Sunday, 6 July 2008

Israel's UK ambassador fails to respond to assault claim

Friends of Mohammed Omer: No response from Israeli ambassador to assault claim

A week ago we asked the Israeli ambassador in Britain for the truth about the brutal attack on Mohammed Omer by security officials and, if appropriate, for an apology, compensation for his injuries and an undertaking in future to respect his right to go about his work unmolested. He has not replied.

By all accounts Mohammed's tormentors were taking an unhealthy interest in the whereabouts of his prize-money and put him in hospital when his answers weren't to their liking.

We sent Ambassador Ron Prosor numerous published reports and he will presumably have read John Pilger's article in The Guardian. Pilger, twice winner of the Journalist of the Year award, can be relied on to check his sources for accuracy as far as is humanly possible.

Omer was an honoured guest in Britain and was on his way home to his family in Gaza, having committed no crime, when Israeli security officials detained and tortured him. Reports say he was accompanied by Dutch diplomatic staff, who had helped with his travel arrangements in and out of Occupied Palestine.

According to an account on, the Israelis "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 on his tour. The Shin Bet officials then started to make fun of the European parliamentarians..."

If this is true the Israelis compound their lawlessness by insulting British MPs, among others, and violating their privacy and confidential dealings.

Dahr Jamail, co-recipient of the Martha Gellhorn award with Mohammed Omer, has filed this report:

He was met by a Dutch official at the Allenby Bridge crossing (from Jordan to the West Bank) who was to ferry him back into Gaza. The official waited outside for Omer as he entered the Israeli building. Inside, Omer was told he was not allowed to call this embassy escort when he asked to do so; a Shin Bet officer searched his luggage and documents, and asked him for his English pounds.

Omer was surrounded by eight armed Shin Bet officers. This is how he described what happened next. “A 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?’

"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 it into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

Consider the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court has allowed the use of “moderate physical pressure” in the questioning of prisoners... Now consider the fourth Geneva Convention (1949): “(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

As the civilized world knows, violence towards civilians, including cruel treatment, torture and outrages to personal dignity, is prohibited. We have added Jamail's report to the ambassador's reading list.

Israel's immediate response to the Omer incident was a denial. An unnamed Israeli security official was quoted as saying that a body search and an examination of Omer’s belongings were carried out “because of the suspicion that he had been in contact with hostile elements and had been asked by them to smuggle something in”. Omer received “fair treatment and no irregular action was taken towards him”. As for his injuries, he lost his balance and fell "for some reason unknown to us", they said.

This contradicts the Dutch diplomats who accompanied Omer, the doctors in Jericho and Gaza who examined Omer and found he had suffered bruises and broken ribs, and Reporters Without Borders who have recorded a sharp rise in Israel's brutal treatment of journalists, especially those returning from Europe.

Mohammed's experience is a tiny window into the widescale, systematic abuse of Palestinian people, which goes largely unreported in the West. Since the international community has permitted a situation in which all residents of Palestine - and visitors - must enter and leave through Israeli crossings the least it should do is insist on a UN presence at all detentions and interrogations.

In the meantime Israel seems especially twitchy about Palestinians with links to Europe.

[Editor's note: The Israeli ambassador in London can be contacted by email by clicking here.

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