Who are the 'Netzah Yehuda'? US move to sanction IDF battalion irks Israel

The battalion has been accused of violence against Palestinians in West Bank

IDF -- reuters Israeli soldiers on the move in Gaza | Reuters

Israel is outraged at the reported move by the United States to sanction its Netzah Yehuda battalion for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank. In a scathing post on X, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the move the "height of absurdity and a moral low."

This is the first time that the US is considering such a move. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to announce this, according to a report by US-based Axios. 

The report, citing unnamed sources with President Joe Biden's administration, told Axios that the sanctions would ban the battalion and its members from receiving any kind of US military assistance or training. Earlier there were reports that a special State Department panel that probed the reports of alleged violations of human rights suggested that Blinken sanction multiple Israeli military and police units that operate in the West Bank.

The incidents that triggered the sanction occurred in Israel-occupied West Bank, before the October 7 Hamas attack. Though several other units were also investigated for sanctions, they remedied their behaviour since then, the report added.

Netzah Yehuda battalion

The controversial Netzah Yehuda was formed as a special unit for ultra-orthodox soldiers in the West Bank. All of its members are men and often the destination for many young radical right-wing settlers who weren't accepted into any other combat unit in the IDF.

However, the battalion came under the US radar in 2022 when reports emerged that its soldiers were involved in incidents of violence against Palestinian civilians. One such incident happened in January 2022 when 

Omar As’ad, a 78-year-old Palestinian-American, died after being detained, handcuffed, blindfolded, and later abandoned in near-freezing conditions by soldiers of the battalion.

After this, Israel moved the battalion out of the West Bank in December 2022 to the north of the country. However, Tel Aviv never acknowledged this was due to soldiers’ behaviour. It has also been deployed to the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing war against Hamas. 

Israel's reaction

The move left Israel aghast and Netanyahu took to X to express his outrage. "The IDF must not be sanctioned!" he wrote on X. "I’ve been working in recent weeks against the sanctioning of Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with the American administration. 

"At a time when our soldiers are fighting terrorist monsters, the intention to issue sanctions against a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low," he added. "The government headed by me will act by all means against these moves."

Minister Benny Gantz joined the criticism, saying the infantry unit was "an integral part of the IDF" and was bound by military and international law. He added that Israel has strong and independent courts capable of dealing with alleged violations. "We have great respect for our American friends, but imposing sanctions on the unit is a dangerous precedent and sends the wrong message to our shared enemies at a time of war," Gantz said, while pledging to "take action so this decision does not pass."


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