Israel threatens journalists who participate in Gaza flotilla

Journalists who participate in the flotilla to Gaza could face sanctions, including a ban from Israel for 10 years.

The head of Israel’s Government Press Office threatened the ban in a letter sent Sunday to Israel-based foreign journalists.

“As the 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 ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions,” Oren 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.”

Helman urged the reporters to “Please pass along the contents of this letter to your editorial boards around the world.” He also said the Israeli government has instructed the Israel Defense Forces not to allow the flotilla to reach its goal.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel criticized the letter, saying that “It sends a chilling message to the international press and raises serious questions regarding Israel’s commitment to the freedom of the press.”

Several dozen journalists are registered to take part in the flotilla, which is expected to approach Gaza later this week after the ships meet up in the Mediterranean. One of the journalists is Haaretz columnist and reporter Amira Haas, who wrote a column published Sunday about her preparations to participate on board a ship filled with Canadian activists.

American participants in the flotilla have been warned that participation could be a violation of the law in the United States.

Meanwhile, port officials in Athens reportedly have said that they will not allow the U.S. ship The Audacity of Hope, which is scheduled to participate in the flotilla with 36 U.S. citizens aboard, to leave the port without an inspection due to complaints that the ship is not seaworthy.