JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Wednesday it is temporarily removing a unit of ultra-Orthodox soldiers out of the occupied West Bank after a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man died following an arrest by its soldiers early this year.
The army said the “Netzah Yehuda” Battalion will be moved to the Golan Heights, along Israel’s northern front with Syria, by the end of the year.
The announcement made no mention of the death of Omar Assad, who died after being detained, handcuffed and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers.
Instead, it said the decision “was made out of a desire to diversify their operational deployment in multiple areas, in addition to accumulating more operational experience.” It said the unit would return to the West Bank at the end of next year.
Netzah Yehuda, or “Judea Forever,” is a special unit for ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers. The unit was formed to encourage religious men, who often receive special exemptions from compulsory military service, to join the army. But its members have been implicated in past cases of abuse.
Last January, troops from Netzah Yehuda detained Asaad at a checkpoint, binding his hands and blindfolding him. Troops then unbound his hands and left him face-down in an abandoned building.
Assad, who had lived in the U.S. for four decades, was pronounced dead at a hospital after other Palestinians found him unconscious. It was unclear when exactly he died. An autopsy undertaken by Palestinian doctors found Asaad suffered from underlying health conditions, but also found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded.
After an outcry from the U.S. government, the Israeli military said the incident “was a grave and unfortunate event, resulting from moral failure and poor decision-making on the part of the soldiers.” It said one officer was reprimanded and two other officers reassigned to non-commanding roles, over the incident.