Israel warns journalists not to join Gaza flotilla or risk being banned from Israel for ten years

The Israeli government issued the warning on Sunday, saying the journalists could also have their equipment seized in addition to other sanctions. The threat came as pro-Palestinian activists prepared to set sail for Gaza from Greece and elsewhere in an effort to break Israel’s (Internationally sanctioned legal) blockade of the coastal territory.

Al-Jazeera – Eleven ships – nine passenger boats and two cargo ships – carrying about 1,000 activists from 20 countries are said to be taking part in the second Freedom Flotilla. Among the activists are many Israelis, including Amira Hass, a prominent journalist of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Israel insists the latest flotilla is a “dangerous provocation” and has vowed to intercept it. “Those participating in the flotilla have declared that it is their intention to ‘break’ the naval blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for security reasons, given Hamas’s efforts to smuggle weaponry and terrorists into the Gaza Strip,” Oren Helman, director of Israel’s Government Press Office, said.

Helman said the government of Israel has instructed the Israeli army not to allow the flotilla to reach Gaza.

“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,” Helman said.

“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.”

In response to Helman’s warning, the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association said in a statement: “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.

“Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation. We urge the government to reverse its decision immediately.”

On Friday, the US also warned the activists against their plans to send the new flotilla to the Gaza Strip, saying it would be irresponsible and dangerous.

“Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers,” Victoria Nuland, a state department spokesperson, said in a statement.