CPJ seeks investigation into Israeli border case

July 9, 2008

His Excellency Ehud Olmert
Prime Minister
State of Israel
Jerusalem, Israel

Via Facsimile: +972-2-5669245

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express alarm about the treatment of an award-winning Palestinian journalist who said he was abused by Israeli Shin Bet agents at the Allenby Bridge border crossing between Israel and Jordan late last month.

On June 26, Mohammed Omer, a 24-year-old reporter for the U.S.-based magazine Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the Rome-based news agency Inter Press Service, was stopped by men he identified as Shin Bet agents at the Allenby crossing and held for a number of hours after entering Israel en route to his home in the Gaza Strip, the journalist told CPJ. Omer had been returning from a nearly three-week trip to Europe, where he met with members of the European Parliament and collected the Martha Gelhorn Prize for Journalism in London in recognition of his reporting in the Gaza Strip.

Omer said the Shin Bet agents harassed him and demanded he present the money he was carrying. He said the agents appeared interested in the 2,500 British pound award he received for his Gelhorn Prize. (He did not have that money with him.)

Omer said that during the interrogation agents stripped him naked at gunpoint and ordered him to shuffle his feet to humiliate him. When Omer fell ill and fainted from stress, agents applied painful pressure with their fingers to different parts of his body including his eyelids, he said. While the journalist was on the ground, one agent pressed with full weight on Omer’s chest and another pressed a boot heel against his throat. At one point, the men dragged Omer across the floor, causing his head to bounce on the hard surface, he said. The journalist said he was eventually placed in a Palestinian ambulance and taken to Jericho Hospital in the West Bank, where he received treatment for stress and broken ribs. He said he suffers from neck pain and has difficulty breathing and swallowing.

According to press reports, the Shin Bet alleged that Omer was treated well and not subject to “extraordinary measures.” Israeli officials told Inter Press Service that Omer was not mistreated and that he merely “lost his balance” after he was searched on suspicion of “smuggling in illegal items.” Israel’s embassy in Washington, DC, did not return CPJ’s calls today requesting clarification.

We find these allegations both serious and deeply disturbing and believe the failure of Israeli government officials to address these charges suggests its tolerance of such actions. We call on you to ensure that an immediate and thorough investigation is launched and that its findings are made public. Those determined to be responsible for wrongdoing should be punished to the fullest extend of the law.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Joel Simon
Executive Director