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US threatens to invoke Leahy Law over Judea and Samaria incidents

The law prevents U.S. military aid going to foreign security force units that have committed "gross violations" of human rights.

A view of Efrat's Dagan (foreground) and Tamar (background) neighborhoods, near Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria, Nov. 10, 2020. Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
A view of Efrat's Dagan (foreground) and Tamar (background) neighborhoods, near Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria, Nov. 10, 2020. Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90.

The Biden administration has been pressing Israel to provide answers regarding a series of incidents in which, it claims, Israel Defense Forces units operating in Judea and Samaria may have violated the so-called “Leahy Law,” a set of amendments that restrict military aid over human rights concerns, according to Israel Hayom.

The Leahy Law states that Pentagon-appropriated funds “may not be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for a foreign security force unit if the Secretary of Defense has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

The U.S. request implies that should Israel fail to provide satisfactory answers, Israeli forces serving in Judea and Samaria will not get U.S.-funded munitions.

According to information obtained by Israel Hayom, the request was conveyed to Israel over a month ago and is known to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

In order to deal with the claims, the International Law Department in the IDF Military Advocate General’s office and other legal entities have been in contact with the United States and are to answer their questions regarding the incidents under discussion, with only two months left to send the response.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that “over the years, the ministry has cooperated with requests from the American administration in the context of the Leahy Law.”

According to a spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy in Israel, “Leahy vetting” is an effective foreign policy tool which promotes respect for human rights by America’s security partners, and the accountability of security force units credibly implicated in gross violations of human rights. The spokesperson further noted that the law’s requirements apply to all countries receiving relevant U.S. assistance, including Israel, and the State Department provides assistance consistent with the law’s requirements.

Every Israeli unit receiving or scheduled to receive relevant US assistance is subject to Leahy vetting as a matter of course. As provided for under the law, the State Department also has a process for assessing reports of potentially serious human rights violations by Israeli security forces, the spokesperson said.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that the Leahy Law requirements have been mentioned in the context of Israel. Sen. Patrick Leahy himself tried, in the final stages of the Obama administration, to use the law to stop security assistance to certain IDF units over allegations of human rights violations.

Two weeks ago, the British Guardian revealed that the State Department was conducting an in-depth examination of IDF activities in the West Bank with an eye to the Leahy requirements. Since the beginning of the war against Hamas in Gaza, the IDF has also operated intensely in these areas, killing over 500 terrorists and arresting thousands of suspects in terror activities.

Last week, the Biden administration issued an executive order sanctioning “persons undermining peace, security and stability in the West Bank,” citing “high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages and property destruction.”

Adopting what it calls a “holistic approach” to the Middle East regional crisis, the White House named four sabras, or native-born Israelis, whom it is sanctioning: David Chai Chasdai of Givat Ronen; Yinon Levi of Meitarim Farm; Einan Tanjil of Kiryat Ekron; and Shalom Zicherman of Mitzpe Yair.

“The overwhelming majority of residents in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are currently fighting—as conscripts and reservists—to defend Israel,” stated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the executive order.

“Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere,” Netanyahu added. “Exceptional measures are unnecessary.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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