Israeli officials are flatly contradicting one another about claims the upcoming Gaza Freedom Flotilla is made up of “extremists” and supports “terrorists.”
On 26 June, the director of the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) Oren Helman issued a warning to the foreign press corps that participation by any journalists in the flotilla would violate Israeli law.
Helman wrote that “This flotilla is a dangerous provocation that is being organized by western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas, which the world defines as an extremist Islamic terrorist organization.”
The letter warned journalists that joining the flotilla to report on it is “liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions.”
Defense and security officials contradict GPO’s claims
Yet in statements reported in Haaretz today, Israeli foreign ministry and other government “security” and “defense” officials contradict the Government Press Office’s claims:
Security officials and Foreign Ministry representatives informed the cabinet on Sunday that Israel has no information indicating that terrorists or anyone affiliated with a terror group is planning to take part in the flotilla, said a government source. Nonetheless, there may be clashes between Israeli forces and some Arab activists aboard the ships.
“The critical mass of participants will include human rights activists from European Union countries, Canada and the United States,” said a senior security official.
According to Haaretz there may even have been some disappointment in Israel at the entirely peaceful nature of the flotilla:
Government and defense sources said the fact that most, if not all, the flotilla participants will be European peace activists presumably not interested in violence will present a “more difficult public diplomacy challenge,” and Israel wants to avoid clashes with the activists.
It is expected that some 10 ships with hundreds of people from about 20 countries will set sail from various Mediterranean ports this week in an attempt to break Israel’s blockade and siege of the occupied Gaza Strip which the ICRC has declared illegal and collective punishment.
Previously, Israeli officials such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have admitted that the explicit purpose of the blockade and siege is collective punishment, a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention which the UN has repeatedly stated applies to Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
GPO admits disseminating “hoax” video
These contradictions come as the Government Press Office was yesterday forced to concede what The Electronic Intifada had already shown: that the video it had disseminated claiming to be by an activist turned away by flotilla organizers for being gay was a fabrication.
The Government Press Office claim that it was “hoaxed” seems scarcely credible. Can the “professionals” responsible for Israeli government communications not have seen – as others immediately did – that the video was made in Israel, and not the work of a foreign activists?