Eyewitness to History

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

During mid summer the attention of the world was once again focused on Gaza, often referred to as the world’s largest outdoor prison. Humanitarians had organized a flotilla to sail to Gaza from Mediterranean ports on the anniversary of last year’s attempt – an attempt which resulted in the death of nine people as Israel committed a barbaric act of piracy against the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara.

The Los Angeles area was privileged to hear two first hand accounts of this year’s flotilla thanks to a  presentation titled: “Eyewitness Account of the Gaza Flotilla”  held this past weekend. Featured speakers were Yonatan Shapira and Mary Hughes Thompson. Mr. Shapira is from Israel and is a former Israeli IDF pilot. He is a Refusenik, a member of Boycott from Within, and a co founder of Combatants for Peace.

Ms Thompson is a veteran peace activist and a co founder of the Free Gaza Movement. She was on board one of the two ships that sailed simultaneously into the port of Gaza to break the decades long blockade in the late summer of 2008.

The event was one in a series of conversations about the Middle East and was sponsored by Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP); the Levantine Cultural Center; LA Jews for Peace (LAJP); Friends of Sabeel; Women in Black LA (WIBLA), and BDSLA.

Mr. Shapira began by giving his background as a child growing up in a privileged position in Israel, the son of a high ranking Air Force officer. He told the audience that the squad which dropped Israeli soldiers onto the Mavi Marmara in 2010 was his squad. He told of being disillusioned by Israeli targeted assassination attempts which killed innocent civilians, including children.

He addressed the audience and asked if there were persons present who held a point of view different than his. Two people raised their hands. “I want to hear what you have to say after the presentation” said Mr. Shapira
Mr Shapira said that he was on the American Gaza bound ship, The Audacity of Hope. He and others arrived in Athens at the end of June and immediately began training in non violent resistance.The ship was not permitted to leave Athens because of bogus claims that the vessel was not seaworthy. There were representatives of the press on board including CNN, the New York Times, and the Nation. Thanks to the heavy hand of Israeli and American pressure on the government of Greece,  the voyage was aborted. The ship was confiscated, and attorneys are still working for its release.

Mr. Shapira had been on a small “Jewish vessel” which tried to sail to Gaza shortly after the incident of Israeli piracy on the Mavi Marmara. The vessel carried harmonicas and was stopped by the Israeli navy.

Israel claimed that the vessel carried dual use items.

Mr. Shapira said that even if the voyage to the port of Gaza had been successful, success cannot truly be declared until Gaza is free.

Ms Thompson told briefly of her work with the people of Palestine. She chose to take the Canadian boat, Tahrir because of ties that she has to Canada. At first she had planned to skip the voyage but then thought of all the brave people who were going, and she felt she had to make another statement for her cause – the cause of Palestine. She rendezvoused with the Tahrir on the island of Crete where she also underwent training in nonviolent resistance. Israeli journalist Amira Hass was on board the Tahrir.
Ms Thompson spoke of the support of the Greek people for their cause. The Greek navy insisted on seeing every detail of paperwork. They declared the boat un seaworthy because, among other things,  the beds were too narrow, and the air conditioning did not work. When the handwriting was on the wall, the passengers found five men on board who were familiar with maritime engineering. The captain of the Tahrir was a Greek citizen and left the boat fearing arrest. He first instructed the five men in the techniques they would need to sail the vessel. Then the ship took off. Two people got into kayaks to create interference. The boat was physically prevented from sailing far, and soon the Tahrir were boarded. The boarding party found the wheel house empty and when the passengers were asked who the captain was, everyone raised his or her hand.

Ms Thompson mentioned the large amount of goods confiscated by Israel from the vessels of the first flotilla – cell phones, cameras, computers and other equipment. This material was never returned. This information brought a gasp from the audience.

“I never thought of that” said one woman “that adds the element of theft.”
Ms Thompson and Mr. Shapira agreed that the publicity the flotilla received and the light that was shown on Gaza and the conditions of the Gazans under the boot of Israel, rendered the mission of the Flotilla II at least partially successful. When non violence is a tactic, then the value of public opinion becomes increasingly valuable.

A lively question and answer session followed.

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Delusion in Detroit

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

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Seated, left to right:  Steve Downs, Abayomi Azikiwe, Dawud Walid.  Behind podium:  Moderator Debbie Johnson

Detroit–July 17–There are several problems facing the Muslim community in the United States.  One problem is that Muslims are sometimes targeted by the FBI and other law enforcement bureaus, framed for plots they are not even intelligent enough to hatch themselves, and then arrested and prosecuted for conspiracy to commit crimes they never understood–sometimes they are goaded by troublemakers, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, paid by the FBI in proportion to the crimes they are able to get Muslims to commit.

Another, much worse problem, is that inside the Muslim community we give excuses and podiums to the apologists for Muslim terrorists and troublemakers–who are inherently dangerous to the Muslim community by virtue of their commitment to goals antithetical to the teachings of Islam. 

And so this past weekend in Detroit about 100 people gathered at The Shrine of the Black Madonna to complain about government “preemptive prosecution.” However, there was the problem that the meeting supported some Muslims who had suffered prosecution for very real offenses.

Not least among those is Tarek Mehanna, a pharmacy graduate who apparently travelled around the world (to Yemen) to seek training to fight against Americans, and who planned to kill numerous innocent civilians at a local mall, and went so far as to conspire to commit this attack.  You may say “innocent until proven guilty” but first read the complaint, 32 pages of damning evidence, with countless detailed samples of Mehanna’s assiduous efforts to commit terrorism, complete with evidence from two of his coconspirators who backed out of his plot and turned states’ evidence, and also audio-taped conversations in which Mehanna planned terrorist acts.

Tarek’s brother Tamer spoke in support of him this weekend in Detroit, however Tamer’s speech almost amounted to further evidence against his brother, as he spoke for about 15 minutes, railing against the existence in the Muslim community of “snitches.” The use of the term “snitch” already implies that his brother is guilty–as usually a snitch is someone who reveals what was intended to be a secret.  The implication is that Tarek had committed conspiracy, wanted to keep it secret, and Tamer is angry because the “snitches” revealed the secret.

But thank God they did.  Better for Tarek to rot in jail, frustrated in his intention to blot out the lives of innocent civilians.

If all Tamer Mehanna can say for 15 minutes is that snitches are bad, he begs the question whether his brother is fully guilty, and also whether he himself is supportive of his brother’s alleged crimes. 
But most of the people discussed at the meeting Saturday appeared far more innocent than Tarek Mehanna. Behind  the speakers was a board on which were posted the names of about 100 people termed victims of preemptive prosecution. 

Present at the meeting were many activists on behalf of many of those “preemptively prosecuted,” and the most effective presentation was a video about Sami Al-Arian, which advocated his innocence, and expressed the capricious nature of the US prosecution of his case–where when Al-Arian was acquitted of all charges they rearrested him and continued to detain him.

This event was slightly misguided in the ways mentioned above, but the point still stands that the US government has overplayed its hand in the war on terror, by brutally pursuing many who are in fact innocent, and by deliberately detaining them beyond the point at which it becomes obvious that they are innocent.

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