Muhammad Omer and I jointly received the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in
But Omer’s journey to
Then, after the ceremony, there were our even more different return journeys. My biggest problem was an hour’s delay for the flight back to my home country, the
On his return home, Omer was badly beaten up and physically and psychologically abused by
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."
`Moderate physical pressure’
The Israeli Supreme Court has allowed the use of "moderate physical pressure" in the questioning of prisoners.
The fourth Geneva Convention (GC) (1949) states: (1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, 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. To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."
The Israeli military regularly bombs and uses snipers to attack Palestinian ambulances. Article 20 of the 1949 GC states: "Persons regularly and solely engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals, including the personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians, the infirm and maternity cases shall be respected and protected."
Article 23 of the 1949 GC states: "Each High Contracting Party shall allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores and objects necessary for religious worship intended only for civilians of another High Contracting Party, even if the latter is its adversary. It shall likewise permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under 15, expectant mothers and maternity cases."
The Israeli government has threatened to close orphanages for Palestinian children in Hebron, which would be another violation of international law, for article 24 of the Geneva Convention states clearly: "The Parties to the conflict shall take the necessary measures to ensure that children under fifteen, who are orphaned or are separated from their families as a result of the war, are not left to their own resources, and that their maintenance, the exercise of their religion and their education are facilitated in all circumstances. Their education shall, as far as possible, be entrusted to persons of a similar cultural tradition."
The Shin Bet violated many GC principles in the way it treated Omer. Part III of the 1949 GC, which covers the status and treatment of protected persons, section I, article 27, says: "Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity." Article 29 of the same section states: "The Party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred."
The gross imbalance of power
According to Defence for Children International,
Attacking journalists is not new. On 16 April Fadel Shanaa, a Palestinian cameraman working for the news agency Reuters, was killed by a rocket fired during an Israeli military incursion into the Gaza Strip. His assistant, Wafa Barbakh, was seriously injured. Both were in vehicle clearly marked "Press". This appears to be part of systematic targeting of journalists by the Israeli military. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, the Israeli military has killed at least nine journalists, including an Italian and a Briton. At least 170 other journalists have been wounded by the Israeli military during this period.
Former Dutch ambassador Jan Wijenberg said of what happened to Omer: "This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life… I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future. . . [Omer] is a moderating voice, urging Palestinian youth not to court hatred but seek peace with
I cannot reconcile the disparity in our experiences. How can we reconcile something that is irreconcilable in the absence of all justice? ________________________________________________________
Dahr Jamail wrote Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2007, after eight months in
(1) Dahr Jamail’s award was for his work on
Original text in English