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The U.S. hasn't stopped aid for Israeli troops accused of human rights violations


The State Department has found that some Israeli units were responsible for, quote, "gross violations of human rights." But so far, it has stopped short of restricting U.S. aid to those units. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blasted the U.S. for even considering that at a time when Israeli forces are at war with Hamas. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports from Tel Aviv.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Under the so-called Leahy Law, the U.S. has to restrict assistance to troops accused of human rights violations, and that's never been invoked with Israel. The State Department has been looking into several Israeli units and allegations that date back years before the war in Gaza. Sources say in some cases, Israel has taken steps to respond to U.S. concerns about the mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, and the U.S. is looking at new information about one unit still under scrutiny. That's believed to be Netzah Yehuda, which started as a unit for the ultra-Orthodox but has become filled with nationalists and West Bank settlers, according to Yehuda Shaul, co-director of the Ofek Center, a think tank in Jerusalem.

YEHUDA SHAUL: They barely left the West Bank for many, many years. And of course, that also influences the way you behave. And this unit in the past few years has been tied to serious cases of abuse. But the most famous one, of course, is the killing of Omar Assad, almost 80-year-old Palestinian American.

KELEMEN: After the Palestinian American died of a heart attack in 2022, the Israeli military moved the unit out of the West Bank to the north. Now it's reportedly in Gaza, and Yossi Levy, who recruits the ultra-Orthodox into the military, says the unit hasn't faced any allegations since.

YOSSI LEVY: So all of the soldiers, all of the commanders, all of the officers in Netzah Yehuda battalion, they didn't do anything. All of them are very good soldiers, very good values. They even don't know about the old events. They heard about it, but they didn't do it. They wasn't there.

KELEMEN: But Yehuda Shaul says there's a deeper problem - the lack of accountability in the Israeli military.

SHAUL: This is something that Israeli human rights organizations for years have been saying, that the Israeli internal mechanisms, these processes are not delivering accountability but delivering impunity.

KELEMEN: He says for years, the U.S. turned a blind eye, but he's hoping that soon will change. The State Department says it's still working through its Leahy vetting procedures and talking to the Israelis.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.