Award-winning Journalist Mohammed Omer Kept from Entering U.S. for Speaking Tour on Conditions in Palestine

For Immediate Release

Haymarket Books
Contact: 

Sarah Macaraeg, 312-315-8476
sarah@haymarketbooks.org

Award-winning Journalist Mohammed Omer Kept from Entering U.S. for Speaking Tour on Conditions in Palestine

Demanding Omer Be Heard, Organizers Protest

CHICAGO, IL - Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the U.S. consulate
in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of
award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer,
scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on April 5th in Chicago.

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 Haaretz).
He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo
medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.  
The
U.S. consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period
of time, effectively canceling a planned U.S. speaking tour without the
explanation that a denial would require. 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,” which they say
violates Americans’ First Amendment right to hear constitutionally
protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and
others entry to the United States.  Foreign nationals who have recently
been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected
South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi
doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death
numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet;
and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the
United States after more than five years of delays and denials.
Fellow
Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa
hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we
have ‘free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed
Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to
give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only
redemption available for the U.S. government in this situation is to
issue Omer's visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”
Omer
was to visit Houston, Santa Fe, and Chicago, where local publisher
Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on
Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious,
community, and political organizations
(listed below). 
Organizers
are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the
U.S. consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa
.  A petition currently
underway will also be announced soon.
U.S.
consulate information:
Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S.
Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The
Netherlands 
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688
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.
Omer
was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based
author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian
Conflic
t, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for
Palestinian rights. 
**Mohammed Omer, Ali
Abunimah, and Dahr Jamail are available for select interviews.
 To
request, contact: Sarah Macaraeg, 312-315-8476, sarah@haymarketbooks.org
Additional
background:
Scheduled
event:
Reflections on Life and War in Gaza: A Discussion
with Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer
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
Funded
by the LANNAN FOUNDATION. Sponsored by HAYMARKET BOOKS
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.
###

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