US determines 5 Israeli security units committed human rights violations before outbreak of Gaza war

The US State Department has determined that five Israeli security units committed gross violations of human rights prior to the outbreak of the war with Hamas in Gaza, but is still deciding whether to restrict military assistance to one of the units under US law.

The other four “have effectively remediated these violations,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Monday, without detailing those remediation actions.

The US is still deciding whether to restrict the military assistance to the remaining unit – reported to be the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion. That battalion was implicated in the January 2022 death of an elderly Palestinian American man.

“We continue to be in consultations and engagements with the Government of Israel. They have submitted additional information as it pertains to that unit, and we’re continuing to have those conversations,” Patel said.

“All of these were incidents much before October 7, and none took place in Gaza,” Patel noted.

According to a source familiar, the Israelis told the US in recent weeks about previously undisclosed actions they’ve taken and the US is reviewing those actions to see whether they are sufficient enough to hold off restricting aid.

In an undated letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said three of the five units are part of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and two are “civilian authority units,” and said the abuses took place in the West Bank.

The Biden administration has come under criticism for appearing to bend to pressure by the Israeli government to hold off on any punitive measures against the unit. Top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed sharp criticism to the reports of impending action by the US.

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low,” Netanyahu posted on X last week.

“The government headed by me will act by all means against these moves,” he added.

Patel on Monday pushed back on the idea that Israel was “being offered unique treatment” by being granted more time to present information to hold off potential punishment.

“There is nothing that I have outlined here that is inconsistent with the Leahy process,” he said.

Under the Leahy Law, the US cannot provide assistance to foreign security units that are credibly implicated in human rights abuses, but there is an exception “permitting resumption of assistance to a unit if the Secretary of State determines and reports to Congress that the government of the country is taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.”

Notably, for one of the IDF units, Blinken “determined there has not been effective remediation to date,” he wrote in the letter to Johnson.

“This unit has been acknowledged by the Israeli government to have engaged in conduct inconsistent with IDF rules and, as a result, was transferred from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in 2022,” Blinken wrote, without naming the unit.

The Netzah Yehuda battalion was transferred from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in 2022. The commander of the unit was reprimanded in late January 2022 after the death of the 78-year-old Palestinian American, Omar Assad, who died of a heart attack after being detained, bound and gagged, according to the IDF. No soldiers faced criminal charges related to Assad’s death.

In the letter, Blinken said, “the Israeli government has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will engage on identifying a path to effective remediation for this unit.”

Patel would not provide details about when the additional information was presented to the US. According to a source familiar, the Israelis told the US in recent weeks about previously undisclosed actions they’ve taken and the US is reviewing those actions to see whether they are sufficient enough to hold off restricting aid.

Patel also did not give specifics about the remediation process.

“The standard of remediation is that these respective countries take effective steps to hold the accountable party to justice. And that is different on a country-by-country basis,” he said at a press briefing.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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