Petition to End Israel’s Restrictions on Freedom of Movement and the Press

To: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State 
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

We, the undersigned, condemn Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Gaza correspondent and author of the magazine’s regular feature, “Gaza on the Ground.” The 24-year-old Palestinian journalist was brutally assaulted by Israeli Shin Bet security officials at the Allenby Bridge border crossing on his way home to Gaza on June 26. He had just received the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, which he shared with independent American journalist Dahr Jamail. Omer’s award citation reads, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless.” (see John Pilger’s July 2 article, “From Triumph to Torture,” in theGuardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/02/israelandthepalestinians.civilliberties)

This is not an isolated incident, Pilger points out, but part of a terrible pattern. Israel gives its border guards and Shin Bet agents free rein to regularly harass Palestinians (as well as Palestinian Americans and American peace activists and academics) traveling to and from the occupied territories. Israel randomly abuses, searches, interrogates and humiliates travelers of every age—men and women—and frequently refuses to let them pass through Israeli-controlled borders to their homes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We just don’t hear their voices.

Israel simply doesn’t want Palestinian voices to be heard abroad. Palestinians are routinely prevented from accepting invitations to speak in Europe or North America. Students with scholarships to study overseas are not permitted to leave. Israel is now preventing Palestinians from returning home, even for a visit, once they have left to work or study abroad. (Israel recently revoked Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison’s travel documents, and will not renew her Jerusalem ID card. She is not allowed to return home to visit her father and mother, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.)

We, the undersigned, also urge the Israeli government to end its efforts to censor international reports from the occupied territories. The government prefers stories to be filed from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where they are subject to censorship, and allows few, if any, international journalists to enter the West Bank and Gaza. Israel censors, harasses and even kills Palestinian journalists who are trying to report on conditions in the occupied territories.

We call on the Israeli government to protect journalists who are trying to work in the occupied territories. At least eight journalists have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 2001, seven of them in attacks by Israel Defense Forces, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists research.*

We call on the Israeli government to end its harassment of travelers and journalists. When Israel targets journalists it infringes on a basic pillar of democracy, freedom of the press. Human beings, even those ruled for decades by an occupying power, have the right to leave home and return safely, without interference, and the right to freedom of speech.

Sincerely,

Total Signatures to Date = 5409

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July 7, 2008 Update:

Mohammed Omer also writes for Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) and various European publications. His reports on the situation in Gaza can be heard on radio stations across the country.

We will be requesting a meeting with the U.S. State Department at which we plan to submit, along with this petition, Omer’s medical report detailing his injuries. We will call for an investigation of Omer’s treatment at the Allenby border crossing, as well as assurances from Israel that it will not target journalists, especially Omer, working in the occupied territories.

*These include:

  • Fadel Shana, a Reuters cameraman, was killed, and soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed was wounded, on April 16, 2008 in the Gaza Strip after they stopped their car, bearing the markings “TV” and “Press,” to film Israeli military forces several hundred meters away. Shana was filming an Israeli tank when it fired on the men.
  • Imad Ghanem, a cameraman for the Hamas-affiliated satellite channel Al-Aqsa, was killed by shells fired from Israeli tanks in July 2007 in the Gaza Strip as he was filming paramedics transferring victims of an Israeli tank attack.
  • Mohamed Abu Halima, a student correspondent for university-affiliated Al-Najah radio station, was killed on March 22, 2004 while reporting on Israeli troop activity at the entrance to the Balata refugee camp, outside the West Bank city of Nablus.
  • Nazih Darwazeh a cameraman for Associated Press Television News, was killed by Israeli forces in Nablus on April 19, 2003 while filming clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli troops. Darwazeh was wearing a fluorescent jacket marked “Press,” and he and other journalists shouted loudly to Israeli troops in both English and Hebrew indicating that they were with the media before the shooting.
  • James Miller, a British free-lance cameraman and award-winning documentary filmmaker, was fatally shot in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on May 2, 2003. His producer Saira Shah, and translator Abdul Rahman Abdullah attempted to identify themselves to the Israeli troops in the area while they were leaving. The journalists were wearing jackets and helmets marked “TV,” and Abdullah was waving a white flag while Miller used a flashlight to illuminate the flag.

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