American man suing to seize Gaza flotilla ships

Suicide-bombing victim cites 18th-century act, designed to fight piracy, in lawsuit filed against Turkish group

The Mavi Marmara is towed by a tugboat as it leaves the port of the northern city of Haifa, August 5, 2010. (Herzl Shapira/Flash90)
The Mavi Marmara is towed by a tugboat as it leaves the port of the northern city of Haifa, August 5, 2010. (Herzl Shapira/Flash90)

The US Court of Appeals heard a case on Monday filed by an American terror victim who is seeking to seize 14 vessels that participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla.

The suit, which was originally filed in June 2011 by Dr. Alan Bauer, seeks to confiscate the 14 ships on the grounds that they were used  in a hostile fashion against a nation friendly to the United States.

Israeli naval commandos boarded the boats that departed from Turkey in May 2010 after they disobeyed instructions from the Israel Defense Forces. The commandos immediately faced violent resistance upon boarding the main vessel, the Mavi Marmara. Ten Israeli commandos were injured and 10 Turkish activists were killed in the ensuing conflict.

The incident sparked a great deal of controversy throughout the world and led to a deterioration of ties between Jerusalem and Ankara.

According to a press release disseminated by the Israeli legal group Sasi-Aharoni, the plaintiff based his case on the grounds that the vessels violated the infrequently cited “informer” statute of the US Neutrality Act of 1794, an act that, according to the legal group, “makes it illegal to furnish, arm or fit out any vessel for hostile use against a foreign country.”

The legal group contends that the flotilla operators were affiliated with Hamas — a terrorist organization, according to the United States government — and that the operation was partially financed by American pro-Palestinian groups, therefore allowing the vessels to be seized under the provisions of the act.

Furkan Dogan, a dual Turkish-American citizen, was one of several Americans who participated in the flotilla and one of the 10 activists killed in the raid.

The Neutrality Act was originally created to prevent American citizens from joining a military operation against any country at peace with the United States. During the time of the act’s creation, France, Spain and Great Britain had attempted to lure American privateers into pirating each other’s naval vessels in an effort to weaken the military capacities of their rivals.

The release stated that Dr. Bauer originally contacted American attorney general Eric Holder to file the suit against the flotilla group. However, the attorney general’s office declined to take on the suit. The district court that originally heard the case dismissed it, stating that the US government — and not Dr. Bauer — was the only authority capable of seizing the boats.

The appeal, filed by Florida attorney Asher Perlin and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the founder of the Israeli law center Shurat HaDin, alleges that the lower court had erred in not realizing that a provision in the act allows private informers to sue.

Dr. Alan Bauer was injured in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on March 21, 2002. The bomber, a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, blew himself up in a crowded shopping district, injuring 42 people and killing 3 others, including a woman pregnant with twins.

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