Created on Tuesday, 19 August 2008 19:20
Written by Mohammed Omer
Truth and Consequences Under the Israeli Occupation
by Mohammed Omer
I am a Palestinian journalist from Gaza. At the age of 17, I armed myself with a camera and a pen, committed to report accurately on events in Gaza.
I have filed reports as Israeli fighter jets bombed Gaza City.
I have interviewed mothers as they watched their children die in hospitals unequipped to serve them because of Israel's embargo.
I have been recognized for my reporting, even in the United States and United Kingdom, where I have won two international awards.
I have also been beaten and tortured by Israeli soldiers.
Mohammed Omer: A Palestinian journalist's life and work shed light on the violence in Israel's "dual" society
This summer, at age 24, I was honored to learn that I had become the
youngest journalist to receive the Martha Gellhorn Prize for
Journalism, named for the famed American war reporter and awarded to
journalists who counter propaganda with the truth.
Although Israel has
sealed Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians in what many now call the
world's largest open-air prison, Dutch MP Hans Van Baalen lobbied the
Israeli government to let me leave Gaza to receive my award in person.
Upon my return from London, I was surrounded by Israeli security
I was stripped naked at gunpoint, interrogated, kicked and
beaten for more than four hours. At one point I fainted and then
awakened to fingernails gouging at the flesh beneath my eyes. An
officer crushed my neck beneath his boot and pressed my chest into the
floor. Others took turns kicking and pinching me, laughing all the
while. They dragged me by my feet, sweeping my head through my own
vomit. I lost consciousness. I was told later that they transferred me
to a hospital only when they thought I might die.
Today, I have difficulty breathing. I have abrasions and scratches on
my chest and neck. My hands don't function well; typing is difficult.
My doctor informed me that due to nerve damage from one kick, I may be
unable to father children and will need to have an operation.
Israeli attacks on journalists are not new; nor are they rare. In
April, Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was killed by fire from an Israeli
tank. He was in a car, clearly marked as press. According to Amnesty
International, "Fadel Shana appears to have been killed deliberately
although he was a civilian taking no part in attacks on Israel's
Reporters Without Borders has condemned the Israeli military's
widespread "abusive behavior" of Palestinian journalists. And the
Committee to Protect Journalists reports that journalists covering
Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza "contend with
perennial abuses at the hands of Israeli forces." In 2007 alone,
Israeli soldiers shot photographers from Agence France-Presse, Al-Ayyam
newspaper and Al-Aqsa TV. The television cameraman, Imad Ghanem, fell
to the ground when wounded. Israeli forces then shot him twice more in
the legs. Both of his legs have been amputated.
Could it be that despite their tanks, fighter planes and nuclear
arsenal, Israel is threatened by our cameras and computers, which give
the world access to images and information about their military
occupation of Palestinians? Indeed, this month a Palestinian girl
filmed an Israeli soldier shooting a blindfolded Palestinian at point
blank range with a rubber bullet. The video aired widely, on CNN, NBC
News and the BBC, among other media outlets.
Although Palestinians face this violence daily, the images and our
stories rarely travel beyond our borders. Israel seems intent on hiding
its oppression of Palestinians under its rule--including its dual
system of laws, one giving civil, political and social rights to
Israelis, and the other denying those rights to Palestinians living
under occupation. This system allows Jewish settlers in the West Bank
to enjoy freedom of movement and access to healthcare and education,
while Palestinian children in Gaza die of curable illnesses because
hospitals have run out of medicine.
Martha Gellhorn brought to light atrocities committed in World War II
and in the Vietnam War. In her tradition, I remain committed to
accurate reporting from Gaza today. For this I may suffer lifelong
consequences. But I hold on to the hope that Americans--as well as
journalists worldwide--will impress upon Israel the need to respect the
rights of reporters. Freedom of speech and a free press are hallmarks
of any democracy. I am proud to call myself a Palestinian and a
journalist. The might of the Israeli military will not silence my pen
or darken my camera lens.