Israel’s warning to journalists participating in the upcoming flotilla that they
risk being barred from the country for 10 years raises “serious questions about
Israel’s commitment” to press freedom, the Foreign Press Association said in a
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The statement came in response to a letter Government
Press Office Director Oren Helman sent to representatives of the foreign media
in Israel. In it he warned journalists against participation in the voyage,
stating sanctions would be taken against those who do take part.
director of the Government Press Office, I would like to make it clear to you
and to the media that you represent, that participation in the flotilla is an
intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being
denied entry into the State of Israel for 10 years, to the impoundment of their
equipment and to additional sanctions,” Helman wrote.
“I implore you to
avoid taking part in this provocative and dangerous event, the purpose of which
is to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself and to knowingly violate Israeli
law,” he continued.
Helman wrote that the flotilla was a “dangerous
provocation” intended to aid Hamas, “which the world defines as an extremist
Islamic terrorist organization.”
He said the blockade was imposed on Gaza
because of attempts to smuggle weapons and terrorists into the area.
flotilla intends to knowingly violate the blockade that has been declared
legally, and is in accordance with all treaties and international law. The
government of Israel has instructed the IDF not to allow the flotilla to reach
its goal,” he wrote.
The Foreign Press Association, said the government
“threat to punish journalists covering the Gaza flotilla sends a chilling
message to the international media, and raises serious questions about Israel’s
commitment to freedom of the press.” It also called on the government to
immediately reverse the decision.
“Journalists covering a legitimate news
event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation,” the
Helman did not coordinate his letter with the Foreign
Ministry, even though the ministry is in daily contact with the foreign press,
ministry sources said.
One official said that the menacing tone of the
letter was harmful to Israel’s image, and that Helman should have simply
informed the media representatives of Israel’s policies toward those trying to
enter the country illegally – without issuing any specific threats.
Foreign Ministry has made clear that the country’s policy toward the flotilla is
that if the vessels are towed into Ashdod, their passengers – regardless of
their profession – will be seen as individuals trying to illegally enter
As such, the regulations that govern illegal entry are that they
be given three days to appeal the courts to stay in Israel – and if they waive
that right, they will be deported to their country of origin and be subject to a
10- year travel ban.
“There was no reason for the GPO head to direct this
policy specifically at journalists,” the official said.