Media could be barred from Israel for boarding Gaza flotilla

Israel said Sunday that any foreign journalist caught on board a Gaza-bound flotilla could face deportation and a 10-year ban from the country, in a move that threatened to worsen the nation’s already strained relationship with the international media.

JERUSALEM — Israel said Sunday that any foreign journalist caught on board a Gaza-bound flotilla could face deportation and a 10-year ban from the country, in a move that threatened to worsen the nation’s already strained relationship with the international media.

Journalists said they should be allowed to cover a legitimate news story, but Israel said the media would be complicit in an illegal breach of its naval blockade of a hostile territory ruled by a terrorist group.

The announcement reflected Israeli jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just more than a year after a similar mission ended with the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos who intercepted them. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

Israel is eager to avoid a repeat of last year’s raid, which drew heavy international condemnation and prompted Israel to ease its blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Many Israelis believe that the media’s coverage of the bloodshed contributed to their country’s image problems.

In a letter to foreign journalists, the Government Press Office’s director, Oren Helman, called the flotilla “a dangerous provocation that is being organized by western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas.”

He warned journalists that taking part 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 said.

The letter, he added, was reviewed and approved by Israel’s attorney general.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents hundreds of journalists working for international news organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, condemned the Israeli decision and urged the government to cancel the order.

“The government’s 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,” the FPA said in a statement.

The association’s lawyer, Gilead Sher, sent a letter to Helman demanding that the threat be rescinded.

“The state of Israel must make a clear distinction between those who carry out an action and those who cover it (as journalists),” Sher said in his note. Israel’s local journalists association also condemned the government’s letter.

Israel sees the flotilla as a provocation aimed at stirring up trouble and says that it has standard channels for delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Israel imposed its land and naval embargo on Gaza after Hamas, an Iranian-backed group that rejects peace with Israel, overran the territory in 2007. Under international pressure, Israel eased the land blockade after last year’s flotilla raid, but the naval closure remains intact.

Israel says the blockade is justified on internationally accepted legal grounds because it is effectively in a state of war with Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into Israel and killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks.

Critics say that while Israel is entitled to stop arms smuggling, the blockade has amounted to collective punishment and caused widespread suffering among Gaza’s 1.6 million people.

The pro-Palestinian organizers of the flotilla say the mission is necessary to draw attention to the Gazans’ plight.

It remains unclear when the current flotilla will actually set sail, but organizers have hinted it could be as soon as this week.

Organizers have said 10 boats, including two cargo vessels carrying aid supplies, will participate in the flotilla and that hundreds of people, including activists, journalists, politicians, writers and religious figures, will be on board.

About two dozen activist groups, many of them based in Europe, are organizing the journey. Among them are IHH, a Turkish Islamic charity that helped organize last year’s flotilla and is outlawed in Israel.

There are already growing signs that this flotilla will be different.

The Turkish boat that clashed with the Israeli navy has dropped out of this year’s flotilla. After a year of tensions, both Turkey and Israel have signalled that they are interested in repairing strained ties.

Greece has also urged Greek citizens and Greek-registered vessels not to participate, noting the risk of violence. Activists on “The Audicity of Hope,” an American boat in the flotilla that plans to sail from a Greek port, said police declared they could not leave because of questions about the vessel’s seaworthiness. In a statement, the activists speculated the delay stemmed from Israeli and U.S. pressure.

Manuel Tapial, a Spanish activist, said a Spanish vessel in the flotilla planned to depart for Gaza this week in co-ordination with other aid boats and would be carrying 11 journalists, most of them Spanish. He criticized Israel’s warning to reporters, saying Israel did not want witnesses “to what they can do to us on the water.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
Canada set to receive 1M Pfizer-BioNTech doses, Moderna playing catch-up

OTTAWA — The federal government is expecting Moderna to make good on… Continue reading

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday, April 11, involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz nuclear site

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a… Continue reading

Map of Syria. Turkey is to the north. (File photo)
Investigation finds Syria likely behind 2018 chlorine attack

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and his sister Melodie pose for a photo at the Mirror restaurant. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Alberta Health Services delivers ‘closure order’ to Mirror restaurant

Alberta Health Services says it has delivered a closure order to a… Continue reading

Ron Howard is photographed at the "Inferno" film premiere on Oct. 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. (Buckner/Rex Shutterstock/Zuma Press/TNS)
Brothers Ron and Clint Howard have memoir coming in October

NEW YORK — Filmmaker-actor Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, brothers, former… Continue reading

FILE - In this Saturday, March 27, 2021 file photo, Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall plays against the Boston Bruins during the second period of an NHL hockey game, in Boston. The Buffalo Sabres could trade 2018 MVP Hall, who signed for just this season and is a pending free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Boston Bruins acquire Taylor Hall to kick off NHL trade deadline day

Trade deadline day in the NHL has started with the Boston Bruins… Continue reading

The Huawei logo displayed at the main office of Chinese tech giant Huawei in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Poland’s Internal Security Agency has charged a Chinese manager at Huawei in Poland and one of its own former officers with espionage against Poland on behalf of China. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Huawei, HSBC agree on document deal for extradition case

HONG KONG — Chinese telecommunications equipment firm Huawei said Monday that it… Continue reading

The Montreal Police logo is seen on a police car in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

MONTREAL — Hundreds of protestors gathered in Montreal on Sunday in defiance… Continue reading

Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Most Read