Israel issued a warning to the international media on Sunday, threatening deportation and a 10-year ban from the country for any foreign journalist caught on board an aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Government Press Office [official website] issued a letter to foreign journalists [AP report] reportedly calling the flotilla a dangerous provocation by extremists and an intentional violation of Israeli law. The letter warned that in addition to a ban from the country, participants in the flotilla may face equipment seizures and other sanctions. The aid flotilla will violate Israel's naval blockade and thus the Israeli government considers it a threat to national security. The Gaza naval blockade began in 2007 after Hamas [CFR backgrounder], designated as a terrorist organization [text] by the US State Department, was elected [JURIST report] as the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority. The blockade was violated last year by a similar aid flotilla [JURIST report], resulting in an Israeli commando raid that left nine dead and many wounded. The Turkish ship on which the violence occurred [ABC report] was one of six organized [Guardian backgrounder] by the Free Gaza Movement [advocacy website] to carry protesters and humanitarian supplies to the isolated Palestinian enclave. Journalist groups have responded with condemnation of the Israeli government's warning against participating in this year's flotilla, demanding that the government rescind its threats and allow journalists to cover a legitimate news event.
Israel has faced ongoing criticism from the UN and international human rights groups for its action in the Palestinian territories, which have been under Israeli military control since 1967. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] this month condemned [press release] the killings of between 30 and 40 protesters had been killed by Israeli security forces along the ceasefire line between occupied borders. Nearly 20 civilian protesters were reportedly killed [Reuters report] during a protest on June 5 marking the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East war [NPR backgrounder]. In January, a UN official alleged [JURIST report] that Israeli authorities had committed several illegal acts [press release] in the Palestinian territories [UNICEF backgrounder] since the start of the year, making the prospect of a viable Palestinian state unlikely. In June 2010, Israeli human rights group B'Tselem [advocacy website] released its annual report [JURIST report], noting an advancement in the rights of Palestinians, but calling for greater improvement. The report found that fatalities had declined by 80 percent compared to the previous year, and the quality of life had improved in the West Bank. The report called on Israel to dismantle all settlements, saying that merely halting new settlements is insufficient. The rights organization also chided Israeli security forces for not adequately protecting Palestinians from violence at the hands of Israelis, criticizing a "history of leniency" against the perpetrators of that violence. In March 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal" [JURIST report], and supported a plan by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile] to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011.