Israel should not intimidate reporters covering flotilla

New York, June 27, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Israeli authorities to allow journalists covering a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla to do their work without interference or reprisals. 

On Sunday, Israel’s Government Press Office announced that journalists aboard the ships would be subjected to a 10-year ban on entering Israel and “to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions.” Following domestic and international outcry, authorities altered their stance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today that “journalists whose credentials are recognized by Israel” would not be subject to a 10-year ban, Reuters reported. But the prime minister’s statement did not address the government’s plans to confiscate footage and equipment, or its threat of “additional sanctions.”   

“CPJ is relieved that Israel has dropped a threatened 10-year entry ban on journalists covering this story, but it must do more,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “It must ensure that all journalists can report on the flotilla freely and without the threat of confiscation of recordings and equipment.”

The Foreign Press Association in Israel, which represents hundreds of journalists working for international news outlets, said in a statement that “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.” It added that “journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation.”

The convoy of ships, dubbed Freedom Flotilla II, comes a year after a similar convoy attempted to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, which has been in place since 2007.

In May 2010, Israel detained at least 20 journalists aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla. The Israeli military confiscated equipment and footage from journalists on the boats and, within days, broadcast edited excerpts of confiscated video that it labeled as “captured.” To date, much of the confiscated equipment has not been returned to journalists, CPJ research shows. At the time, CPJ called on Israel to release all detained journalists, stop using seized footage, return all equipment, and take measures to ensure that similar attacks do not recur.