Washington to sanction Israeli army unit for human rights violations in West Bank: Axios

Ahram Online , AFP , Sunday 21 Apr 2024

The US is expected to announce, within days, sanctions against the Israeli army's Netzah Yehuda battalion for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, three US sources with knowledge of the issue told Axios.

Israeli soldiers of the Ultra-Orthodox battalion Netzah Yehuda. AFP


It would be the first time the US imposed sanctions on an Israeli military unit, according to Axios.

On Thursday, ProPublica reported that a special State Department panel that investigated violations of human rights based on the Leahy law recommended, months ago, that Secretary of State Antony Blinken disqualify multiple Israeli military and police units that operate in the occupied West Bank from receiving US 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.

An American official said Blinken's determination about the Netzah Yehuda unit is based on incidents that occurred before the beginning of the war on Gaza and all took place in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, Axios reported.

The Netzah Yehuda battalion was formed as a special unit for ultra-orthodox soldiers. 

The US State Department started investigating the battalion in late 2022 after its soldiers were involved in several incidents of violence against Palestinian civilians, Haaretz reported at the time.

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, 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.

The sanctions will ban the battalion and its members from receiving any US military assistance or training, the sources told Axios.

Sanctioning extremist settlers

On Friday, the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers and settler groups over violence against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The US Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on two organizations on Friday for fundraising on behalf of two violent Israeli extremists in the West Bank.

The two groups – Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich – established crowdfunding campaigns to raise thousands of dollars for Yinon Levi and David Chai Chasdai respectively. Both of those men were sanctioned by the US in February under a new executive order targeting those perpetrating violence in the West Bank. 

At the same time, the State Department on Friday sanctioned Ben-Zion Gopstein, “the founder and leader of Lehava, an organization whose members have engaged in violence, including assaults on Palestinian civilians,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the EU put two "radical" organizations Lehava and the Hilltop Youth on its asset freeze and visa blacklist for their attacks on Palestinians.

It also included Hilltop Youth leaders Meir Ettinger and Elisha Yered, along with settlers Neria Ben Pazi and Yinon Levi.

"The listed individuals and entities are responsible for serious human rights abuses against Palestinians," said an EU statement.

It said abuses included "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" and "the violation of right to property and to private and family life of Palestinians in the West Bank."

Back in February, France said it was imposing sanctions against 28 extremist Israeli settlers, who it accuses of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank.

They were now banned from entering French territory, the foreign ministry said.

While much international attention has focused on the Israeli war on Gaza, UN figures show that the already concerning daily settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, on the hike in 2023, more than doubled since the war started.

Israeli settler violence has increased significantly, from an already high average of three incidents per day in 2023 to seven a day now, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) said.

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