newsIsrael at War

Israeli legal team seeks clarification on US sanctions against protest group

“The Biden administration is trying to shut down organizations such as Tzav 9 and Regavim,” lawyer tells JNS.  

Israelis protest against aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Jan. 29, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israelis protest against aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Jan. 29, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

A team of Israeli legal experts sent a letter to the U.S. State Department on Monday requesting clarification regarding sanctions imposed on the Tzav 9 protest movement.

The letter, initiated by the Regavim NGO, highlights the vagueness of U.S. Executive Order 14115, under which Tzav 9 was sanctioned for allegedly attacking humanitarian aid convoys on their way to Gaza. 

“Tsav 9 has explicitly and publicly condemned any violence in connection with the delivery of aid to Gaza, and has taken careful and effective steps to ensure that its activities are completely peaceful,” the letter states. 

It goes on to note that Tzav 9’s objection is not to the aid per se, but to the fact that it is being stolen by Hamas.

“Hamas is, indisputably, capturing aid sent into Gaza. The transfer of any resources to Hamas is a federal crime and directly contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States,” it states.

In a press statement announcing the sanctions, the U.S. State Department described Tzav 9 as “a violent, extremist Israeli group that has been blocking, harassing and damaging convoys carrying lifesaving humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

The State Department referred specifically to a May 13 incident during which “Tzav 9 members looted and then set fire to two trucks near Hebron in the West Bank carrying humanitarian aid destined for men, women, and children in Gaza.”

Earlier this week, Tzav 9 spokesperson Rachel Touitou denied the group’s involvement in the incident, noting a different group had taken responsibility for the incident the day it occurred.

The U.S. State Department refused to comment on how Washington had established Tzav 9’s alleged role in the violence and referred JNS to spokesman Matthew Miller’s initial June 14 announcement.

According to American-Israeli lawyer Marc Zell, whose team sent the letter, “There was no due process, no verification of information, no one reached out to Tzav 9 or anyone impacted by the sanctions. It was an ambush.” 

The May 13 incident “had nothing to do with Tzav 9,” he told JNS. “The truck that was accosted was not even carrying cargo destined for Gaza,” he added.

Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, announced in February that he would take the U.S. government to court for sanctioning four Judea and Samaria residents. 

The executive order was an “overreach” by the Biden administration, he told JNS.

 “None of this falls under U.S. jurisdiction,” he said. “The Biden administration is trying to shut down organizations such as Tzav 9 and Regavim using an executive order, which is improper, illegal and unconstitutional.”  

The Tzav 9 movement spearheaded the initiative to block humanitarian aid from entering Gaza, an objective supported by Regavim. 

“We were approached by a group of concerned Israeli citizens who thought it was insane that we should be supplying humanitarian aid to Hamas during a war, when they have massacred and committed to continue to massacre Jews in Israel and elsewhere,” Naomi Kahn, a Regavim official, told JNS. 

“People started to get organized, among them bereaved families, relatives of hostages and reserve soldiers, who had returned from Gaza and were distraught about the aid allowing the enemy to fight another day,” she continued. 

“They turned to us to help them get organized and we did so because we agreed that it is not only immoral and illogical but also illegal to provide aid to your enemy during war, especially when that enemy is a terror organization and more so when they are not allowing humanitarian visits to the hostages and committing war crimes,” she added. 

On Oct. 7, Hamas massacred 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 more. The group still holds 120 hostages in Gaza, some of them no longer alive. 

“Unfortunately, after one of their peaceful protests, when Tzav 9 had already left the scene, a group of people who reject the non-violent nature of the group physically attacked two trucks,” said Kahn. 

“This happened inside Israel. The moment it happened, Tzav 9 condemned the violence and those involved, dissociated itself from any kind of violent activities and announced that it was suspending all protest operations,” she continued. 

“The American government was apparently waiting for an opportunity…to try to crush Israel’s legitimate public opinion movements,” Kahn added. 

While the implications remain unclear, Zell explained that the sanctions could potentially have a disastrous impact on both Tzav 9 and Regavim.

“There are currently 300,000 shekels [about $90,000] worth of donations to Tzav 9 that have been frozen. Future contributions will be frozen as well. The same could happen to Regavim. It hasn’t yet been sanctioned but we are very concerned,” Zell said. 

“In addition to the freezing of funds, there is a risk that those associated with Tzav 9 or Regavim could be restricted from entering the U.S.,” he added. “Not only will funds in U.S. bank accounts be out of reach, we have seen with sanctions against persons that Israeli banks at their own initiative froze funds as well,” he explained. 

(Israeli banks unfroze the sanctioned four individuals’ accounts after the Biden administration clarified to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in March that they were not required to block all financial transactions of sanctioned citizens.)

Zell has no doubt that the move was politically motivated.

“The whole purpose of Executive Order 14115 is to shut down the debate about the two-state solution. The Biden administration is almost fanatical about trying to force Israel to accept it and this is one tool they are using,” he told JNS. 

“When it came out, the executive order was said to be aimed against people who engaged in violent activity, but under the terms of the executive order, those who actively oppose the establishment [of a Palestinian state] could be the object of sanctions,” he added. 

“Even government officials could be sanctioned if they take positions that “undermine security” and are in opposition with the two-state solution,” he added.

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