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Mar-28-2010 18:11printcomments

U.S. Bows to Political Pressure: Award-winning Palestinian Journalist Will Visit

"Reflections on Life and War in Gaza" features Mohammed Omer: Speaking Tour on Conditions in Palestine to Take Place as Debate Between U.S. and Israel over expanded settlements continues.

Mohammed Omer
Mohammed Omer

(CHICAGO) - Back from the brink of cancellation, a presentation on conditions in Palestine will take place April 5th with award-winning journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer. Subjected to an extended, and unexplained, hold on his visa, Omer and supporters launched a public pressure campaign, winning his entry from the U.S. consulate today.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza strip.

As his prize citation explained, “Everyday, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless… Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated, and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for hours; and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems (For the full story, visit Israel's Haaretz). He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

Nearly cancelling his planned speaking tour, the U.S. consulate held his visa application without explanation. Organizers decided to protest, as in recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the U.S.—a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion.”

As his hosts at Haymarket Books commented, "The issue of Palestine, and particularly the voice of Palestinians is so frequently side-stepped and marginalized in mainstream political discourse. Yet the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays a huge role in American foreign policy, as we can see in the ongoing debate between the U.S. and Israel over expanded settlements. We believe that the conditions in Palestine represent one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of our time; and we were simply not willing to accept that Mohammed did not have the right to travel to the U.S. to share his reportage—and that Chicagoans did not have the right to hear what he has to say."

Omer will visit Houston, Santa Fe, and Chicago, as planned, where local publisher Haymarket Books will host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community, and political organizations. Omer will discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights:

Reflections on Life and War in Gaza: A Discussion with Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer
In conversation with Ali Abunimah, author One Country and founder Electronic Intifada
Monday, April 5th at 7:00 pm at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, Free
Train: Chicago Red and Brown, Clark/Division Red. Bus: #66 Chicago, #29 State

In cooperation with: American Friends Service Committee-Chicago, Committee for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago-Peace and Justice Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, International Socialist Organization, International Solidarity Movement-Chicago, Islamic Medical Association of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery, National Lawyers Guild-Loyola, Neighbors For Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine-DePaul and UIC chapters, and Ta'anit Tzedek—Jewish Fast for Gaza.

Background on Mohammed Omer

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Gazans attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions, and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel, and other necessities for survival.

In Chicago: 7:00 pm, Monday, April 5th at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton MOHAMMED OMER and ALI ABUNIMAH, author, One Country, and founder, Electronic Intifada.net

**Mohammed Omer and Ali Abunimah are available for select interviews. To request, contact: Sarah Macaraeg, 312-315-8476, sarah@haymarketbooks.

Facebook: facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=10150127461370195&ref=ts

Additional background:

Haaretz: haaretz.com/hasen/spages/999330.html

Salem-News.com: American Consulate Bans Award-Winning Palestinian Journalist from U.S. Tour

ACLU: aclu.org/national-security/ideological-exclusion

Chronicle of Higher Education: insidehighered.com/news/2007/09/25/lasso Rafah Today: rafahtoday.org/ Ali Abunimah, CNN Editorial: cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/17/abunimah.settlements.israel/index.html?iref=allsearch

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