Photo by TPS-IL on 12 May, 2024

Israel’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion Honors Fallen Heroes Amidst War and US Scrutiny

Public By Sveta Listratov • 13 May, 2024

Jerusalem, 13 May, 2024 (TPS) -- As Israel observed Memorial Day for fallen soldiers on Monday, the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, mourned its fallen amid unusual international scrutiny and the possibility of being sanctioned by the US for alleged human rights violations.

“It is not pleasant for the soldiers fighting in northern Gaza to see that they are in the headlines for something negative, but our outstanding battalion does not care about that. We are strong and focused on the mission,” Yossi Levi, the CEO of Netzah Yehuda non-governmental organization told The Press Service of Israel.

“The commander of the Gaza division told me that if there is a battalion that he is calm about entering Beit Hanoun with, it is Netzah Yehuda. And that’s all we need to know to keep fighting,” Levi added.

Netzah Yehuda is an exclusively haredi, or Orthodox battalion. Roughly 4,000 haredim — current and former soldiers, bereaved families, and dignitaries — gathered in the Jerusalem Convention Center on Sunday night to pay tribute to the battalion’s fallen soldiers.

Since its founding in 1973, when it was first called Nahal Haredi, the battalion has lost 37 soldiers in the line of duty, of whom six fell on or since October 7.

“The Orthodox public wants to show that it is not against the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], even those who do not serve in the army are not necessarily against the army. The Orthodox sector is involved in everything in Israeli society,” Levi explained to TPS-IL.

In a eulogy for his fallen son Sgt. Binyamin Lev, father Nethanel Lev recalled, “My son used to tell his combat friends, you are not afraid to lose your life, you are afraid that it will hurt your loved ones.”

Choking back on tears, Nethanel added, “Oh how right he was.”

Lev was killed on October 7 defending Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

Several Netzah Yehuda soldiers unable to be present recounted their stories of October 7 in a pre-recorded video.

Nor was there a dry eye in the convention center when the son of Sgt.-Maj. Uri Aharon Parash recited Kaddish, a mourner’s prayer.

The soldiers of Netzah Yehuda are no stranger to the controversy of draft exemptions for the haredi community.

But in April, the battalion became a lightning rod for US-Israeli relations amid reports that the US was considering sanctions against Netzah Yehuda for alleged human rights violations against Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. The allegations were not directed at the current battalion. Soldiers and commanders have long been replaced since the alleged incidents occurred.

By the end of April, ABC News reported that, for now, the US has dropped its plans for sanctions, saying that the Biden administration was satisfied with unspecified steps being taken by Israel. The report, however, stressed that sanctions on the battalion could be instated if Israel fails to follow through on the measures.

Sanctions would specifically prevent Netzah Yehuda from receiving US weapons, training with US soldiers, or participating in any activities funded by the US. Should the US impose the sanctions, European countries are widely expected to follow suit.

As the haredi soldiers continue fighting on the frontlines, their dedication to defending Israel remains steadfast, Levi said.

“The biggest message to take of this event is that we are one people, we are resilient and nothing will take us apart,” he insisted.

At least 1,200 people were killed and 240 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Around 30 of the remaining 132 hostages are believed dead.