update deskIsrael at War

Israel returns Associated Press’ webcam taken down on Gaza border

"I have ordered a cancellation of the operation and return the equipment to AP," said Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi.

Journalists on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the town of Sderot in southern Israel, Oct. 19, 2023. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
Journalists on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip in the town of Sderot in southern Israel, Oct. 19, 2023. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi moved to return an Associated Press webcam on Tuesday that inspectors had taken down in the southern town of Sderot just hours earlier, his office announced.

“Since the Defense Ministry wishes to examine the matter of the broadcasts from these locations in Sderot regarding the risk to our forces, I have ordered a cancellation of the operation and return the equipment to the AP,” Karhi said.

The camera and other related equipment will be returned “until a different decision is made by the Ministry of Defense,” he added.

Karhi’s announcement came after pressure from the United States government through the Israeli embassy in Washington and the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ynet news reported.

Speaking aboard Air Force One earlier on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had said the United States was looking into the “concerning” move and called journalism a “pillar of democracy.”

The Communications Ministry had accused the AP of airing troop movements in the Gaza Strip and providing services to Al Jazeera, in violation of a law that prohibits the outlet from operating in the country.

“The confiscated camera broadcast the northern Gaza Strip live on the Al Jazeera channel in violation of the law,” the Israeli Ministry of Communications said in a statement shared with JNS on Tuesday afternoon, adding that the AP live feed revealed “the activities of the IDF forces and endangered our fighters.”

“The AP agency was warned last week that, according to the law and the government’s decision, they are prohibited from providing broadcasts to Al Jazeera,” the missive claimed. “However, they chose to continue the channel’s broadcast, which caused real harm to state security.”

The equipment that was briefly confiscated was said to include a camera, tripod, two microphones and live broadcasting equipment.

“Following the government’s decision and the order of the minister of communications, the Ministry of Communications will continue to carry out enforcement actions in so far as is necessary to limit broadcasts that harm the security of the state,” concluded the statement.

Tuesday’s action followed the Cabinet’s approval on May 5 of action under a Knesset law passed last month to outlaw Al Jazeera.

The Knesset voted 71-10 for the bill that gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the authority to shut down the Qatari broadcaster, which Jerusalem has accused of aiding the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.

The bill states that the communications minister may act against a foreign channel that harms the state’s security, with the consent of the prime minister and approval of the cabinet or government.

The measures enable authorities to order television providers to stop broadcasting the outlet; close its offices in Israel; seize its equipment; shut down its website; and revoke press credentials for staff.

Al Jazeera is among thousands of clients that pay for live video feeds from the Associated Press and other international news agencies.

The AP on Tuesday condemned “in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment.”

“The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law,” added the organization.

Lauren Easton, AP vice president of corporate communications, urged Jerusalem “to return our equipment and enable us to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world.”

The AP claimed it has complied with Israel’s military censorship rules, which restrict broadcasts of sensitive footage like IDF troop movements.

Late last year, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate AP following allegations that one of its freelance photojournalists might have had foreknowledge of the Oct. 7 mass murders by Hamas terrorists in Israel’s northwestern Negev.

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