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PMC: Israeli soldiers assault, abuse and torture Palestinian journalist

To view original report, published by the Palestine Media Centre, click here

The security officials pf the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) manning the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank assaulted, abused and strip-searched at gunpoint Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, the Gaza correspondent of IPS, joint winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism and was honored by New American Media as the ‘Best Youth Voice’ for 2006.

“Omer returned to his native Gaza Strip on Thursday, literally unconscious and unable to speak after being beaten and tortured by Israeli troops. He is still unable to speak so I was not able to communicate with him,” Steve Amsel of Desert Peace said on Saturday.

Omer was on a speaking tour of the United States. He spoke before a large audience at the Center Congregational Church in Brattleboro on Nov. 29. Omer shared his experiences in Gaza and why journalism was his calling.

He 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.

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.

“I’m not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not responsible for the behavior of the Shin Bet.”

In the meantime, Omer is still traumatized 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.

Omer, 22, was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border. The oldest of eight children, Mohammed began working to support his family at age six when his father was in an Israeli prison. In time, he landed a job at a backpack factory and since then has built an impressive resume as a translator, journalist, and program coordinator.

At 17, he began translating for Global Exchange delegations to Gaza, traveling dignitaries, and foreign reporters. At 18, he began writing regularly for the international media and Omer’s work can now be found in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide such as the Vermont Guardian, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, ArtVoice Weekly, the online magazine Electronic Intifada, and Norwegian and Swedish dailies.

By: Steve Amsel

To view original article, published by the Palestine Think Tank, click here

My dear friend and brother Mohammed Omer returned to his native Gaza Strip on Thursday… literally unconscious and unable to speak after being beaten and tortured by Israeli troops. He is still unable to speak so I was not able to communicate with him, I will be posting updates on his condition in future posts.

Mohammed was in Britain, where he was the recipient of a prize for journalism. You can read about it HERE in a post I wrote earlier in the week.

Mohammed’s ordeal is written about in an Action Alert issued by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a journal in which he appears regularly.

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 Omer’s 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.

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 parliament’s 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 Omer’s barbaric treatment.