Monday, August 4, 2008

If You Are Palestinian, Journalism Can Get You Killed, or Severely Beaten

Last Christmas I preached on the Sunday of the Holy Innocents, on the text about the flight into Egypt, when Joseph led his family to safety, probably along the route through Gaza along the Mediterranean. Through the centuries many churches were built along this route because tradition held that this was the way the family fled. Today there are still many refugee families in this area--most notably in Gaza. When I was writing the sermon I searched the internet for information about what was happening in Gaza today and found the website of a young Palestinian, Mohammad Omer, who took on the task of reporting what was happening in Gaza. I was very impressed by his work and used illustrations from his reporting in my sermon. If you are interested you can read my sermon for 1Christmas at:

Last week I discovered that Mohammad Omer was given an award for his journalism. He traveled to England to receive the award and was severely beaten by Israeli Defense Forces upon his return. Mohammad Omer wrote about his experience last week in The Nation, a portion of which I quote here:

"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.

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 officers. 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." Read more....

This story is not unique. It is the way Palestinians are routinely treated by the IDF. They are not free to travel. They must obtain permits for everything, permits which are more often denied than granted. Although we think that the situation is improving as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice travels to Israel and brings the parties together for talks, little changes on the ground. The only change is that now the brutality of Israeli occupation is being carried out behind the Wall. See Mohammad Omer's web site, to learn more about what is happening on the ground in Gaza. Read more about his experience with the IDF and watch videos showing him receiving his award and talking about life in Gaza today:

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