Sunday, June 29, 2008
Moammed Omer Assaulted and Abused by Israeli Security
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
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
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
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
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
"I'm not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not
responsible for the behaviour of the Shin Bet."
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)