Image by Ben Heine
Link HERE to see a recent photo of Ben and Mohamed together
Just received as action report from WRMEA
Gaza Correspondent Mohammed Omer Home Again in Rafah
At a June 16 ceremony in London, Mohammed Omer, author of the regular Washington Report feature Gaza on the Ground, received the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (a link to the presentation and Omers remarks can be found on our home page, <www.wrmea.com>). He shared the prestigious prize with independent American journalist Dahr Jamail, who was honored for his unembedded reports from Iraq. (also can be seen HERE)
Before traveling to England to receive his award, Omer spoke in Sweden, the Netherlands and Greece about the situation in Gaza. Dutch MP Hans Van Baalen, head of the parliaments foreign relations committee, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Pilger spent weeks lobbying Israel to issue an exit permit to allow this young reporter to travel to Europe and London.
Not for the first time, however, getting home was even harder than leaving.
As soon as Omer arrived in Amman, the Dutch diplomats who were helping facilitate his travel arrangements informed him that the Israelis did not want to allow him to return. After further intervention by his Dutch sponsors, Omer finally got the green light, and on the morning of June 26 crossed from Jordan into the occupied territories via the Allenby Bridge. There he was interrogated, strip-searched and manhandled for several hours. After losing consciousness, he finally was taken to a hospital in Jericho, and from there escorted back to Gaza.
MP Van Baalen has demanded that Israel launch an investigation into Omers barbaric treatment.
Mohammed is the best person to write about his ordeal, of course, and his account will appear in the next (September/October) issue of the Washington Report. Thankfully, he is now home and safe in Rafah, albeit sore and shaken. Doctors have ordered him to rest.
He can be contacted via his Web site.
Hang in there Mohamed, we're all sending our prayers. God bless you and keep you SAFE!
The following is a more detailed account of what occurred to Mohammed Omer when returning home to Gaza.
I would write something about my feelings, but I can't, literally cannot.
Contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry and DEMAND an investigation.
Foreign Minister's office firstname.lastname@example.org
Director General's office - email@example.com
Public Relations - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
9 Yitzhak Rabin Blvd.
MIDEAST: Israelis Assault Award Winning IPS Journalist
By Mel Frykberg
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 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.
(YEH right, it was the DUTCH who were coordinating his re-entry! You don't think they know who to talk to? I can't freaking believe this statement!)
"I'm not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not responsible for the behaviour of the Shin Bet." (THEN WHO IS?
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)
Cairo, June 28th 2008
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information “ANHRI.Net”condemns the detention of Palestinian Journalist Mohammad Omer Mughir by Israeli Occupation Forces. Muhammad was detained, assaulted and interrogated on June 27th upon his return to Gaza after receiving the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The young journalist returned to Gaza from the London ceremony and was subsequently seized and detained by the Israeli Military for several hours. During his detention he was assaulted, stripped, beaten, and interrogated about his trip to London and about the press award, which he received.
The international prize was awarded to Muhammad Omer Mughir for a series of newspaper articles that have portrayed the suffering of Palestinians under the current Israeli economic blockade of Gaza and the ongoing military occupation. Muhammad also wrote about his past detention at “Jesser El-Nabi” and how he has been targeted daily by Israeli Occupation Forces because of his journalism. The Martha Gellhorn prize for Journalism was established in 1999 by the wife of the late writer Ernest Hemingway, and honors journalists who give “a view from the ground” of world issues and conflicts.
Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid said that “violations by Israeli Occupation Forces against Palestinians do not stop, and what Muhammed Mughir has been through is only a small example of the media block and the international complicity of these crimes. ”
The Arabic Network emphasizes its condemnation of these inhumane practices by the Israeli Military against journalists and all Palestinian. The Network stands in solidarity with the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and appeals to all Arab human rights institutions and global civil society institutions to put an end to these violations exercised by the Israeli Occupation Army. (SOURCE)