US expected to sanction ultra-Orthodox Israeli army unit over rights violations in West Bank

US expected to sanction ultra-Orthodox Israeli army unit over rights violations in West Bank
The potential US sanctions against the Netzah Yahudit Battalion would be the first of their kind against an Israeli army unit.
3 min read
21 April, 2024
The Netzah Yehuda Battalion have been accused of carrying out human rights violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank [Getty/file photo]

The US is expected to impose sanctions on an Israeli army unit made up of ultra-Orthodox Jews and extremist settlers for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, US website Axios said on Saturday, citing three US sources.

The sanctions would bar the Netzah Yehuda Battalion from receiving any form of US military training and assistance, the sources said.

When imposed, this will mark be the first time Washington - Israel's long-standing ally and regular financial and military supporter -  has ever sanctioned on an Israeli army unit.

The violations on which the Netzah Yehuda Battalion would be sanctioned for, however, took place before Israel’s indiscriminate war on Gaza, which began last October and has killed over 34,000 people.

The US State Department reportedly began investigating the battalion in late 2022, after many soldiers were found to be involved in violent incidents against Palestinians. 146 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank that year - the highest number in decades - but hundreds more were also killed in 2023.

One of the deaths the Netzah Yehuda Battalion was responsible for was that of 80-year-old Palestinian American Omar Assad in 2022.

Assad died of a cardiac arrest in January of that year after he was detained and left handcuffed and gagged in the freezing cold by soldiers form the battalion.

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Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank since 1967, and has subject Palestinians there to multiple human rights violations, including killing, assault, property theft, house demolition, and vandalism.

Such abuses have intensified in the occupied territory since Israel's war on Gaza began in October &, with at least 468 West Bank Palestinians killed since, while over 8,000 have been detained.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was urged months ago to bar multiple Israeli police and military units operating in the West Bank from receiving US aid, following an investigation carried out by a special State Department panel regarding human rights violations in the West Bank, reported ProPublica on Thursday.

"You can expect to see them in the days ahead," Blinken said regarding such sanctions during a press conference on Friday.

According to a 1997 law, US foreign aid and Defence Department training programmes cannot be given to military and police units credibly found to have committed human rights violations.

Additionally, earlier this year, the US began issuing sanctions against Israeli settlers accused of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out against the potential sanctions, calling them "an absurd and moral low", in a statement on X.

Netanyahu added that his government will "act by all means against these moves."

In January 2023, the Israeli army transferred the Netzah Yehuda Battalion to the Golan Heights, following a number of human rights violations committed during the previous year.

The battalion is solely comprised of men, and has largely attracted members of Hilltop Youth, a radical and extremist Israeli settler youth group.