Mohammed Omer, the Gazan journalist and photographer, is scheduled for a U.S. speaking tour together with Ali Abunimah. The U.S. consulate in the Netherlands, where Omer now resides, has put an extended hold on his visa application, effectively cancelling the tour. Omer has lived in the Netherlands since 2008, after he was detained and severely beaten by the Shin Bet when he returned to Gaza from London, where he had been awarded the prestigious Gellhorn Award for Journalism.
A similar silencing happened earlier this month in the Bay Area where I live, when the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem never responded to the visa application of Mohammed Khatib, founder and leader of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall. He was scheduled to speak at the Sabeel Conference and at universities throughout the area. He had been arrested by Israeli forces in 2009 on charges of throwing stones (this 36-year-old Catholic High School teacher), and later released when it was proven that that he was abroad at the time of the alleged incident. He was arrested again in January, this time charged with possession of “incitement materials.” We never got to see him. By not responding, the U.S. Consulate effectively cancelled his trip. .
The American Civil Liberties Union has described the practice of denying visas to foreign nationals whose views the government disfavors as “ideological exclusion”, which violates our First Amendment right as Americans to hear constitutionally protected speech. In the case of Omer and Khatib, inaction has had the same effect as denial of their visas, except without the explanation that a denial would require.
So it makes you wonder whether the U.S. Consulate is acting in concert with Israel to keep Palestinian nonviolent activists from getting the word out about the reality of Occupation.
We in the Bay Area were deprived of our chance to hear Mohammed Khatib speak, but there is still a window of opportunity to call on the U.S. Consulate in the Netherlands to approve Omer’s visa application so that his voice can be heard here.
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