April 05, 2010
VISA SECURED! MWA Welcomes U.S. Visit of Palestinian Journalist, Mohammed Omer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
International Campaign to Assist in Resolution of Visa Delay Resounding Success
WASHINGTON, D.C. (MWA) April 5, 2010 – In the wake of a successful international campaign to assist in resolving a previously unexplained delay in issuance of a visa for his three-city tour of the United States in promotion of the Newberry Library event, "Reflections on Life and War in Gaza", hosted by Haymarket Books, award-winning Palestinian journalist, Mohammed Omer's visit began today in Chicago.
An email communication received March 26 from the office of the Consular in Amsterdam, just seven days after the March 19, 2010 letter writing campaign began, confirmed that Omer's visa was "was ready for issuance".
MWA joined in the letter writing campaign, launched by Haymarket after what appeared to be an unusually extended delay in issuance of the journalist's visa. MWA Director, Aishah Schwartz reiterated a call for reaffirmation of the Obama administration's pursuit of a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and respect, in line with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) campaign to eradicate ideological exclusion—the practice of denying visas to foreign nationals whose political views the government may appear to disfavor.
In a March 29 update distributed by Haymarket, Omer offered, "The support has been essential, and it proves that public pressure is effective. I am immensely grateful and can't wait to thank all of you in person. I have always regarded the United States as the champion of freedom of the press. This is where I hope to practice this right."
MWA Director, Aishah Schwartz attempted numerous times to solicit additional feedback from the journalist, however, ironically, after receiving the U.S. visa granting him the hoped for right to practice the freedom of the press he sought, he was unable to provide additional comment.
"Reflections on Life and War in Gaza" will be hosted in the U.S. cities of Chicago, Houston and Santa Fe.
Omer's admittance into the United States is the most recent in a series demonstrating an apparent reversal in the USA Patriot Act resurrection of 'ideological exclusion'; the practice of denying visas to foreign nationals whose political views the government apparently disfavors. Ideological exclusion violates Americans' First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the U.S.
Foreign nationals recently receiving visas after being initially denied include Oxford's Tariq Ramadan and African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib.
The ACLU was instrumental in resolving the visa delay issues of Habib and Ramadan, as announced in January 2010 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to "exercise her exemption authority" for the pair's benefit, thus lifting the ban on their entry into the United States.
In agency reports on Clinton's announcement, State Department spokesman Darby Holiday was quoted saying, "Both the President and the Secretary of State have made it clear that the U.S. government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
"On the subject of Palestine, I have heard time and again, 'if only Americans knew…'. U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, following up on the humanitarian crisis that continues to ravage the region, spoke with Palestinian students in Gaza City on April 3 and will brief the U.S. Congress on the situation when he returns. I applaud Congressman Ellison, among 54 U.S. Representatives taking a position of solidarity on January 21, 2010 when they delivered a letter to President Obama advocating for implementation of a variety of immediate relief efforts," Schwartz stated.
The Congressmen stipulated, among other things, movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns into and out of Gaza; access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials, access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials; access to medicine and health care products and suppliers; access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials; access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding; access to fuel; access to spare parts; prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.
Recent news reports indicate slight moves forward in addressing a few of the stipulations brought forward by the Congressmen and supported by MWA in a statement released January 26, 2010.
Palestinian Health officials reported on April 4 that the necessary travel documentation for conjoined twins and their family to travel from Gaza to Saudi Arabia where doctors will separate the week-old infants. Also, on March 30 it was reported that for the first time in two years, Israel announced a decision to allow thirty truckloads of clothing and shoes into the region over a three-day period. Many of those items, however, are damaged after sitting in storage for so long. Reports in early March also indicated that the Karem Abu Salem crossing was opened briefly to allow entry of 84-94 trucks carrying aid and goods for commercial and agricultural sectors, including limited quantities of cooking gas and industrial diesel to run the Gaza power plant.
"Those efforts, while enjoying mainstream media coverage, are a mere drop-in-the-bucket in relation to the actual needs of the Palestinian people," stated Schwartz, who visited the region in December 2009.
She added, "I look forward to hearing Congressman Ellison's upcoming report in the hope that it will encourage additional support among Representatives not yet fully comprehending the extent of the ongoing humanitarian crisis."
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Established in 2006, MWA is an internationally-based collaboration of Muslim women writers working together to counter negative and inaccurate perceptions regarding members of the Muslim community and the Islamic faith.
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