Israel Police and Communications Ministry personnel raided the Eretz HaTzvi broadcasting ship of Arutz-7 Israel National Radio this afternoon, halting the station's signal for over an hour. The ship's captain was warned not to resume transmission of the broadcasts.

The raid began at 1 PM, just as the news magazine hour was about to begin, and ended approximately 2:15. The police photographed equipment and workers, but confiscated nothing. Reports on Israel Radio that the police found only one person on board - the captain - are groundless, and in fact there were close to ten crewmembers on board at the time.

Arutz-7 broadcasts from outside of Israel's territorial waters in order to circumvent legislation that prohibits privately-owned radio stations from airing nationwide. A law duly passed by the Knesset granting Arutz-7 a broadcasting license was recently nullified by the Supreme Court.

Arutz-7 management noted that this was the first time in the history of Israeli off-shore broadcasting - including 22 years of Abie Natan's Voice of Peace ship, and 15 years for Arutz-7 - that police had ever made such a raid. "Not under the governments of Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, or Ehud Barak were police ever sent to raid a ship broadcasting from sea," the station said. "Only under Ariel Sharon did this happen. Could it have something to do with our opposition to a Palestinian state?"

Condemnations of the apparent blow against freedom of speech came only from the right-wing. Communications Minister Ruby Rivlin of the Likud said today that he was "furious" at the raid, citing in particular its timing during an election campaign. While the raid was underway, the Council of Jewish Communities in Yesha called upon Public Security Minister Uzi Landau - ministerial supervisor of Israel Police - to renew at once the broadcasts on Arutz-7, "which, especially during this period, is a national and patriotic mouthpiece for the struggle on behalf of the Land of Israel."

A spokesman for Minister Landau told Arutz-7 that he did not know of the raid in advance, and that it was initiated by the Communications Ministry a while ago. He preferred not to comment on the political aspects of the raid.

National Union party leader MK Avigdor Lieberman said that the raid is "nothing more than political scheming, based on election-campaign considerations and as revenge for Arutz-7's clear policy against a Palestinian state." His party colleagues also commented: MK Tzvi Hendel said that this is a case of "political persecution on the eve of elections," and demanded that Communications Minister Rivlin open an immediate investigation into how this occurred. MK Uri Ariel said that the raid is an attempt to "shut mouths." MK Benny Elon said that the authorities of the Supreme Court - which put a freeze on a duly-passed Knesset law legalizing Arutz-7 - must be curtailed "in order to prevent it from making a mockery of Israel's democracy."

Blame for the raid is already being freely apportioned. The police say that the Communications Ministry ordered the raid as part of its efforts against unlicensed stations. The Communications Ministry, however, says that the raid came in response to Elections Committee head Hon. Michael Cheshin's call to ensure that unlicensed stations do not broadcast election propaganda. Arutz-7 announced in response that it is more careful not to allow its interviewers and interviewees to speak on behalf of specific parties than are Israel's public stations.

Arutz-7's management released the following statement:

Announcement By Arutz-7 Management

"For 15 years, the State Prosecution and the police have waged a campaign to harm Arutz-7 by "hitting us in our pockets." On two previous occasions, police have smashed and confiscated our state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment, under the pretext that the station’s broadcasts are against Israeli law. No court has ever ruled that this is the case, but Arutz-7 has had to pay top lawyers' fees in order to defend itself against these allegations. Police raids like the one today are aimed solely at portraying the station as illegal, thus bringing about an immediate decrease in advertising income.

"The Prime Minister, Communications Minister, and Public Security (Police) Minister all denied prior knowledge of and involvement in today’s attempt to silence Israel’s only radio *voice opposing the establishment of Palestinian state. How, then, did it happen? Raids of this sort happen under right-wing governments because extremist left elements control key government institutions, including the police, the State Prosecution, the courts, and the Israel Broadcasting Authority. They are largely behind the systematic attempts to financially cripple and harm the lone nationalist voice on Israel’s airwaves. We turn to our listeners and internet readers to fight this trend in whatever legitimate manner is available. Please speak out, write letters and faxes, and support the station in its continual struggle to survive these blows against our right to champion the Jewish Nation's right to the Land of Israel."