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Norway grants award to Rafah journalist

Oct. 3, 2010 3:51 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 4, 2010 10:37 P.M.)
RAFAH (Ma'an) -- A 25-year-old Palestinian journalist from the southern Gaza Strip has been granted a journalism award from Norway.

The award is funded by the Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian weekly newspaper Morgenbladet, Norwegian People’s Aid and individuals.

In a statement, the Norwegian committee described recipient Mohammed Omer, from Rafah, as "a voice for the voiceless, for the population of Gaza that has too often been forgotten by the world community."

Omer runs the website Rafah Today, and has contributed to The Nation, New Statesman, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and Inter Press Service, among others.

Returning from an award ceremony in 2008, in which he collected the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, Omer was taken aside by Israeli security at the Allenby crossing from Jordan, brutally beaten and seriously bruised, with complicated rib fractures and neck injuries, the committee said.

The committee further noted that Omer continued to file reports about Gaza while receiving medical treatment in Dutch hospitals, and acknowledged his journalistic courage and integrity.

Prominent academic Noam Chomsky said he had been following Omer's work for several years, and was pleased to learn of his award, "an honor that he richly deserves."

"Under conditions of extreme adversity, he has reported with honesty and insight about the prolonged savage and criminal assault on Gaza. He has endured severe torture by Israeli authorities, from which he has yet to recover, but has continued his work with courage and integrity. It is no exaggeration to say that he can serve as a model of honorable journalism," the professor said.

Omer said he became a journalist at the age of 17 after witnessing Israeli forces demolishing homes in his neighborhood in Rafah, and Israeli tanks firing at local families. He decided to carry a camera and a pen instead of a gun, he explained.

Expressing his "infinite gratitude" to Norway, Omer said he hoped to continue to report the stories of the people of Gaza rather than statements from officials.

"My people have suffered with great courage and fortitude in a situation which few people around the world would be able to face," Omer said, adding that it was distressing that the international media had turned its back on the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Concerning the obstacles facing journalists in Gaza, Omer said the frequent electricity outages made it difficult to meet deadlines. Further, he said he had noticed a growing reluctance among residents of Gaza to talk to the press. Omer suggested this was because residents of the coastal enclave had lost hope.

In the future, Omer said he hoped to pursue academic research on media discourse and objectivity in the Palestinian context.

The committee said the award aimed "to focus on the situation of the free press in support of independent journalism, in a region where the freedom of the press is endangered by censorship and self-censoring, and where international agreements intended to provide security and legal protection for journalists are not respected."

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