In a first, US is reportedly set to sanction Israeli military unit for alleged human rights abuses
Israeli army troops consult after a terrorist attack at a gas station adjacent to the West Bank settlement of Eli, on Feb. 29. (IDF vis JTA.org)

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Israeli officials are decrying reports that the United States plans to sanction an Israeli military unit for human rights abuses, a step the State Department has never before taken. 

The report of sanctions comes amid escalating violence in the West Bank. Last week, an Israeli teenager was murdered in what authorities said was a terror attack, and deadly riots by settlers followed. In recent days, an Israeli military raid resulted in the deaths of 14 Palestinians and injuries to 10 Israeli soldiers. 

On Sunday, the news site Axios reported that Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to announce sanctions on the Netzach Yehuda battalion, which was formed to integrate haredi Orthodox soldiers into the military. Soldiers in the unit have been arrested and jailed for a litany of abuses against Palestinians over the years, including torture and assault.

The unit has faced condemnation within Israel. In 2022, due to its record of abuses, Israel’s then-Diaspora minister called for it to disband. The unit was subsequently moved from the West Bank to the Golan Heights. Following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, it deployed in Gaza. 

In a message ahead of Passover, which begins Monday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu railed against the reported sanctions, which according to Axios would ban the military unit from receiving any U.S. assistance. 

“I will strongly defend the IDF, our army and our fighters,” he said. “If somebody thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF – I will fight this with all my powers. As our soldiers are united in defending us on the battlefield, we are united in defending them in the diplomatic arena.”

Objections to the sanctions crossed political lines in Israel. In a social media post, Benny Gantz, a centrist former defense minister, called Netzach Yehuda an “inseparable part of the Israel Defense Forces” and said that Israel’s judiciary “evaluates meticulously any claim of a violation or deviation from IDF orders and code of conduct.”

The report was also making waves in the United States. Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Donald Trump ally who has campaigned against campus antisemitism in a series of high-profile House hearings, also slammed the report, saying that President Joe Biden and Blinken are “choosing to purposefully undermine Israel to appease the pro-Hamas faction of the Democratic Party. This is unacceptable.”

The reported sanctions would follow multiple rounds of sanctions against West Bank settlers accused of engaging in violence and those who have supported them. The Biden administration has enacted the sanctions after growing frustrated with the Israeli government’s efforts to rein in settler violence.

The controversy over Netzach Yehuda is playing out following a multi-day Israeli military raid on the Palestinian refugee camp of Nur Shams in the northern West Bank. The raid killed 14 Palestinians, all of whom were militants, the IDF said, while 10 Israeli soldiers were injured. 

The raid is the latest of a string of IDF counterterror operations in the West Bank, which has seen violence spike since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. Hundreds of Palestinians and more than 10 Israelis, a mix of soldiers and civilians, have been killed in the West Bank in that period. 

The past week has been a particularly violent one in the territory. Following the discovery last week of the body of a 14-year-old Israeli, whom Israeli authorities said was killed in a terror attack, Israeli settlers rioted in a Palestinian village; a Palestinian was killed in the riot. Clashes have continued in recent days. 

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