Minister wants religious battalion shut amid new case of troops beating Palestinians

Nahman Shai, who was military spokesperson in 1980s, calls for closure of IDF’s Netzah Yehuda, as soldiers again accused of wanton violence in West Bank

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda battalion are seen at a military base, in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda battalion are seen at a military base, in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs called on Wednesday for the religious Netzah Yehuda battalion to be shut down, after several soldiers from the unit were filmed beating two Palestinian detainees, the latest in a history of violent incidents.

“The Netzah Yehuda battalion needs to be disbanded,” said Labor’s Nachman Shai, who served as IDF spokesman from 1988 to 1991, including during the Gulf War.

The brief post on Twitter came shortly after the Israel Defense Forces said four soldiers who were filmed beating two Palestinian detainees in the West Bank last week were suspended from their positions.

In the video, posted to the TikTok video-sharing site on August 15, three soldiers were seen repeatedly kicking two Palestinian men near Ramallah as a fourth soldier stands nearby.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi issued a statement condemning the soldiers, saying the assault was a “severe incident that is repugnant and directly contradicts the values of the IDF.”

“The soldiers involved in the incident are not worthy of their positions. The incident will be thoroughly examined by IDF commanders and will be investigated by the Military Police,” Kohavi said.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People’s Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a later tweet, Shai wondered why Kohavi did not take immediate action against the troops. “If the chief of staff believes that Netzah [Yehuda] soldiers are unfit to be fighters in the IDF, he can remove them in an instant.”

“He is not from the UN, he is the chief of staff, the commander of the army,” Shai added.

Israeli soldiers from the religious ‘Netzah Yehuda’ battalion are seen beating two Palestinian detainees in the West Bank, in a video published to TikTok on August 15, 2022. (Screenshot: TikTok)

According to the Kan public broadcaster, soldiers told investigators that a Palestinian man had tried to run them over and steal a gun. However, investigators are unconvinced, according to the report.

A battalion within the Kfir Infantry Brigade, Netzah Yehuda was created so that ultra-Orthodox and other religious soldiers can serve without feeling they are compromising their beliefs.

Soldiers in the battalion, which operates in the West Bank, have been at the center of several controversies connected to right-wing extremism and violence against Palestinians.

Soldiers from the battalion have been convicted in the past of torturing and abusing Palestinian prisoners.

Illustrative: One of five Netzah Yehuda soldiers convicted of beating two Palestinian detainees arrives for a court hearing at the Jaffa Military Court, on January 10, 2019. (Flash90)

Earlier this year, several Netzah Yehuda officers were removed from their positions after an elderly Palestinian American arrested by troops was found dead. Soldiers had gagged Omar As’ad, 78, bound his hands with zip ties, and moved him to a courtyard of an abandoned building in the near-freezing January night, but left him there without checking on his condition.

Some Israeli analysts and journalists called to shut the battalion down after the death of As’ad.

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