US finds five Israeli military units committed human rights abuses

One unit could still be in breach of US law

Netzah Yehuda battalion soldiers on training exercises in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights, near the Syrian border, in 2014. AFP
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The US has found that five Israeli military units committed human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank before October 7, the State Department confirmed on Monday.

State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said the units had committed “gross violations of human rights”.

While the department would not name the units, Mr Patel said four of them had “effectively remediated” their abuses while the department was still deciding whether the fifth one had.

“We continue to be in consultations and engagements with the government of Israel,” Mr Patel told reporters.

“They have submitted additional information as it pertains to that unit and we're continuing to have those conversations, consistent with a memorandum of understanding that we have with the government of Israel that was entered into in 2021.”

It has been widely reported that the unit under current scrutiny is the Netzah Yahuda battalion, which operates in the West Bank.

In 2022, a 78-year-old Palestinian American died after being detained by the battalion. Omar Assad was found dead on an abandoned building site.

A postmortem found he had died from a stress-induced heart attack after being handcuffed, gagged, threatened and manhandled.

Following Mr Assad's death, Israel withdrew the unit from the West Bank and moved it to the Golan Heights.

The Israeli military said the Netzah Yehuda battalion is an active combat unit that operates according to the principles of international law.

Under the Leahy Law, which was passed in 1997, the US is obliged to cut military aid to any foreign unit that is found to have committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law. The law has never been applied to Israel.

“We have a careful and very deliberate process when it comes to implementing the Leahy Law … the same standards of the application of this law applies to every country that receives our security assistance,” Mr Patel said.

According to a letter sent from the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Speaker of the House Mike Johnson last week, which was obtained by the Associated Press, Mr Blinken said the department would hold off on making any decisions on the Israeli battalion while it reviews new information provided by Israel.

Updated: April 29, 2024, 7:04 PM