JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has dropped the threat of a ban against journalists who participate in the Gaza flotilla.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ordered Israeli authorities to formulate a special procedure for journalists who are arrested on board the flotilla, which is trying to evade the country’s maritime blockade of the coastal strip.
The order came a day after the head of Israel’s Government Press Office had threatened to deny entry to the country for 10 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.
The Foreign Press Association, which had criticized the threats made to journalists, applauded Israel’s decision.
"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," the association said Monday in a statement. "We urge the government to continue to do its utmost to promote freedom of the press as core values of a democratic society."
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 in a column published Sunday wrote 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 U.S. law.
Oren Helman, the director of Israel’s Government Press Office, in a letter Sunday to the foreign press threatened the 10-year ban, as well as the impounding of equipment and 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," he wrote.
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 its military not to allow the flotilla to reach its goal.