Journalists allege assault aboard ship near Gaza

New York, February 6, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Israel to return confiscated news footage of its navy allegedly firing on and boarding a ship on Thursday. Journalists who were on board say they filmed Israeli soldiers assaulting a passenger, and that they were later beaten after their equipment had been confiscated, a reporter who was there told CPJ. According to Al-Jazeera English, Israel denied using violence in the operation.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Salam Khodr and cameraman Muhammad Aliq were aboard the cargo vessel, which was carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Ogarit Dandash, a reporter for Lebanese New TV was also on board, according to regional news reports. The boat was boarded by the Israeli navy and diverted to the Israeli port city of Ashdod to question the passengers, according to Al-Jazeera and international news reports.

International news agencies widely reported that the Israeli military confiscated Al-Jazeera’s film and communications equipment. All passengers, including the journalists, were released earlier today after being held in the port of Ashdod for interrogation by immigration police. Khodr told CPJ that the crew had filmed Israeli soldiers firing at the boat, a claim Israel denies.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to release the Al-Jazeera tapes,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Beating journalists and confiscating their equipment as they do their job is unacceptable.”

Khodr told CPJ she was beaten; she reported live as Israeli soldiers boarded the ship. “They are pointing guns against us–they are kicking us and beating us. They are threatening our lives,” Khodr reported from her phone live on Al-Jazeera before communication with the crew was terminated. The satellite channel failed to reestablish contact with Khodr or Aqil until they were released into Lebanese custody today.   

The Israeli military said yesterday that the navy had warned the ships not to enter Gaza, the New York Times reported. The navy said it boarded the ship because it posed a security threat and could have been used to smuggle weapons into Gaza. No weapons were found abroad the ship, the IDF said in a later statement