Sunday, July 06, 2008

Israel: "not afraid of criticism"

Two weeks ago, young Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer was returning home from Europe where he had received the Martha Gellhorn prize for his outstanding work covering the situation in the occupied territories. At the border, he was detained by the Israeli security services. John Pilger reports:

"Mohammed was told to turn off his mobile and remove the battery. He asked if he could call his [Dutch] embassy escort and was told forcefully he could not. A man stood over his luggage, picking through his documents. "Where's the money?" he demanded. Mohammed produced some US dollars. "Where is the English pound you have?"

"I realised," said Mohammed, "he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying', he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The 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?'

"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. 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 into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go. The Israeli response has been the familiar line that Mohammed was "suspected" of smuggling and "lost his balance" during a "fair" interrogation..."

Pilger notes the irony that, just a couple of weeks earlier, Israel's ambassador to the UK had written that "While Israel faces many challenges, it is still the only functioning democracy in the region, and the only state in the area that offers minorities full civil equality and freedom of speech. One of my greatest sources of pride is the open discourse conducted within my country. Critical debate thrives and Israelis scrutinise every aspect of our policies. We are not afraid of criticism."

Perhaps what the ambassador meant to say was that Israel is not afraid of criticism, except for the odd occasion when its security forces torture a 24 year old journalist. Or maybe his definition of a liberal democratic state is just a little different from that recognised by the rest of us.

Labels:

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home