Dahr Jamail tells of this harrowing experience suffered by Muhammad Omer, a Palestinian journalist who, along with Dahr Jamail, received the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in London on 16 June (1).
On his return home, Omer was badly beaten up and physically and psychologically abused by Israel's security forces, Shin Bet. At the Allenby Bridge crossing, from Jordan to the West Bank, he was met by the Dutch official who was to ferry him back into Gaza. The official waited outside as Omer entered the Israeli building. Omer was told to turn off his mobile phone and remove the battery. When he asked if he could call his embassy escort, he was told sternly he was not allowed. A Shin Bet officer searched his luggage and rifled through his documents. "Where's the money?" he asked Omer. "Where are the English pounds you have?" They wanted to confiscate his prize money, which Omer was wise enough not to carry on his person.
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."
Now you may think this can't be a pattern of behavior, it may be, as reported back in 2000 by the Guardian, typical of the era from '88-'92, the Intifada, and things have since been rectified. And such practices of physical coercion were banned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999. Since then it's documented that only "moderate physical pressure" can be exerted against terrorist or other suspects. What that means may be open to interpretation. Perhaps humiliation, sexual degradation, and physical deprivation are "moderate" to Shin Bet.
Or maybe the right-wing in Israel considers all of that irrelevant: declare a self-defense and its battles, and impose a humanitarian disaster on an entire population of men, women and children. Which, of course, means Gaza. As stated here:
The humanitarian condition of the one and a half million men, women and children illegally incarcerated in Gaza is now at its worst point in the last 40 years of Israeli occupation.
Israel’s pitiable attempts to achieve absolute security through absolute domination have only led us all into disaster. The rocket attacks by militants in Gaza against Israeli civilians are as deplorable as they are predictable – given the suffering caused by this blockade – but these attacks are also irrelevant to the humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israel’s siege. The one does not justify the other. The one cannot justify the other.
Self-defense to Israel also can mean, say, decimating the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon - like the country's one major airport - in response to the kidnapping by one group of two Israeli soldiers. This is certainly not covered by "torture" statutes. It's war, and all's fair...
Meanwhile, what's wrong with a little incarceration? What's wrong with incarcerating the entire population of Gaza because of the rocket attacks on Israel? What's wrong with incarcerating Palestinian journalists? What's wrong with slanting the news? What's wrong with violating human rights? What's wrong with a little "pressure" now and then? What's wrong with a few lies? What's wrong with being heavy-handed? What's wrong with Israel holding more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them without charges, detention being renewable every 6 months??? Israel cannot be held accountable for any of its actions. Israel is above reproach. Israel has not been fully born yet, apparently. Israel considers itself forever under siege, extremely delicate, more so than Marie Antoinette, a virtual fetus trapped in a virtual womb, waiting to be born. Born, presumably, by C-section, judging by the heavy use of the virtual, or actual, sword, or its more explosive surrogates.
As the very astute Seth Freedman of the Guardian said in reporting about Israeli Jews with a totally different attitude towards Palestinians:
Despite the general perception that Israeli Jews are under constant threat of attack when they venture into the Wild West Bank, a group of dedicated volunteers from the Villages Group put paid to that myth on their regular solidarity visits to local Palestinian farmers. "Perhaps we cannot bring about a general peace," reads their website, "but we can perform deeds of peace."
In fact, Mr. Freedman titles his article "Ehud, Noam and Elad disprove the myth that Jews who venture into the West Bank are putting their lives in danger", referring to members of the Villages Group who are dedicated, along with other humanitarian groups, to creating a bridge between Israeli and Palestinian people in spite of all efforts of the Israeli government to keep the two neighbors in a constant state of war, fear, and conflict.
But for every small step forward Ehud and his colleagues make in terms of bridge building, the Israeli government and the IDF make ten massive leaps back. We visited the cave village of Mukfara, whose recently-built, minuscule mosque has just been issued with a demolition order by the army. "Settlers build illegally day after day," said Mahmud Hammada, the muchtar of the hamlet, "whilst we are on our recognised land yet still cannot even build a mosque in which to pray."
As Dahr Jamail pointed out:
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."B'tselem documents so much Israeli violation of the Geneva Conventions - to this very day and hour - that it's obvious Israel joins Dick Cheney & George W. Bush et. al. in their disregard for human rights when it comes to human rights-abusers' favorite Reason for All Abuses: security. They seek absolute security. Absolute control. In the case of Israel, absolute authority of Jews over and to the exclusion of all other nationalities. And this is unconscionable. It corrupts absolutely. Let the guilty take responsibility.
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."Is it not ethnic cleansing? And why torment journalists for telling the truth? What is Israel trying to hide, if "security" truly justifies all?
Israel has blockaded Gaza, isolating and starving the 1.5 million Palestinians who live there. In 2006 Dov Weisglass, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet,He's so out of touch with compassion, he makes a joke out of it.
but not to make them die of hunger."
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."Obviously, GC principles were also violated in Omer's treatment by the Shin Bet.
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 Israeli government sees itself as above the Geneva Convention, in much the same way the Bush-Cheney administration sees itself as above the GC, and for the same reason: Security.
Security is the reasons all human rights abusers use to justify their abuse. All dictators use security to justify their abuse of power. And it's the number one reason they "suppress the press." Strongarming journalists is normally the tactic of totalitarians, governments who don't want the people to know what's going on. Is that the case with Israel, or what????
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 Israel."
Janet McMahon, managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East
Affairs, for which Omer writes, says he is still in hospital. "He may go home,
or have an operation. He's still in a lot of pain, and it's hard for him to
swallow, or to breathe deeply. He's being fed intravenously."
Obviously, to the Israeli government, Omer is merely a security risk, not a human being, much less a journalist with certain rights. They don't bother to see if he really poses a threat, but bulldoze him like so much Palestinian ... paraphernalia? what's the term that combines "homes" with "trash"? ... like the unwanted Palestinian presence bulldozed for the ethnically pure settlers whose rights are inalienable, unlike the rights of Palestinians. Is this not racist?? Well, honestly, is not Israeli policy both racist - OPENLY racist! - and at the same time smacks of totalitarianism, if you happen to be born on the wrong side of the DNA tracks.
Israel's "gross imbalance of power" is funded by none other than Uncle Superpower. It's absolutely cool on all sides of the U.S. political spectrum to sing the praises of Israel and vow to defend it tooth and nail, even if it means violating a Geneva Convention clause or two. Who gives a damn about the Geneva Conventions anyway? We want power, security, not "human rights". Damn those "human rights activists", always getting in the way.
That's why "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Human rights are the basis for most moral codes, and abandoning those, even partly, means one has become corrupt.
According to Defence for Children International, Israel has "engaged in gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law". Between 1967 and 2003, Israel destroyed over 10,000 Palestinian homes, and that continues.
So how can they claim to be any better than Bush, Cheney, or any of a number of dictatorships in Africa, Asia, or elsewhere that we will not name, and whom we dare condemn? How in good conscience can America give a carte blanche to this flagrant affront to justice and goodwill in the name of security? Easy. Do it all the time. In the Middle East, America makes sure Israel Antoinette always gets the cake. And America makes sure she defends it, too. By all means, by all means...