Israel seizes AP equipment broadcasting live feed from Gaza, citing use by Al Jazeera

Communications Minister Karhi accuses the wire service of violating a new media law by providing images to banned Qatari network; US, Foreign Press Association criticize move

A screenshot taken from AP video showing a general view of northern Gaza as seen from southern Israel, before it was seized by Israeli officials on May 21, 2024. (AP Photo)
A screenshot taken from AP video showing a general view of northern Gaza as seen from southern Israel, before it was seized by Israeli officials on May 21, 2024. (AP Photo)

Israeli officials seized a camera and broadcasting equipment belonging to The Associated Press in Sderot on Tuesday, accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to the banned Al Jazeera.

The Qatari satellite channel is among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the AP and other news organizations.

The so-called Al Jazeera law, which gives the government temporary powers to prevent foreign news networks from operating in Israel if they are deemed to be harming national security, passed its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum last month.

In a statement, the Communications Ministry said: “After being warned, the Ministry of Communications confiscated a camera belonging AP news agency that was broadcasting while trying to track the activities of our forces, and transferring the footage to the Al Jazeera station, in violation of the law.”

The statement said that “Communications Ministry personnel had already warned the AP agency last week that according to the law and the government’s decision, they are not allowed to provide broadcasts to Al Jazeera. However, AP decided to continue broadcasting on the channel, which causes great harm to national security.”

As such, the statement continued, “in accordance with the government’s decision and the order of the communications minister, the Communications Ministry will continue to carry out enforcement actions to the extent that is necessary to limit broadcasts that harm the security of the state.”

Despite the Communications Ministry’s assertion that the footage contained sensitive information regarding the location of Israeli troops in Gaza, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday evening that in its review of the footage provided to Al Jazeera, it found no evidence that this was the case.

The report added that the Communications Ministry did not confer with the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or with the prime minister himself prior to seizing AP’s equipment, and that, despite backlash both internationally and from within Israel, it intends to confiscate equipment from additional media agencies in Israel that provide content to Al Jazeera.

AP denounced the move, with its vice president for corporate communications Lauren Easton saying that it “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.”

She urged Israeli authorities to return the wire service’s equipment and allow its journalists “to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world.”

AP video equipment is laid on the floor of an apartment block in Sderot, Southern Israel, shortly before it was seized by Israeli officials, May 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Josphat Kasire)

The White House called the incident “concerning” and said it was engaging directly with Israel to ask that its seizure of the equipment be reversed. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House believes journalists should have the ability and the right to do their jobs.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid slammed Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi for the seizure, calling it “an act of madness.”

“The confiscation of the equipment of AP, the largest news agency in the world, by Shlomo Karhi’s men is an act of madness. This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes,” Lapid said.

“This government behaves as if it has decided to make sure, at any cost, that Israel will be ostracized all over the world.”

Responding to Lapid, Karhi tweeted that his men are “dedicated professionals” who uphold the law, and clapped back at Lapid, saying: “We will continue to act decisively against anyone who tries to harm our soldiers and the security of the country, even if you don’t like it.”

Karhi also said the decision was made to confiscate AP’s equipment “following the orders signed unanimously by the government, with the overwhelming support of all the security forces [which] state that devices used to deliver Al Jazeera content must be seized from any person or corporation.”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 8, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Press Association (FPA), which represents international journalists in Israel, also condemned the seizure, calling it “the latest in a series of chilling steps by the Israeli government to stifle the media.”

“Israel’s record on press freedom already has been dismal throughout the war. For the entire conflict, it has prevented independent access to Gaza for foreign journalists. Now it has taken another step backward away from the democratic ideals it claims to uphold,” the FPA said.

AP said Tuesday that it has been broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza and that the agency complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troop movements that could endanger soldiers. The live shot has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.

The AP acknowledged that the seizure followed a verbal order Thursday to cease the live transmission — which the news organization refused to do.

In this image from video, Israeli officials seize AP video equipment from an apartment block in Sderot, Southern Israel, May 21, 2024. I(AP Photo/Josphat Kasire)

The so-called Al Jazeera law empowers the communications minister to order “content providers” to cease broadcasting the channel in question; order the channel’s Israeli offices to be shuttered; order the channel’s equipment be confiscated; and order the channel’s website to be taken offline, if the server is physically located in Israel, or otherwise block access to the website.

Such orders will be valid for 45 days but can be renewed for further 45-day periods.

Israeli officials used the law to temporarily close down the offices of Al Jazeera on May 5 as well as confiscating the channel’s equipment, banning its broadcasts and blocking its websites.

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