US sanctions far-right Israeli group behind attacks on aid convoys bound for Gaza

Blacklisting Tzav 9 for disrupting aid deliveries, State Department vows no tolerance for ‘acts of sabotage and violence targeting this essential humanitarian assistance’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Activists blocking the Nitzana goods crossing are forcibly removed by police during protests against the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza by Israel, April 11, 2024. (Courtesy Tzav 9)
Activists blocking the Nitzana goods crossing are forcibly removed by police during protests against the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza by Israel, April 11, 2024. (Courtesy Tzav 9)

The Biden administration on Friday announced sanctions against a far-right Israeli group that has been behind attacks on humanitarian aid convoys en route to the Gaza Strip.

The sanctions target Tsav 9, a group with ties to Israeli army reservists and Israeli settlers, over activities including blocking, harassing and damaging aid shipments.

The financial sanctions will be imposed under an executive order on West Bank violence Biden signed in February, which was previously used to impose financial on violent settlers involved in attacks on Palestinians and Israeli peace activists. The sanctions announced Friday were the fourth batch issued under the executive order.

“We’re using the authority to sanction an ever-broadening selection of actors, targeting individuals and entities that threaten the peace, security and stability of the West Bank regardless of religion, ethnicity or location,” Aaron Forsberg, director of the State Department’s office of sanctions policy and implementation, told Reuters.

On May 13, members of Tsav 9 looted and then set fire to two aid trucks near the West Bank city of Hebron.

Tsav 9 — Hebrew for Order 9, a reference to call-up orders for Israeli military reservists — said after the May 13 incident it acted to stop supplies from reaching Hamas and accused the Israeli government of giving “gifts” to the terror group.

An aid convoy heading to the Gaza Strip that was attacked by protesters in the Hebron Hills region, May 13, 2023. (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“For months, individuals from Tzav 9 have repeatedly sought to thwart the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, including by blocking roads, sometimes violently, along their route from Jordan to Gaza, including transiting the West Bank,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“They also have damaged aid trucks and dumped life-saving humanitarian aid onto the road.”

He also said Israel was responsible for ensuring the safety of the aid convoys.

“We will not tolerate acts of sabotage and violence targeting this essential humanitarian assistance,” Miller added. “We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to promote accountability for those who attempt or undertake such heinous acts, and we expect and urge that Israeli authorities do the same.”

The move freezes any assets the group holds under US jurisdiction and bars Americans from dealing with it.

Palestinians and human rights groups have long accused the Israeli military and police of deliberately failing to intervene when settlers attack Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israel arrested four of those involved in the May 13 attack, including a minor, according to lawyers. However, there have been no reports of indictments filed.

“We’ll continue to use all tools at our disposal to promote accountability for those who attempt to undertake or perpetrate such heinous acts,” Forsberg said. “We have raised this at all levels of the government of Israel and we expect that Israeli authorities will do the same.”

Right-wing activists look at damaged trucks that were carrying humanitarian aid supplies on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the West Bank on May 13, 2024, after the trucks had been vandalized by other activists to protest against aid being sent to Gaza while Israeli hostages are being held there by terror groups. (Oren Ziv/AFP)

Deliberations of the measure against Tzav 9 were first reported last month in The Times of Israel.

The convoy attacks in the West Bank largely started in April when Israel agreed to expand the aid route from Jordan to ensure that more assistance gets into Gaza amid the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 atrocities.

Individual members of the Israeli security forces are believed to be tipping off the far-right activists regarding the location of the aid trucks once they’re en route to Gaza, enabling their interception by those who have blocked the convoys from proceeding, and looting their contents.

Early on in the war, when the attacks were happening regularly near Israel’s Kerem Shalom and Nitzana crossings into Gaza, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir signaled to police, which are under his jurisdiction, to take a lax approach to the crackdown, an Israeli official said.

In a letter to the attorney general from last month that circulated Thursday, Outgoing Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai revealed that Ben Gvir attempted to prevent police patrols from guarding the aid convoys, threatening him with “consequences” over the matter. Ben Gvir has criticized the attacks, but also indicated that he agrees with activists’ demand that supplies not be transferred to Palestinians in the Strip.

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