesting that this is part of a plan “to force Israel to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

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