Mohammed Omer, the amazing young journalist from Gaza, was apparently allowed to attend a ceremony, along with Dahr Jamail, in their co-honors, to receive the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism in London a few weeks ago. I say, “allowed” because he wrote earlier that he wasn’t sure he could make the meeting as Israel may not allow him out of Gaza.
This amazing young journalist has been reporting from Gaza since the age of 17 and expresses a desire to be a, “voice for the voiceless.” He was interviewed after receiving his award and said that he did not always wish to be a journalist:
Seeing the [Palestinian] houses being demolished. Seeing the children being killed. Seeing people being slaughtered and there was no coverage. People have no clue. People don’t understand. Even within Palestine people do not understand the beginning of the Intifada. People did not know what is happening there. You would not know what the shelling and what the bombing is all about. So I had to switch my dreams of being a translator for the International Red Cross since I was at the age of six. I was training to be one and then I changed because I wanted to show the truth of the world to make people understand what’s going on.
Amazingly, after the award and on his way home, he was not allowed entry into Gaza and kept for many days in the country of Jordan. He was finally allowed entry into Gaza the other day, but sadly, was treated with extreme inhumanity by the Shin Bet (the Israeli internal security service) at the border crossing and was treated at a hospital in Jericho before being returned to a Gazan hospital. Details of the brutal treatment he received are as follows:
Accompanied by Dutch diplomats, Omer passed through the Jordanian side of the border without incident. However, after arrival on the Israeli side, trouble began. He informed a female soldier that he was returning home to Gaza. He was repeatedly asked where Gaza was, and told that he had neither a permit nor any coordination to cross.
Omer explained that he did indeed have permission and coordination but was nevertheless taken to a room by Israel’s domestic intelligence agency the Shin Bet, where he was isolated for an hour and a half without explanation.
“Eventually I was asked whether I had a knife or gun on me even though I had already passed through the x-ray machine, had my luggage searched, and was in the company of Dutch diplomats,” Omer said.
His luggage was again searched, and security then proceeded to go through every document and paper he had on him, taking down the names and numbers of the European parliamentary officials he had met.
The Shin Bet officials then started to make fun of the European parliamentarians, and mocked Omer for being “the prize-winning journalist”.
The Gazan journalist was repeatedly asked why he was returning to “the hell of Gaza after we allowed you to leave.” To this he responded that he wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. He was told he was a “trouble-maker”.
The security men also demanded he show all the money he had on him, and particular attention was paid to the British pounds he was carrying. His Gellhorn prize money had been awarded in British pounds but he was not carrying the entire sum on him bodily, something the investigators refused to believe.
After being unable to produce the prize money, he was ordered to strip naked.
“At first I refused but then I had an M16 (gun) pointed in my face and my clothes were forcibly removed, even my underwear,” Omer said.
At this point Omer broke down and pleaded for an end to such treatment. He said he was told, “you haven’t seen anything yet.” Every cavity of his body was searched as one of the investigators pinned him down on the floor, placing his boot on Omer’s neck. Omer began vomiting, and fainted.
When he came round his eyelids were being forcibly opened and his eardrums probed by an Israeli military doctor, who was also armed. He was then dragged along the floor by his feet by the Shin Bet officials, with his head repeatedly banging on the floor, to a Palestinian ambulance which had been called.
“I eventually woke up in a Palestinian hospital with the doctors trying to reassure me,” Omer told IPS.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS that Foreign Minister Maxime Zerhagen spoke to the Israeli ambassador to The Netherlands and demanded an explanation.
The Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv has also raised the issue with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which in turn has promised to investigate the incident and get back to the Dutch officials.
Ahmed Dadou, spokesman from the Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS, “We are taking this whole incident very seriously as we don’t believe the behaviour of the Israeli officials is in accordance with a modern democracy.
“We are further concerned about the mistreatment of an internationally renowned journalist trying to go about his daily business,” added Dadou.
A spokeswoman at the Israeli Foreign Press Association said she was unaware of the incident.
Lisa Dvir from the Israeli Airport Authority (IAA), the body responsible for controlling Israel’s borders, told IPS that the IAA was neither aware of Omer’s journalist credentials nor of his coordination.
“We would like to know who Omer spoke to in regard to receiving coordination to pass through Allenby. We offer journalists a special service when passing through our border crossings, and had we known about his arrival this would not have happened.
“I’m not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not responsible for the behaviour of the Shin Bet.”
In the meantime, Omer is still traumatised and in pain. “I’m struggling to breathe and have pain in my head and stomach and will be going back to hospital for further medical examinations,” he said.
Here’s a little more about Omer’s family:
The eldest of eight children, he began work to support his family, aged six, working at odd jobs, then in a factory. Aged seventeen, he landed a job translating for Global Exchange, working with foreign delegations and dignitaries and began filing copy on Gaza’s plight. Since then, his voice has been heard and published from South Africa to Norway, Sweden to Scotland; Germany to Australia. In 2006, he was honoured by the New American Media as the “Best Youth Voice” of the year, for his dispatches in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He has worked through a barrier of pain. On 18th October 2003, his seventeen year old brother Hassan was killed by an Israeli sniper whist walking to school. Nine days later, an Israeli D-9 bulldozer “… crushed Mohammed’s family home without warning whilst his family were inside. As the walls buckled and the roof collapsed” the family managed to scrabble out, through a window. His mother was severely wounded and still suffers from her injuries.
Truly Isaiah spoke truthfully of Israel when he wrote in Isaiah 59:
3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.4 None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.5 They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.6 Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
Israel denied on Tuesday allegations by a Palestinian journalist that he was abused and injured by Israeli security personnel while on his way home to the Gaza Strip after receiving a journalism award in Britain.