I recently received this Action Alert from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs regarding the recent assault of Mohammed Omer, a Gaza-based Palestinian journalist whose articles and witness have been courageous and humanizing portraits of life under military occupation. Please read on and consider signing the petition to ask Israel to protect all journalists and others traveling to the occupied territories.
Here is Pilger's account via Omer:
Last Thursday, on his return journey, he was met at the Allenby Bridge crossing (to Jordan) by a Dutch official, who waited outside the Israeli building, unaware Mohammed had been seized by Shin Bet, Israel's infamous security organisation. Mohammed was told to turn off his mobile and remove the battery. He asked if he could call his embassy escort and was told forcefully he could not. A man stood over his luggage, picking through his documents. "Where's the money?" he demanded. Mohammed produced some US dollars. "Where is the English pound you have?"
"I realised," said Mohammed, "he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying', he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, 'They are gifts for the people I love'. He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?'
"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."
And here is the ACTION ALERT.
July 7, 2008 Contact:
Washington Report Correspondent Mohammed Omer Released From Hospital Following Detention by Israeli Soldiers at Allenby Bridge Crossing
More than 2,300 people have signed a petition drafted by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs calling for the Israeli government to protect journalists and end its harassment of journalists, academics and other travelers to and from the occupied Palestinian territories.
We are requesting a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the U.S. State Department at which we plan to submit, along with our petition, Omer’s medical report detailing his injuries. We will call for an investigation of Omer’s treatment at the Allenby border crossing, as well as assurances from Israel that it will not target journalists, especially Omer, working in the occupied territories.
Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, Gaza correspondent for the Washington Report, Inter Press Service News Agency contributor, and co-recipient of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, was hospitalized with cracked ribs and other injuries inflicted by Israeli soldiers June 26 at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan into the occupied West Bank.
Omer was returning home to Gaza after a European speaking tour and the June 16 London ceremony at which he accepted the prestigious Gellhorn Prize.
Omer was detained, questioned by a Shin Bet agent, strip searched at gunpoint, assaulted and dragged by the heels to an ambulance after he began vomiting and going in and out of consciousness. When he finally came to, he was in a Palestinian hospital in Jericho, where he was treated and allowed to return home in the custody of the Dutch diplomats. See the following article by John Pilger in the July 2 Guardian:
Unable to eat and still in pain, Omer was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Gaza on June 28, re-examined, treated, and fed on an intravenous drip. He was released over the past weekend, but is far from recovered.
In his article in the August 2008 Washington Report, “A Voice for the Voiceless,” Omer defines his life’s mission as “to get the truth out,” and describes himself as “not pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but simply…an eyewitness on the ground, reporting what happens and why.” Palestinian journalists risk their lives on a daily basis to tell the world what is happening in their homeland.
Please visit the Washington Report website, www.wrmea.com, to sign the petition condemning Israel’s attacks on journalists, both Palestinian and international. We urge you to forward this petition to everyone you know. Add your voice to Mohammed Omer’s on behalf of voiceless Gazans and Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation—an occupation made possible by American tax dollars.