Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Honored in London, Tortured in Israel for Exposing the Truth about Gaza

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Honored in London, Tortured in Israel for Exposing the Truth about Gaza

Article excerpt

SEVEN YEARS ago I began my career as a journalist. Living behind walls and checkpoints, and under daily Israeli military attack, we Gazans never know if we'll see tomorrow. By 2006 I began to win awards for journalism and notoriety in the United States and Europe.

In May, just before my 24th birthday, I received a call from journalist John Pilger informing me that I and Dahr Jamal, an "unembedded" American reporter who covers Iraq, had been named co-recipients of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The prestigious award is given to journalists who expose the truth behind heavily propagandized subjects, often at great personal risk in war zones. I am the youngest journalist to date to have received this recognition.

With substantial lobbying of Israel by Dutch parliamentarian Hans Van Baalen, I was able to leave the Gaza Strip to tour Europe and speak about Gaza to parliaments, students and journalists, and to receive my prize at the June 16 ceremony in London.

I left Gaza already exhausted but in great anticipation of my multi-country speaking tour of the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, France and the UK, and of the Martha Gellhorn Prize ceremony. In Europe I spoke about Gaza, sharing photos and videos, disclosing facts and giving updates on life under siege. I described the latest hazard to which Gazans resorted out of desperation: using cooking oil, which becomes highly carcinogenic when burned, as fuel for cars. And I highlighted the shortages of other basic needs due to the Israeli closure.

People were outraged-not only members of the press, but human rights activists, university students, and legislators in the British House of Commons and the Greek and Swedish parliaments.

As with my writing, my aim was to educate, to get the truth out of Gaza, and to express what the voiceless in Gaza could not. London was my last stop before my departure from Paris for home. My schedule had been hectic. I'd gone long stretches without sleep as a result of constant meetings and contact with the press in Gaza and around the world, including radio stations in the U.S.

Finally I arrived in Amman, where the ordeal of getting Israeli approval to transit began. I simply wanted to get back to Gaza, my home. That, however, proved to be a major challenge.

Interrogation and Torture

Despite the fact that I was traveling under the escort of Dutch Embassy diplomats, Israel refused to allow me to return home, forcing me to remain in limbo in Jordan for five days. On June 26, Israel finally granted me passage through the Allenby Bridge. There, however, I was taken aside, interrogated, strip searched and tortured. In Israel, despite a Supreme Court ruling outlawing it, torture is legal, and used regularly on Palestinian civilians. I am a journalist and civilian who has never acted violently or supported a political movement. My only crime is that I have reported accurately on Gaza, and that my words have been read abroad.

At Israeli immigration, a female soldier told me that I did not in fact have an entry permit, and ordered me to sit and wait.

People with American and European passports easily traversed passport control before my name was finally called, an hour and a half later.

An agent of Shin Bet (Israel's internal intelligence agency, known by the Hebrew acronym Shabak) with blond hair and green eyes then took me to another room and ordered me to turn off my cell phone and remove the battery. He forcefully rejected my request to call my Dutch Embassy escort waiting outside the terminal.

After another hour and a half, a uniformed Shabak officer named Avi took me to a corner of the terminal where he emptied my luggage, checking every item. A blond, well-built muscular man in his forties joined Avi, as "green eyes" from my earlier Shin Bet encounter entered the terminal and began interrogating me.

"What is this?" "What is this?" he asked about every item in my luggage. …

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