US found five Israeli military units committed gross human rights violations before Gaza war

By Thomson Reuters Apr 29, 2024 | 1:13 PM

By Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department found five units of the Israeli military responsible for gross violations of human rights in incidents that took place outside of Gaza before conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas in October, the State Department said on Monday.

Four of the units have effectively remediated the violations, while Israel has submitted additional information regarding the fifth unit and the U.S. is continuing conversations with the government, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

U.S. weapons sales to the units will not be affected, Patel said. He declined to offer specifics on what violations of human rights were committed, which units were involved or what remediation steps were taken.

“After a careful process, we found five Israeli units responsible for individual incidents of gross violations of human rights. All of these were incidents much before October 7th and none took place in Gaza,” Patel said.

“Four of these units have effectively remediated these violations, which is what we expect partners to do… For a remaining unit, we continue to be in consultations and engagements with the government of Israel.”

Israel’s military conduct has come under increasing scrutiny as its forces have killed some 34,500 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health authorities, many of them women and children. The Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine.

The Israeli assault was launched in response to the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and scores of hostages taken.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month said he has made “determinations” regarding accusations that Israel violated a set of U.S. laws that prohibit providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights.

The Leahy Laws, authored by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in the late 1990s, prohibit providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights and have not been brought to justice.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday that the United States has received new information from the Israeli authorities about a specific Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) unit that Washington was reportedly going to designate for human rights allegations in the West Bank.

In light of the new information, Washington is looking into whether the unit is on a path to remediation, the source said.

The specific unit involved, the Netzah Yehuda battalion, was set up in 1999 to accommodate the religious beliefs of ultra-Orthodox Jews and other religious nationalist recruits in the army.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Ros Russell)