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Targeting Journalists

By Eva Bartlett

The killing of Gaza-based Palestinian Reuters cameraman received considerable attention 2.5 months ago. Filming at the site of shelling in Gaza earlier in the day, Fadel Shana was himself targeted by shelling from the very tanks he was filming. After the incident, with international outcry from rights groups, journalists associations, and individuals, Israel promised to look into his death.

Given the high number of journalist fatalities and injuries at the hands of the Israeli army, it is not hard to believe that perhaps Israel is targeting journalists.

24 year old Mohammed Omer, an internationally-recognized journalist from Rafah in Gaza’s south, is the latest to be targeted by Israel, although this time not while reporting.

Omer had left Gaza weeks earlier, traveling via Israel and Jordan to London where, on June 16th, he was awarded the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. On the same day, journalists in Gaza marched in memory of the slain Fadel Shana, at the same time protesting the vacuum of silence that has followed Shana’s killing just two months later. In the days before the award ceremony, Omer had spoken in Sweden, the Netherlands and Greece on the current situation in Gaza with the year-long internationally-backed Israeli siege.

Although Omer had previously left Gaza, after much bureaucracy from the Israeli authorities, this time was worse, both leaving and returning, with injuries added to insult on his return.

While expecting delays and difficulties in getting Israel to facilitate passage, Omer hadn’t been expecting the abuse which came with hours of interrogation by Israel’s intelligence, the Shin Bet.

According to an interview Omer gave the IPS, “At first I refused but then I had an M16 (gun) pointed in my face and my clothes were forcibly removed, even my underwear.”

IPS reports that Omer was told, “You haven’t seen anything yet,” in reply to his requests they stop the interrogation. Subjecting the journalist to a full-body search, IPS reports that “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.” He was later dragged along the ground to a Palestinian ambulance which took him to a Jericho hospital.

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, according to IPS’ report.

Days later, Mohammed Omer still feels the effects of his interrogation.

“I can’t talk much, it hurts too much to speak,” Omer explained over the phone, voice barely audible. He later detailed why he was having so much trouble speaking, breathing: “they put their fingers into my solar plexus and leaned into me, pushing hard.”

Menassat, the Middle East North Africa news agency, reports that Israeli army spokesperson Avihay Adre’y stated after Shana’s killing: “Our soldiers know that the journalist is sacred and is never part of the conflict.” The Menassat article mentions that Israel maintains its soldiers are given special instructions on how to deal with Palestinian journalists operating in combat.

The same article quotes an Israeli journalist who contends that reporting is the only weapon that Gaza journalists have, that they shouldn’t be “stopped, killed or targeted.” The journalist, Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot’s Roni Shaked, avowed “If the situation [in Israel] was similar to that in Gaza, I would definitely be present to cover the events and no-one could stop me.”

This is what Mohammed Omer has been doing, since beginning to report as a journalist on the ground 7 years ago. His reporting, formally recognized with the New America Media’s Best Youth Voice award, appears regularly in the New Statesman, WRMEA, IPS, and numerous internet news-sites, and he is a regular interviewee on the BBC and Democracy Now, among others.

One wonders how Palestinian journalists can continue to report, when targeted on the ground and meticulously abused at the hands of the Israeli army. One wonders even more when Israel will actually be held accountable for its actions, when the international community will no longer accept the dismissive promise to ‘hold an investigation into the matter’. The matter has been investigated ad nauseum, and the matter is fairly clear: Israel is targeting journalists (not to mention civilians).