Monday, June 30, 2008

[Alert] Israelis assault award winning Palestinian journalist

[Alert] Israelis assault award winning Palestinian journalist

GAZA CITY, Jun 28 (IPS) - Mohammed Omer, the Gaza correspondent of IPS, and

joint winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, was

strip-searched at gunpoint, assaulted and abused by Israeli security officials

at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank on Thursday as

he tried to return home to Gaza .

Omer, a resident of Rafah in the south of Gaza , and previous recipient of the

New America Media's Best Youth Voice award several years ago, was returning

from London where he had just collected his Gellhorn Prize, and from several

European capitals where he had speaking engagements, including a meeting with

Greek parliamentarians.

Omer's trip was sponsored by The Washington Report, and the Dutch embassy

in Tel Aviv was responsible for coordinating Omer's travel plans and his

security permit to leave Gaza with Israeli officials.

Israel controls the borders of Gaza and severely restricts the entrance and

exit of Gazans allegedly on grounds of security.Human rights organisations

accuse the Israelis of using security as a pretext to apply collective

punishment indiscriminately.

While waiting in Amman on his way back, Omer eventually received the requisite

coordination and security clearance from the Israelis to return to Gaza after

this had initially been delayed by several days, he told IPS.

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


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


"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.(END/2008)

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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