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26 June 2011

Freedom Flotilla 2: now, with journalists.

The anti-Israeli fleet of small ships is planned for this Tuesday.  Oddly, Turkish IHH has dropped out, leaving the flags of NATO and EU countries to represent the ships.  Another twist has developed: American journalists from CNN, CBS, et. al. plan to accompany the flotillas.  They might call themselves embedded reporters, except that implies the ships are engaging in violent actions, which they vehemently deny.  And yet a further twist: Israel is threatening sanctions, of sorts, against journalists who participate in the flotillas.

The concept of flotillas and the Gaza strip is a controversial one.  On the one side, self-described humanitarians say they want to provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip via sea.  On the other side, Israel, in attempts to prevent Hamas from gaining weapons in Gaza, has provided land-routes for supply humanitarian aid -- but sea-attempts are off-limits.

The last flotilla erupted in violence.  Depending on whose story you get, the other side started it.  From purely legal and geographical standards, it is easy to argue that the ships started it by breaking Israeli law and entering Israeli waters without permission.  Israel, prompted by the "humanitarian ships" crossing sea-borders illegally, acted accordingly.  The humanitarian ships were equipped with weapons to fight back.  (Why would a humanitarian mission need a plethora of lead pipes, used to wail upon the Israelis?)

The newest development that I find quite interesting is the journalists' involvement.  I would be less suspicious of the intentions if (A) the flotillas were helping an American ally and were not helping an ally's enemy and (B) journalists were planned to travel with both flotilla and Israeli ships.  Israel is being put in an even worse position than before -- perhaps worsened even further by IHH dropping out.  When these ships illegally cross into their waters, there will be journalists aboard who will have developed ties to the "friendly" flotilla riders.  Worse, Israel will be in danger of harming American journalists.  This would be a political nightmare.

So, Israel has asked the journalists not to ride the controversial ships.  From what I can tell, Israel is essentially saying that their title of journalist will not put them above the law.  If they participate, Israel says, the journalists might be banned from Israel for the next ten years.

Critics say this impedes free speech.  I question what right we have to wave the Free Speech flag when another country is faced with a Trojan Seahorse.  At worse, Israel appears to be telling the American journalists that they don't know what they are getting themselves into, and negative results will be the fault of those who willingly chose to board the ships, not Israel.

Israel warns foreign journalists: Joining Gaza flotilla is illegal

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