MOHAMMED OMER; FROM TRIUMPH TO TORTURE

Maya Angelou once said… “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Truer words were never spoken. Unfortunately, many events are being relived again….. but some are facing them with courage… Mohammed Omer is one of them.


The following was sent to me by a reader in Britain this morning. John Pilger’ post on the Guardian’s Comment is Free is followed by the email itself, which contains many links worth viewing.

It is this type of International Solidarity that will bring an end to the horrible situation millions of people are living with. Mohammed Omer’s story is just one…. there are many other victims.

From triumph to torture

Israel’s treatment of an award-winning young Palestinian journalist is part of a terrible pattern

Two weeks ago, I presented a young Palestinian, Mohammed Omer, with the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Awarded in memory of the great US war correspondent, the prize goes to journalists who expose establishment propaganda, or “official drivel”, as Gellhorn called it. Mohammed shares the prize of £5,000 with Dahr Jamail. At 24, he is the youngest winner. His citation reads: “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless.” The eldest of eight, Mohammed has seen most of his siblings killed or wounded or maimed. An Israeli bulldozer crushed his home while the family were inside, seriously injuring his mother. And yet, says a former Dutch ambassador, Jan Wijenberg, “he is a moderating voice, urging Palestinian youth not to court hatred but seek peace with Israel”.

Getting Mohammed to London to receive his prize was a major diplomatic operation. Israel has perfidious control over Gaza’s borders, and only with a Dutch embassy escort was he allowed out. 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.”

An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go. The Israeli response has been the familiar line that Mohammed was “suspected” of smuggling and “lost his balance” during a “fair” interrogation, Reuters reported yesterday.

Israeli human rights groups have documented the routine torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet agents with “beatings, painful binding, back bending, body stretching and prolonged sleep deprivation”. Amnesty has long reported the widespread use of torture by Israel, whose victims emerge as mere shadows of their former selves. Some never return. Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists, especially Palestinian journalists, who receive barely a fraction of the kind of coverage given to the BBC’s Alan Johnston.

The Dutch government says it is shocked by Mohammed Omer’s treatment. The former ambassador Jan Wijenberg said: “This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life … I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future.”

While Mohammed was receiving his prize in London, the new Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Proser, was publicly complaining that many Britons no longer appreciated the uniqueness of Israel’s democracy. Perhaps they do now.

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Mohammed Omer Alimghaer, the 2008 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism (see video), is now recovering in the European Hospital, Gaza, after being savagely abused by official agents of the Israeli Shin Bet (see From triumph to torture by John Pilger in the Guardian). We hope he’ll soon be back in his home in Yibna refugee camp, Rafah, Gaza.


Below is a list of links to details and interviews with Mohammed on the sadistic treatment he suffered at the hands of at least 8 Israeli officials at the Allenby Border Terminal.


The Israeli Shin Bet is notorious for its human rights abuse – I personally know of this from my work for Women’s Organization for Political Prisoners (WOFPP).


While in London, Mohammed Omer gave an outstanding but harrowing presentation of life in Gaza. This included personal accounts of the brutality of the Israeli occupation forces, not least the killing of his brother, and the demolition of his family’s home in Yibna (see the 8 videos of his presentation and the Q&A; all the videos of his presentation were prepared for IFY by Human Rights TV).

People in Yibna wrote to IFY that they were proud of Mohammed Omer winning the prestigious prize, but when they heard of his torture they asked why.


Five days after the assault on Mohammed, Israel released its version, which trivialises Mohammed’s ordeal. Sadly the BBC chose to publish the Israeli denial as its title in the BBC’s first report on Mohammed’s ordeal: Israel denies injuring reporter. In fact, the BBC website chose to inform of Mohammed’s Martha Gellhorn Prize, for the first time, under that title of the Israeli denial. Also, the difference in the BBC reporting and that of Pilger in the Guardian raises other issues. Anyone feeling this BBC coverage is inappropriate may wish to contact the BBC (see below list of BBC contacts).


Israel persistently denies mistreatment and murder. For example, when the British photojournalist, Tom Hurndall, was shot by an Israeli sniper, Israel claimed he was shot by Palestinians. After years of a relentless campaign by his London parents, eventually it was proven his killer was indeed an Israeli soldier.


In addition to the BBC list, below is a list of contacts (such as the Israeli authorities responsible for the Allenby Border Terminal and journalists organisations) with whom you may wish to raise your concerns, especially in the context of John Pilger’s words:


Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists, especially Palestinian journalists, who receive barely a fraction of the kind of coverage given to the BBC’s Alan Johnston. The former ambassador Jan Wijenberg said: “This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life … I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future.”


Regards,

Yael Kahn

Islington Friends of Yibna [Chair]

Islington_Yibna@yahoo.co.uk


3 Comments

  1. July 3, 2008 at 04:08

    […] of humanity is matched only by their bravery in the face of tyranny and death. Those rare voices for the voiceless are courageously reporting those state crimes, on location. Endless respects to them and to the […]

  2. Marlin said,

    July 6, 2008 at 21:35

    It looks like any country that is an “Ally” of the US is practising torture. The country where double speak is king. Give up your liberty for freedom?

  3. hestroy said,

    July 7, 2008 at 10:18

    Khazars, you’ll get it back… Remember my words…


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