A Free Gaza vessel
A Free Gaza vesselIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The United States should investigate the American backers of activist flotillas that challenge Israel's naval closure off the coast of Gaza, an Israeli human rights group said Monday. Shurat Hadin (Israel Law Center) chairwoman, attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner has sent a letter asking US Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the “Free Gaza” movement (FGM).

Free Gaza is a US-based group which aims to undermine Israel's control of waters off the Gaza coast.

The Free Gaza organization is providing military assistance to Hamas by attempting to break the Israeli blockade while Hamas continues its attacks on Israeli civilians, Darshan-Leitner said. In doing so, it is taking part in attacking a state friendly to America – a violation of the U.S. Neutrality Act (18 U.S.C. 960).

The Neutrality Act states, “Whoever, within the United States, knowingly begins or sets on foot or provides or prepares a means for or furnishes the money for, or takes part in, any military or naval expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominion of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States is at peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."

"Nevertheless," Darshan-Leitner wrote, "despite the clear unequivocal policy of the United States to support Israel's right to control the security of the territorial waters around Gaza and to isolate Hamas from external support, the FGM and the American Educational Trust are attempting to undermine the foreign policy of both the United States and Israel, and attempting to aid and abet the Hamas terrorist organization, by raising money to smuggle in weapons and supplies in direct violation of the Interim Agreement regarding foreign vessels and to undermine Israel's sovereign authority."

She also drew U.S. attention to what appears to be a violation of American tax law. The Free Gaza organization is not recognized as a non-profit organization in America, and thus cannot give tax exemptions on donations. However, the group's website states that donors may make tax-deductible donations to the American Educational Trust – a recognized group – and earmark them for Free Gaza, thus allowing the group to provide tax deductions without proving its non-profit credentials.

Darshan-Leitner pointed out that Israel's right to impose a naval blockade in Gaza was affirmed in agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995 stated that Israel has “the responsibility for defense against external threats, including for defense against external threats from the sea,” while another passage states that foreign vessels will “not approach closer than 12 nautical miles from the coast” except with the approval of joint Israel-PA regulations.