Israel on Sunday threatened to ban foreign journalists from the country for 10 years if they travel with an aid flotilla due to sail to the Gaza Strip next week.
The 11 ships will try to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, which was tightened in 2007 after the Islamist movement Hamas took over the Palestinian territory.
Oren Helman, the director of Israel’s government press office, warned that the “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 10 years, to the impoundment of their equipment, and to additional sanctions.”
“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 said in a letter to Israel-based foreign journalists.
“The flotilla intends to knowingly violate the blockade that has been declared legally and is in accordance with all treaties and international law,” he said.
Last May, a similar flotilla was intercepted by the Israeli navy, who killed nine of its Turkish participants. The deadly raid attracted widespread international condemnation and the UN said the Israeli commandos showed an “unacceptable level of brutality.”
The Foreign Press Association (FPA) condemned Israel’s decision and urged it to withdraw the threat.
“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.
“Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation,” the organization said.
Te latest flotilla is expected to carry up to 1,000 passengers, Al Jazeera television reported.
U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton said last week that the flotilla was not “useful.”
“We don’t think it’s useful or productive or helpful to the people of Gaza,” Clinton told reporters after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan in Washington.