Journalist Mohammed Omer on the Hell that is Gaza

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“No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

Washington, D.C. – On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006, Mohammed Omer, a 22-year-old Palestinian journalist/photographer, shared his eyewitness account of living and working in Israeli-Occupied Gaza, a densely population area that 1.4 million people call home. He was raised there in the Rafah refugee camp, located near the border with Egypt. He had the opportunity to know and admire Olympia, WA-based peace activist, Rachel Corrie, who was viciously bulldozed to death at Rafah by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on March 16, 2003. She was protesting the Zionists’ draconian policy of home demolitions when she was killed. [1] Omer showed a photo of Corrie’s dead body, wrapped in an American flag, to the near capacity audience at the Palestine Center, where he was giving his lecture. He said that many of the children in the camp, who had grown to love Corrie because of her generous personality and passion for justice, “couldn’t believe that she was dead.” [2]

Omer’s 15-U.S.-cities speaking tour is sponsored by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs magazine, a highly respected news journal, headquartered in this city. He is also their Gazan correspondent. Omer’s talk was entitled, “Gaza: Reports from the Ground.” He continued: “I’ve been writing to tell the world what is happening. What we are facing every day under the IOF. Just to inform the people, not to use a gun, but a camera in a very simple way. Just to take a photo and to share it with people, and to let them judge in the end.” He said he began his journalism career about four years ago, and that his work has appeared “on Sky News, BBC and Norway’s NRK-TV. The oldest of eight children, Omer had to go to work at age six, since his father’s was languishing in an Israeli hell hole for 12 years, and it was the “only way to get money for the family.” His father’s crime, he said: “Just simply because he asked for his rights.” Meanwhile, the IOF’s seizure of Gaza continues unabated, including the latest outrage, on Nov. 8, 2006, the killing of 19 civilians at Beit Hanoun. Eleven of the dead were from one family, including a one-year-old child. [3] Before the most recent rampage against the Palestinians began in early July, 2006, Israel’s Right Wing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, arrogantly remarked: “Nobody dies from being uncomfortable.” [4] Since that insensitive wisecrack, hundreds of Palestinians have reportedly been killed by the IOF. [3]

Rafah’s sprawling refugee camp is on the southern tip of the Gaza Strip. The area where Omer once lived was called, “Block O.” He said: “The Israelis totally splattered it with their bulldozers. They were trying to make a wall between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. So, to make room for the wall, they demolished our houses.” Omer added, that his mother was lucky to get out of her house alive. She ended up in the hospital “with a broken leg.” The Israelis then took all the furniture from the demolished homes, dug a huge hole near the wall, and “burned it. There is nothing. I’ve lost everything. I can’t describe these moments…There are no police in Gaza. The stations have been bombed by the Israelis…There are no salaries for government workers. What you see or hear are riots…burned cars…targeted assassinations…not enough food for the people to eat…tanks…artillery shellings…border closures…F-16 Israeli aircrafts…contant sonic booms…bulldozers…helicopters. There are no bridges. All the bridges in Gaza have been destroyed…There is little electricity…We are under siege…children…families, living in fear…with few medicines…This is life in Gaza.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote a scathing report condemning the cruel Israeli tactic of home demolitions, which smacks of collective punishment. That practice is proscribed by the terms of the Geneva Convention. HRW’s “Razing Rafah” documents how thousands of Palestinian homes were recklessly destroyed by the IOF under the guise of erecting a “buffer zone.” [5] I’ve always wondered: If the U.S. government had lost its mind after the Israelis slaughtered 34 Americans, in an unprovoked assault on the USS Liberty, in July 8, 1967, and decided to destroy the homes of some of the leading Zionists in the U.S. as a pay back, if the barbaric Israeli policy of home demolitions would have continued in the Occupied Territories? Instead of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson taking the Zionist state to task for its deliberate attack on Liberty, he disgraced himself and pretended it was “an accident.” [6] Even after that raving Zionist Jonathan Pollard got caught stealing our most sensitive military secrets for Israel, U.S. foreign aid to Tel Aviv actually increased! [7] Go figure.

Omer told a chilling tale of how one of his brothers, Hussam, was killed recently by an Israeli sniper. He said that he was only “17 years of age and was going to school, at six in the morning.” Omer called him: “The most peaceful guy I have ever seen. He was not going to fight. He was not carrying a gun. What was worse, he was killed by seven bullets.” When a 32-year-old neighbor, Wedad Al Ajrami, tried to evacuate his brother’s punctured, badly bleeding, body to the hospital, she was killed, too, by the deadly, cowardly Israeli sniper, who was shooting from high up in a watchtower. Her husband was also shot twice, when he arrived on the scene and attempted to help out. Mercifully, he survived the horrific ordeal. Omer said, “I feel guilty for this sometimes.” He added, they were all gunned down “because of my brother.” [8]

During the Q & A period, a man who identified himself as an Israeli stood up and requested the microphone. Instead of asking a question, however, he went into a long rant about violence, without of course, mentioning the root cause of the Palestine/Israel conflict, the occupation. He had to be chided by the moderator to ask a specific question. When I left the Center, I noticed that this same individual got into a black limousine with official “Diplomat” tags on it. I was sorry that I didn’t have the presence of mind to jot down the tag number. It would have been interesting to see exactly who this character was fronting for.

Finally, as part of Omer’s riveting presentation, which included many photos, too, he showed a remarkable video of a protest action in Rafah, in May, 2004. [9] It began as a peaceful demonstration, led mostly by children and teenagers objecting to the onerous conditions in Gaza. However, Israeli helicopters soon fired numerous rockets at the unarmed civilians, killing and wounding many. It was a scene of gore and chaos that reminded me of the pictures that I had seen years ago of “Bloody Sunday,” in Occupied Derry, in the north of Ireland, on Jan. 30, 1972, where 13 unarmed Irish civilians were ruthlessly slain by British paratroopers. [10] At press time, Israeli’s hawkish Olmert is making a lot of noise about “a ceasefire” and about extending his “hand in peace” to the Palestinians. If that is true, I hope he has the common decency to wash the blood off of it first!

Notes:

[1]. http://www.rachelcorrie.org/news.htm

[2]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWuRQJeIRyQ

[3]. http://www.pchrgaza.ps/ and
http://www.counterpunch.org/christison11222006.html

[4]. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13773304/
site/newsweek/

[5]. http://hrw.org/campaigns/gaza/

[6]. http://www.ussliberty.org/

[7]. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15222134/

[8]. http://rafahnotes.blogspot.com/

[9]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxBU-Otdefk

[10]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_(1972)

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