NUJ “urges end to threats to boat carrying journalists”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), with members in the UK and Ireland, has issued a strong call on Israel to “stop threatening an unarmed aid ship” which is trying to reach Gaza.  The union has become involved, it says, because there are journalists on board.  According to the union account, the ship carries “medical supplies, children’s toys, and reconstruction kits for besieged Palestinians in Gaza” and that this morning, “Israeli warships surrounded the civilian craft and threatened to open fire if it did not turn around”.  That sounds pretty awful, but in a break from journalistic tradition, the union statement fails to get the full picture.

According to a report on the website of the Israel Defense Forces, yesterday evening “the Israel navy contacted the boat while at sea, clarifying that it would not be permitted to enter Gazan coastal waters because of security risks in the area and the existing naval blockade”.  The blockade of Gaza is well known, certainly to journalists.

The IDF reports further that “an Israel Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the boat, directing it towards Ashdod, Israel.  No shots were fired during the boarding of the boat.  The boat crew will be handed over to the appropriate authorities. Humanitarian goods found on board the boat will be transferred to the Gaza Strip, subject to authorization.”

In its statement, the IDF also emphasized that “any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, can legally do so via the established crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip with prior coordination.”

NUJ member Eric Lee today wrote to the union’s general secretary, saying “As an NUJ member, I am concerned about the one-sided account of what happened off the coast of Gaza which appeared on our union’s website today …  Will the union amend its report to confirm that no shots were fired and no one was hurt?  Will it acknowledge that the passengers, including the NUJ member, were treated according to international law?  Will it confirm that the IDF has offered to transfer humanitarian goods found on the boat to Gaza? More important, if the union is genuinely eager to help Palestinians in Gaza, has it attempted to transfer aid through the established crossings, as the IDF says it can do?”

Lee added, “My concern is that instead of trying to provide genuine help for suffering Gazans, this boat trip was little more than a propaganda stunt and the presence on board of the Israel-hating, publicity-seeking ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney does little to dispel that.