24 March 2010

U.S Consulate Blocks Award-Winning Journalist from Coming to Chicago

The Progressive | March 19, 2010

Mohammed Omer was one of two winners of the 2007 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. That prize goes “to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth, validated by powerful facts, that exposes establishment propaganda.”

The unpalatable truth Omer told was about life in Gaza. “He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time,” his citation read. “He is the voice of the voiceless.”

Now he himself is voiceless in the United States, since “the U.S. consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold” on his visa application, says Sarah Macaraeg of Haymarket Books. Omer, a Palestinian, now lives in the Netherlands.

Omer was to speak on April 5th at the Newberry Library in Chicago at an event sponsored by Haymarket Books and funded by the Lannan Foundation. The topic: “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza.”

“I'm not surprised that Mohamed Omer would have difficulty getting a visa to enter the U.S.,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, who teaches in the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “When he was here in Madison a few years ago the audiences he spoke to were spellbound. He showed pictures of Gaza and told stories of his life that are impossible to forget.”

Omer’s Gellhorn Award cost him. When he tried to return from England to Gaza, agents of the Israeli security forces detained him, interrogated him, hurt him, and humiliated him, Gideon Levy reported for Haaretz.

“I’m emotionally destroyed,” Omer told Levy.

“This is the side of Israel that people living in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem that people see every day,” says Loewenstein. “A brutal, racist, bullying regime that gets away with impunity because of its backing by the US and a pro-Israel lobby of both the established Jewish community, the 70-million strong Christian Zionists, and others who still believe it is in our interests to protect and support this rogue regime.”

More than a dozen religious and nonprofit groups cooperated in the planning of Omer’s Chicago visit, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago--Peace and Justice Committee, the Islamic Medical Association of Northwestern, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery.

While in the United States, Omer was also planning on visiting Houston and Santa Fe.

Haymarket Books is asking supporters to contact the U.S. consulate in the Netherlands and demand the approval of Omer’s visa. The consulate can be reached at ConsularAmster@state.gov.

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