The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the decision of the Israeli Government to reconsider the warning to slap a ten year ban on foreign reporters who plan to board the new aid flotilla bound for Gaza ,in defiance of the blockaded imposed by Israel. The decision also threatened to seize journalists’ equipment.
The government announced on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered a review of the measure after widespread criticism in media circles and representation from the Journalists’ Association in Jerusalem (JAJ), a branch of the IFJ affiliate in the country, the National Federation of Israeli Journalists (NFIJ).
“We welcome the review of the measure and urge the government to restrain from any action against media covering the event,” said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. “We should not have the repeat of last year’s heavy handed intervention of Israeli navy who failed to distinguish between journalists and activists. Our members in Israel are to be commended for their staunch defence of the rights and safety of journalists now just as they acted with speed to assist colleagues caught in violent clashes aboard the first Gaza aid flotilla.”
According to media reports, the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said that senior government officials were unaware of the warning which was issued on Sunday by the head of the Government’s press office, Oren Helman, to media organisations. The Deputy Prime Minister reportedly told media that the government is anxious to avoid clashes with media.
The warning provoked an outcry among journalists’ organisations led by the Foreign Press Association in Israel which described it as "a chilling message that raised questions about Israel's commitment to freedom of the press.”
In a statement, the Journalists’ Association in Jerusalem called on the Government of Israel to cancel the decision to punish journalists who will be on board the second Gaza flotilla. The JAJ also requested Prime Minister Netanyahu to order the Israel Defence Forces to enable free coverage of the event.
Last year, the IFJ condemned the brutal attacks on civilians, including journalists, by Israeli forces in the assault on a flotilla that tried to breach the military blockade of the Gaza coastline in Palestine. One media staff was among the nine people killed by Israeli soldiers during the raid and many journalists were detained and had their equipment confiscated by Israeli authorities. The JAJ coordinated the IFJ efforts to recover the equipment.