Mohammed Omer: The voice of the voiceless

Mohammed Omer: The voice of the voiceless

Mohammed Omer (1984- ) is a Palestinian journalist.   The eldest of eight children, Omer was raised in the Rafah refugee camp at the southern end of the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border. Mohammed began working to support his family at age six when his father was in an Israeli prison. In time, he landed a job at a backpack factory and since then has built an impressive resume as a translator, journalist, and program coordinator.

Mohammed graduated with dual Bachelor degrees, English and Literature, from the Islamic University of Gaza in June 2006.

As a journalist he has reported for numerous media outlets, including the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pacifica Radio, Electronic Intifada, The Nation, and Inter Press Service and the Norwegian weeklies «Ny Tid» and «Morgenbladet».  He has worked as a journalist for Norwegian People´s Aid in Gaza and also founded the Rafah Today blog.  He is currently on a U.S. tour, lecturing about his experiences as a journalist and the situation in Gaza at several high-ranking universities, among them Harvard and MIT.

In 2008, Omer was awarded the 2007 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In the award citation, Omer was honored as «the voice of the voiceless» and his reports were described as a «humane record of the injustice imposed on a community forgotten by much of the world.»

While traveling back from the prize ceremony in London to the Gaza Strip via Allenby Bridge to the West Bank, Omer reported that he was stripped to his underwear, humiliated and beaten by Israeli soldiers while traveling into the West Bank from Jordan. According to a United Nations report, Mohammed Omer is convinced that the brutal assault occurred when the security services were frustrated at their inability to confiscate money he had been awarded.

He was subsequently hospitalized upon his return to Gaza, where it was discovered that Omer had sustained several broken ribs and various bodily contusions as a result of the ordeal.  The government of The Netherlands, who had send a diplomat to welcome Omer and accompany him to Gaza, lodged an official protest with Israel about Omer’s mistreatment. Israel’s Government Press Office said in a statement that Omer was never subjected to physical or mental abuse. It said his account was full of contradictions and was «without foundation.»

Mohammed’s brother was killed on October 18, 2003 by an Israeli sniper and nine days later an Israeli bulldozer crushed the family home. His mother was severely wounded, an injury from which she was still suffering three years later. Almost all of Mohammed’s siblings have been injured by Israeli military forces.  Israeli restrictions have sometimes stopped him travelling to the West Bank.

PRESS RELEASE

Day of the imprisoned writer – The Ozzietzky-prize

Norwegian PENs «Ossietzky-prize» for «outstanding achievements within the field of free expression» was awarded Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer during the commemoration of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer.  The prize was awarded during an evening event at the House of Literature in Oslo on 16. November.  Norwegian PEN also awarded its first honorary prize to its former president, translator Kjell Olaf Jensen.  During this event, the newly arrived «writer of refuge» in the city of Oslo, Kenyan writer Philo Ikonya,  read from her own texts.

The program for the event also included a short lecture by Mohammed Omer, speeches to the prize recipients by editor Alf van der Hagen (Omer) and Norwegian PEN president Anders Heger (Jensen), as well as an account covering the five writers to be focused on during this commemo-ration, by member of the Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN, Gitte Mose.

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Mohammed Omer (25) is a Palestinian journalist who has written for the Norwegian weekly «Morgenbladet» and worked for the «Norwegian People´s Aid» in Gaza.  He also writes for international media including the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Electronic Intifada, The Nation, and Inter Press Service.  In 2008, Omer was awarded the 2007 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In the award citation, Omer was honored as «the voice of the voiceless» and his reports were described as a «humane record of the injustice imposed on a community forgotten by much of the world.»

While traveling back from the prize ceremony in London to the Gaza Strip, Omer reported that he was stripped to his underwear, humiliated and beaten by Israeli soldiers. He was subsequently hospitalized upon his return to Gaza, where it was discovered that Omer had sustained several broken ribs and various bodily contusions as a result of the ordeal.  He is now undergoing medical treatment in the Netherlands.

Prior to the price ceremony in Oslo, Omer has been on a tour of the U.S., lecturing about his experiences and the situation in Gaza at such high-ranking universities as Harvard and MIT.

Kjell Olaf Jensen (63) is a translator and critic and former president of Norwegian PEN for more than ten years.  For almost two decades he has been at the forefront in the defence of the free word, both in the media and as a lecturer – in dialogue with the authorities and cooperating with other organizations, local and international.  During this period he also contributed effectively to the renewal of International PEN.  Jensen has also been member of the boards of the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators and Amnesty International Norway.

Philo Ikonya is an author, human rights activist and President of Kenyan PEN. She was recently arrested and subsequently released for taking part in a peaceful protest about hyperinflation. Philo Ikonya has been treathened and harassed and can no longer live and work in her home country.  She is now a «cities of asylum»-writer in Oslo.

Oslo, 12. November 2009.