By Stuart Littlewood – London, UK
At last, an explanation (of sorts) for the assault on Mohammed Omer by Israeli security officials has finally landed on my doormat.
It comes in the form of a letter from the Israeli Embassy in London to my MP, and refers to the “security check” Mohammed was put through when he arrived at the Allenby Bridge crossing on 26 June on his way home to Gaza after receiving the coveted Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism at a ceremony in London.
Mr Omer’s allegations "were of grave concern to the Government of Israel", says the letter, and an immediate investigation was launched which highlighted a number of discrepancies between his testimony and the records of those alleged to have mistreated him.
For example, the Israelis deny that he was threatened at gunpoint but admit that armed officers were present.
They deny that medical treatment was withheld after he fainted and say that a paramedic was called and found no connection between the questioning and Mr Omer’s medical condition. They say medical records show that he was taken by ambulance to Jericho Hospital and discharged half-an-hour later.
The letter says Mr Omer claimed he was held by the Israelis for over 12 hours, but according to their officers he was at Allenby Bridge for only 3 hours. Official records from a number of sources, including Jericho Hospital, confirm the testimonies of the security officers at the scene and, they say, raise doubts over the credibility of Mr Omer’s testimony. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognises the inconvenience caused and "has apologised for any personal grievance".
This is a fair summary of the points made by the Embassy. The Israelis’ response to the incident, then, was to demolish Mohammed’s testimony and try to discredit him. But where did this ‘testimony’ come from? Mohammed says emphatically that Israeli investigators have not contacted him… “No investigation was done, simply because no one got in touch with me to take my part of the story, no one asked for medical reports…” What sort of investigation omits to interview the victim or his doctors and doesn’t even identify those who conducted it? That’s right, a whitewash.
In civilised society the way to the truth is through an independent inquiry or tribunal, which would certainly wish to hear from the Dutch diplomats who accompanied Mohammed, the doctors who examined him when he finally reached Gaza and, of course, the young man himself.
The whitewash succeeds only in casting suspicion on the Israelis’ own security people, who are not noted for their goodwill towards Arabs in general and Palestinian in particular.
Mohammed’s fellow journalists produced a number of reports after speaking with him on his sickbed. I phoned him myself a couple of times and found him in poor shape, unable to breathe properly and in considerable pain. Reliable sources in Gaza said he was suffering cracked or broken ribs. This isn’t normally caused by fainting. And fainting isn’t normally caused by legitimate questioning.
Records can be ‘cooked’ and discrepancies invented. After all, isn’t this the regime that goes in for assassination, collective punishment, ethnic cleansing, wholesale confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes and farms, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and every dirty trick in the book?
Isn’t this the regime that shells children playing on the beach and shoots up harmless fishing boats?
Isn’t this the regime that has just prevented a van from delivering urgently needed medical supplies to Gaza donated by the kindly folk of Scotland?
And isn’t this the regime that is threatening non-violent sea-voyagers with violence?
The Embassy’s letter concludes: "The State of Israel takes any accusations of impropriety at its border crossings very seriously." So too should the international community. It is intolerable that Palestinians, in the year 2008, are still forced into the straightjacket of Israel’s illegal military occupation. And it is doubly intolerable that they are still herded through hundreds of Israeli checkpoints as well as the grotesquely inhuman machinery of Israeli border crossings while trying to go about their daily lives. This cruel imposition is caused by the international community’s failure to implement UN resolutions and international law and it’s unwillingness to uphold human rights and simple justice.
The spectacle of the western powers talking tough to Russia over Georgia without taking a similar line with Israel over Palestine would be laughable if it weren’t so insulting. People like Mohammed Omer – indeed all Palestinians – ought be able to come and go freely, and those who have no wish to set foot in Israel should not face a mauling by Israel’s aggressive security.
Until that happy day arrives the routine humiliation of countless decent Palestinians remains an ugly stain on the West and especially Britain, whose betrayal set the scene for the hatred and brutality that fouls the Holy Land today. As an immediate safeguard the UN or EU should insist on a monitoring presence at all ‘security checks’ carried out by Israelis on Palestinians and other internationals entering and leaving Palestine.
-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.