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Israel drops threats to journalists who participate in Gaza flotilla

JTA

June 27, 2011 | 11:45 am

Mavi Marmara (May 2010)

Mavi Marmara (May 2010)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israeli authorities to formulate a special procedure for journalists who are arrested on board the Gaza flotilla.

The order Monday came a day after the head of Israel’s Government Press Office threatened to deny entry to the country for ten years to any journalist who participates in the flotilla.

Netanyahu said in a statement that the policy for journalists covering the flotilla should not be the same as against infiltrators and those who enter Israel illegally.

Members of the Israeli media and international journalists will be embedded in Israeli Navy vessels in contact with the flotilla “in order to create transparency and credible coverage of the events,” said a statement issued Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We are pleased to see that Israel has recognized the value of allowing reporters to cover an important news event, and understands that journalists should be treated differently from political activists. We urge the government to continue to do its utmost to promote freedom of the press as core values of a democratic society,” the Foreign Press Association said Monday in a statement. It had previously criticized the threats made to journalists covering the flotilla.

“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 Sunday. “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.

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.

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