with Mel Frykberg
LONDON - Medical reports seen by IPS appear to confirm the testimony of IPS
Gaza correspondent Mohammed Omer of physical abuse at the hands of Israelis
Omer said he was physically and mentally abused at the Allenby crossing into
Gaza while on his way back from a European tour. In London, he was awarded the
Martha Gellhorn prize for investigative reporting.
Omer left for Europe through an agreement secured by Dutch diplomats to escort
him in and out of Gaza. The abuse was reported Jun. 26 as Omer was searched
at the crossing in Israeli custody while a Dutch diplomat waited outside.
According to Omer's testimony, he was forced to strip by an Israeli officer
wearing a police uniform. He was pinned down on the floor with a boot on the
neck. He says he collapsed during interrogation, and when he came round his
eyelids were being forcibly opened. He was then dragged along the floor by his
feet by officials of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet.
Omer was taken by ambulance from the Allenby crossing to the Jericho hospital
in Palestinian territory in the West Bank. From there he was transferred to
Gaza after a few hours.
A note from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) denies Omer's account
of physical abuse in Israeli custody. "In contradiction to his claims,
at no time was the complainant subjected to either physical or mental violence."
But an ambulance report of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society says: "We
note finger signs on the neck and chest." A report from the European Gaza
Hospital of the Palestinian National Authority's Ministry of Health includes
the following notation after examination of Omer: "Ecchymosis (discoloration
caused by bleeding underneath, typically caused by bruising) at upper part of
chest wall was found."
The report makes these further observations: "Tenderness on the anterior
part of the neck and upper back mainly along the right ribs moderate to severe
pain," and "by examination the scrotum due to pain varicocele (varicose
veins in the spermatic cord) at left side detected and surgery was decided later."
The Israeli GPO note acknowledges that Omer and his baggage were searched "due
to suspicion that he had been in contact with hostile elements and had been
asked by them to deliver items to Judea and Samaria (towns in the Palestinian
Omer denies he was in touch with "hostile elements" during his lecture
tour of Europe. "And there was no question of going to the West Bank,"
he says. "I only had permission to leave and enter Gaza with Dutch diplomatic
escorts, in a closed diplomatic car. I don't deliver items, and in any case
I was never headed to the West Bank." Also, the GPO note does not specify
what they were looking for.
The Israeli GPO note says further: "Regarding the complainant's collapse,
as it were, it should be noted that the paramedic who attended to him found
no evidence of a physical cause of collapse. The complainant's behavior raises
doubts as to the sincerity of the situation. In any event, the complainant was
sent to an infirmary and an ambulance was ordered for him."
According to an AP report, Dr. Diaa Husseini who examined Omer at the hospital
in Jericho, found no signs of physical injury. The report said Dr Husseini found
Omer had suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by emotional stress and was
given stomach medication and released after two hours.
Dr. Husseini confirmed to IPS, by phone, that he saw no external injuries on
Omer. "However, it is possible that he had further internal injuries, but
I never examined him for those as he never complained about any internal pain
or other injuries," the doctor said.
Omer says Dr. Husseini only gave him intravenous support and prescribed some
medicines because he was to leave Jericho within two hours. "I think what
Dr. Husseini did was basically to make me stable, which his staff nurse did."
Omer disputes other statements in the Israeli GPO note. "We should point
out that there are numerous additional contradictions in the complainant's allegations,"
the GPO note says. "For example, in the media he reported that he was humiliated,
stripped, and that a gun was held to his head. And yet, in his complaint filed
with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) spokesperson, the complainant complained
that two uniformed personnel sprayed his face."
Omer insists: "I was forced at gunpoint to take off my clothes."
He had also said to the IDF that "I felt someone putting liquid in my nose
and eyes, to wake me up."
In the face of allegations and denials by the Israeli GPO, the focus now shifts
to the medical records, which seem to indicate use of force, as Omer had earlier
International press freedom groups have called for an immediate and public
investigation of Omer's treatment.
Ahmed Dadou, spokesman from the Dutch Foreign Ministry at The Hague, told IPS
shortly after the events, "We are taking this whole incident very seriously
as we don't believe the behavior of the Israeli officials is in accordance with
a modern democracy."