MPAC Forum on Bullying

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

default-article-thumbnailOne of the primary social problems confronting the United States is the well organized and well financed industry of Islamophobia. At a time when the nation should be united, Islamophobia is the great divider. While many groups have been and are active in combating this pernicious industry, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) must be considered in the forefront. Islamophobia is hate, and hate acts like a malignancy.

MPAC was founded in 1988 as a 501 (c) (3) organization devoted to the establishment of a vibrant Muslim American community that would “enrich American Society through promoting the Islamic values of mercy, justice, peace, human dignity, freedom and equality for all”. MPAC is well equipped to deal with hate speech and hate acts and to enlighten the community.

MPAC has held many educational forums dealing with timely subjects. This past Saturday a forum entitled: Stand up Against Bullying was held in the Ehsan Center in Canoga Park, Ca. The forum was a training session for parents that began with the question: “What would you do if your child was being bullied?”

Ms Holly Priebe-Diaz an Intervention Coordinator representing the Human Relations, Diversity, and Equity Department of the Los Angeles Unified School District was the speaker.

Ms Priebe-Diaz gave an excellent presentation of bullying: its definition, its manifestations, the public school’s responsibilities to identify bullying and to counsel, and of course possible resolutions. Ms Priebe-Diaz is obviously well qualified to speak on the topic and her presentation was informal yet informative and thought provoking. The audience participated throughout the discussion.

Herewith some of her observations. Bullying, she said, can be a form of hate. “We have to educate law enforcement”. Ms Priebe-Diaz told her audience we have to educate more about hate. While it is understandably hard to prove an attitude, we can look at behavior. “When we find a child who is a bully, we re-educate him.”

The child says “My heart hurts”, and the adult replies “Let me help you.”

Not surprisingly, young boys who are school bullies also become adult offenders who are guilty of crimes of violence.

To combat this, the school gives a child a community project; the relevant school personnel dialogue about the situation, and different cultures are studied. “There is a lot of ignorance” Ms Priebe-Diaz told the attendants.

She continued by saying that 30% of hate crimes are committed by kids. Where, she asked rhetorically, do these children learn hate. The obvious answer is from home. The Internet has given the community a new word: cyberbullying as the bully – always present in society – has now moved into cyber space.

Ms Priebe-Diaz cited California law that makes certain classes of school children protected. They are protected against real or perceived acts of hostility. There are six protected categories: race, color, national origin, mental or physical disability, gender identification (how one perceives one’s self), and ethnicity.

While she cautioned parents to have rules – for example having a computer in a central room rather than in a child’s bedroom – she also acknowledged that for every restriction a child may find a way around it.

She made a clear distinction between tattling and helping the victim of a bully. The foundation of that distinction was the question “Is someone being hurt?”

No one can be a bystander in the matter of bullying. While urging parents to work through the school counseling office and not to take matters into their own hands, involvement is key.

Ms Priebe-Diaz gave suggestions for children who have been bullied such as “Don’t let the bully see you afraid” and “avoid areas where certain children congregate” to name but two.

The district uses progressive punishment with bullies beginning with (if the bullying continues) suspension, then expulsion, and last, arrest.

“I have learned so much about the subject” said one young mother at the conclusion of the forum.

Readers interested in learning more about MPAC and its work may contact MPAC at: www.mpac.org. Ms Priebe-Diaz may be contacted at: holly.priebe-diaz@lausd.net.

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Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Banquet Fundraiser

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Southern California chapter of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) held its annual “Healing Hands” banquet/fundraiser this past weekend at the Hilton Anaheim in Anaheim, Ca. Internationally known and acclaimed Canadian-Palestinian attorney, Diana Buttu, was the keynote speaker.

During her address Ms Buttu exposed the fallacy of the so-called Peace Process. The 1993 Oslo Peace accords were a ploy by Israel which gave the Palestinians nothing and permitted Israel to triple its illegal settlements in the West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem.

While the Palestinians suffer under the continued yoke of occupation, Israel, using the illusion of a peace process, has tricked 34 other nations into establishing diplomatic and economic relations leading to considerable economic benefit to Israel.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), the successor to the pre-Oslo Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has become Israel’s surrogate, subcontracting for Israel in imposing the occupation and doing Israel’s all around dirty work. This has often been called “outsourcing the occupation.”

Ms Buttu said that there were advantages and disadvantages to submitting an application for statehood to the United Nations. For example, of course it would bring renewed attention on an international scale to the suffering of the Palestinian people. But she asked her audience to consider as a considerable disadvantage the wording of President Mahmoud Abbas’ application in which he used the tern “Jewish State”. Is this de facto recognition?

Ms Buttu suggested the following remedies: We need to demand better representation; we need to demand democratic representation so that our leaders are not tools of the occupation and represent the will of the people. Useless negotiations should be replaced with world wide boycott and divestment of Israel.

Ms Buttu is a Fellow at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government. She currently resides in Palestine and served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team. In 2004 she was part of a legal team that successfully challenged Israel’s Apartheid Wall before the International Court of Justice. She holds degrees from the University of Toronto, Queens University, Stanford University and Northwestern.

Ms Buttu has appeared on television news shows and is valued for her knowledge, experience and sense of fair play.

Nurse Asma Taha of Loma Linda University Hospital received the Huda Sosebee award for her humanitarian work. She has made numerous trips to the Middle East with the PCRF and has supported the PCRF in the United States.

Huda Sosebee, the late wife of PCRF CEO Steve Sosebee, was the lead social worker for the PCRF and one of its leading humanitarians during her all too brief life. She was known as the “heart” of the organization.

The Southern California chapter’s  leader, Lily Karam, spoke movingly of the children who have been helped and of the need to continue PCRF’s work.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is an internationally known and acclaimed children’s charity, specializing in the Middle East. PCRF is perhaps best known for its medical missions which send teams of doctors and associated medical personnel to countries in the Middle East to treat needy children there. The teams also train Middle Eastern doctors on site.

If a child cannot be adequately treated in his or her home site, the child is transported, at no cost to the parents, to a country where optimum medical care is available.

PCRF announced at last year’s banquet that it would enter the field of pediatric oncology. Plans are progressing in that arena.

PCRF also runs summer camps; has a Woman’s Empowerment Project; has distributed eyeglasses and wheelchairs to children, and does emergency relief.

The accomplishments and projects of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, of which the foregoing is but a brief part, can be found at their web site: <www.pcrf.net.>  The web site also has provisions for making donations.

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An Eyewitness Account of the Stay Human Flotilla

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

Readers of The Muslim Observer will be familiar with the dedicated work of human rights activist, Mary Hughes -Thompson. Beginning with her travels a decade ago under the auspices of the Christian Peacemaker Teams and including her work with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), we come now to her most recent attempt to be part of the second flotilla to Gaza. Mary has been a tireless fighter for the rights of Palestinians.

Ms Hughes-Thompson was part of the original Free Gaza Movement and sailed aboard one of the two ships that broke the decades long Israeli siege of Gaza along its Mediterranean coast in August 2008. She has made numerous trips since then and was part of a three woman communications operation on Cyprus during the first flotilla attempt in 2010. She was one of the first people to receive the news of Israeli piracy aboard the MAVI MARMARA.

Ms Hughes has made public appearances since her return from Greece where the ship she was on was interdicted by the Greek Navy. She has agreed to speak to The Muslim Observer in depth about her experiences.

TMO: You have done so much and travelled so many miles for Palestine, you must at some point have wanted to skip this trip with its attendant risks. Could you share your feelings and what, in the end, compelled you to go?

MHT:  Traveling to and inside Palestine is something I have always found to be physically and emotionally exhausting.   Also as a senior on a fixed income I have to make a lot of sacrifices in order to cover the extensive travel costs involved, as of course do all of us who make Palestine a priority.  For all these reasons I felt I couldn’t afford to participate in another flotilla.   As the time for departure neared, and so many of my friends and colleagues prepared to join the flotilla, I realized I needed after all to find a way to be a part of it.

Ms Thompson contacted organizers of the Turkish campaign and was told there was a strong possibility the MAVI MARMARA might not sail. 

Israel had announced, following the deaths on the MAVI MARMARA in 2010, that it regarded only that ship as hostile. The other members of the flotilla were acknowledged by Israel to have non threatening humanitarian aims. It was felt that the presence of the MAVI MARMARA might give Israel the excuse to stop the flotilla. In the end, the ship stayed in port in Turkey.

TMO: Could you tell us, please, what your next step was.

MHT: I then contacted the organizers of Canadian Boat to Gaza campaign and asked to be considered as a passenger on its boat TAHRIR.   I was delighted to be accepted for  passage, and ten days later I left for Greece and the island of Crete where the boat was berthed.

At this time Greece was in turmoil due to severe domestic and financial problems.  For weeks, thousands of Greek citizens held huge demonstrations against their government.  While I felt that the people of Greece supported the Palestinian cause, it became apparent that the government could probably not withstand pressure from the governments of Israel and the US.
Nonetheless, a member of the Greek parliament went to the boat to express his best wishes.

TMO: What did he say, and did he bring the wishes of other people and/or groups?

MHT:  After the Coast Guard delayed our departure repeatedly over nearly two weeks, the Greek minister came on board TAHRIR to show support for our efforts to be allowed to leave Greece and sail for Gaza.  He promised to do his best to intercede on our behalf, assuring us that most Greek citizens supported the flotilla.

In the weeks before passengers on all the boats gathered at various Greek ports,  Israel sent its ambassadors to all of the countries whose citizens were sending boats to join the flotilla, attempting to persuade the governments to stop them from doing so. Israel also pressured maritime Insurance groups and companies which supplied satellite equipment to the ships of the flotilla, threatening  legal action if they provided their services.

Israeli journalist, freedom advocate, and TAHRIR passenger, Amira Haas wrote: “The flotilla’s organizers added a term from the world of business and globalization to their description of Israel’s domination of the Palestinians. Israel, they said, was outsourcing the industry of the blockade on Gaza.”

TMO: Can you describe the feeling aboard the TAHRIR – optimistic, pessimistic, wait and see?

MHT: We stayed optimistic throughout, even when we began to see it was just a game being played by Greece at the behest of Israel and the U.S.  We hoped Greece would eventually run out of excuses and let us leave.  We all wanted more than anything to sail to Gaza, but we felt that no matter what happened we were winning because of the publicity and of the shameless way Israel and the U.S. were behaving.  We felt everything just proved how scary we were to Israel.  Also, once we decided to break out and set sail, even though we didn’t expect to get far, we were euphoric and were almost as excited as if we truly were on our way to Gaza. 

TMO: Can you tell us something about your fellow passengers aboard the TAHRIR? Were the passengers an eclectic mix? Were various peace groups represented?

MHT: The participants called theirs the A-B-C-D group;  while most passengers were from Canada, there were contingents from Australia, Belgium and Denmark which had helped raise the money to buy TAHRIR.  All of the training was conducted in French and English, and we became close friends. Though not well known in the U.S. we had several participants who are well known leaders in their own countries.  Also Kevin Neish who was on board the MAVI MARMARA last year.  He and Amira were to be on the MAVI this year but transferred to TAHRIR when MAVI dropped out)
{ Note from TMO that a list of passengers and their specifics can be found on their web site: www.tahir.ca.}

Spokespersons for each boat told of the same unrelenting demands by the Greek Navy and the same tedious excuses – the need to see papers, papers, and more papers; finding fault with the size of the berths, and inadequate temperature control. In the end, no one was allowed to leave Greek coastal waters.

TMO: When you were boarded by the Greek Navy after you began to sail absent permission, were you frightened? Did you think you would be arrested?

MHT:  I wouldn’t say any of us were frightened because we hadn’t found any of the Greeks to be hostile to us.  When they boarded with guns drawn they certainly were serious about stopping us, but they didn’t attack any of the passengers.  I personally found it somewhat intimidating because I realized how helpless we would have been if it had been Israelis who would be very brutal and would have no consideration for our safety, no matter how old we were.

TMO: Tell us about the medicines aboard the TAHRIR. Had you reached Gaza what would have been the next step in their distribution?

MHT: Our two doctors (one Belgian, one French-Canadian) told us we had $30,000. in much needed medicine.  They said it was chosen  very carefully because it was important medicine that was completely unavailable in Gaza and which would save lives.  We saw it ourselves, and saw the earliest expiry date was 2014.

Amira Haas has noted that the primary problem in Gaza is not starvation. Food is brought in via tunnels albeit at an inflated price. And the Palestinians in Gaza take care of one another. The real problem is freedom. By separating the West Bank from Gaza the public can easily forget that Gaza is Palestine. Prisoners released from incarceration in the West Bank are often sent to Gaza where they cannot leave. This is a life sentence for them.

TMO: Can you tell us your hopes for true freedom for the people of Gaza?

MHT: My hope is that as the world community becomes increasingly aware that Israel is the primary cause of all the violence in Palestine, Israel will find itself even more isolated and unable to continue getting away with masquerading as the victim.   Facebook and social networking have been very important in educating more and more people to what is happening, and I believe these people are increasingly on the side of Palestinian rights.

TMO: Despite the failure of the flotilla to reach Gaza so many passengers have seen good come out of the attempt. Can you comment on that?

MHT: We were disappointed, of course, because we hadn’t anticipated that Israel’s talons could reach so far from its own shores.  We knew our friends in Gaza were enthusiastically planning for our arrival, and that they too were disappointed once again. But I don’t see it as a failure.  I see it as just another nail in the coffin of zionist Israel.  Starting with the attack on Lebanon, then Gaza, followed by last year’s massacre on the MAVI MARMARA and attack on all the flotilla boats, and finally what happened to Flotilla 2 – Stay Human, Israel finally realizes its glory days are over, and that if it doesn’t made some serious changes it will soon be completely friendless.  More important, we continue to be energized by the strength and endurance of the people of Gaza and all of Palestine who have found hope from our boats.  I am so proud to have been instrumental, along with some wonderful Free Gaza colleagues, in reaching the shores Gaza three years ago, and humbled to realize all that has happened as a result of our crazy idea.

TMO: We know you do not give up. Can you tell us your plans for the next trip to break the siege of Gaza?

MHT:  The U.S. boat is still being held in Greece, clearly under orders from the U.S.  Most of the other boats have been moved to other ports, including TAHRIR. While I can’t give details of future plans, I am confident there will be another flotilla.  And I will be there.  Today’s announcement from Turkey that warships will accompany future flotillas is very welcome, because we know each time we set sail we risk death or serious injury in the international waters of the Mediterranean.  We find it remarkable that Israel seems to underestimate our commitment to peace for the people of Palestine.  Each time they stop our boats, attack our boats, ram our boats, murder our passengers… thousands more around the world ask to join our next flotilla.  We will not be intimidated and we will not stop sailing our boats until Gaza and all of Palestine are free.

The Muslim Observer extends its thanks to Ms Hughes-Thompson for her time and for the great work she has done as a human rights activist.

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Remembering the Tragedy of 9/11

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

One of the most corrosive elements in our society is Islamophobia, a well funded and staffed industry which, to the surprise of no one, shifted into high gear after the tragedy of 9/11.  Muslims have been its victims, and Muslims have, through their community outreach, been its stalwart opponents. Their solution has been simple, but not easy: to persevere in the truth.

The Los Angeles area remembered and commemorated the tragedy of 9-11 that took place a decade ago. Two events were held: a Health Fair that honored first responders which took place at the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC), and an ecumenical prayer service held in the historic Los Angeles down town area at St Johns Cathedral. 

The ICSC is the site of the first Masjid in Los Angeles. Saturday it played host to first responders and city officials, including keynote speaker, Kevin James, a Muslim firefighter who was at the World Trade Center when the planes struck. Mr James spoke of the first responders he worked with, many of whom were injured or killed in the line of duty.

Mr. James further said that he was puzzled when recent Muslim immigrants to the United States spoke as if being Muslims made them outsiders. He reminded his audience that Islam was a part of the America fabric and that Muslim explorers from Africa were here before Christopher Columbus. In addition, he continued, one third of the slaves brought to this country were Muslim though many were forced to adopt, albeit superficially, the Christianity of their masters.

Also honored were: Captain ll Sean W. Conway of the Los Angeles Fire Department; Reserve Chief Michael Leum of the LA Sheriff’s Department, and Officer Mike Odel of the Los Angeles Police Department. Like Mr. James, emotion cloaked their acceptance speeches as they recalled comrades injured and killed.

City Council President Eric Garcetti recalled the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. He said that in Los Angeles people seemed to be dividing and standing alone because of the tragedy. It was the ICSC and its members that wove together the tapestry that was and again could be Los Angeles. In the midst of considerable hate and suspicion, these Muslims made us all stand together.

Dr. Maher Hathout, the founder of ICSC and a man celebrated in the area by Muslims and non Muslims alike, summed up the program. He said that in the beginning of fear is the voice of courage. It tells one to enter a burning building that others are exiting. It is, he said, the voice of God.

Sponsors of the event were the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC); The Islamic Center of Southern California; the UMMA Clinic, the American Muslim Health Professionals, The Council of American Pakistan Affairs; American Muslim Women’s Empowerment Council; UPLIFT, and the Guibord Center.

On Sunday September 11th an interfaith service was held at St John’s Episcopal Church. The event was sponsored by the Guilbord Center, an interfaith organization dedicated to celebrating what the different American religions have that unite them. The service was titled: Finding Hope in the Holy. Representatives of different faiths read from their holy books. Jihad Turk, the Religious Director of the Islamic Center of Southern California, spoke for the Islamic faith. Each speaker poured water into a cistern upon the completion of his or her address.

The congregants answered each spokesperson with a prayer of hope and commitment

Children born since September 11, 2001 were presented with saplings watered by the above cited cistern. These children are the hope of the future and the event was a pledge that all those who were present would work to make that future a just and peaceful one for them.

Among the co sponsoring groups was: MPAC, the South Coast Interfaith Council, The Islamic Center of San Gabriel, Progressive Christians Uniting, and the ICSC.

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Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Event

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) has announced the attendance of two very special guests at this years  banquet/fundraiser. The two sisters, Fatema and Hala, ages 10 and 11,  were seriously burned in a house fire in Gaza, Palestine. They are but two of the many children that the PCRF has helped in the long  journey from illness and disability along the long road to health with the  concurrent ability to lead a normal life. Ahmad Saloul who is 9 years old and is  also from Gaza will join them. He is awaiting surgery at Shriners Hospital in  Los Angeles.

The event will be held September 24th at the Anaheim  Hilton in Anaheim, Ca. Tickets are $100 each with table sponsorships available.  To purchase a ticket(s), please call: 562-432-0005 or fax at:  562-684-0828.

The girls will travel to Texas to be treated for  their injuries, but only after a trip to Disneyland. They will incur no expenses  nor will their families as these expenses will be covered by the PCRF. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is also proud  to announce the featured speaker for the evening, Diana Buttu, a  Canadian-Palestinian attorney who has gained international acclaim and respect  for her legal work.

Ms Buttu’s accomplishments are many: herewith a few. She is a  fellow of the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government. She  currently resides in Palestine and served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian  negotiating team. She was the only woman at the Palestine-Israeli negotiations.  In 2004 she was part of a team that successfully challenged Israel’s Wall before  the International Court of Justice. Ms Bhutto later served as the communications  Director to President Abbas and frequently comments on Israeli-Palestinian  political matters for media outlets including MSNBC,CNN, Al Jazeera, and the  BBC. Ms Buttu holds degrees from the University of Toronto, Queens University,  Stanford University and Northwestern.

She will address the PCRF on the subject of Palestinian  statehood. The issue is currently at the top of the news, and her  address will coincide with the issue of statehood to be brought up before the  United Nations this month.

The PCRF is an  internationally acclaimed and honored children’s charity, specializing in the  Middle East. To find out more, access their web site at: _www.pcrf.net_ (http://www.pcrf.net/)

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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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A Successful Fundraiser for Carlos Montes

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The fight for justice never stops nor does it seem to ever be able to rest. Human rights activists are under siege for their work, and funds for defense and publicity for their cause are a constant need.

A successful fundraiser was held this past Sunday in Los Angeles to raise money for the defense of human rights activist and Palestinian supporter, Carlos Montes. The Los Angeles Committee to Stop FBI Repression was the sponsor. Beautiful artwork was sold as part of the plan to raise funds.

Mr. Montes was arrested in his home on May 17th by agents of the FBI and a Los Angeles SWAT team. The use of trumped up fire arms charges – the pretext for the arrest – was not merely an excuse to arrest Mr. Montes; it was an attempt to harass and intimidate anti war and Palestinian activists across the nation. Mr. Montes was simply the target in Los Angeles.

In a Muslim Observer article posted March 10 of this year, Mr. Montes and Chicago Palestinian activist, Hatem Abudayyeh, detailed the plight of 23 activists in the mid west who were at the time under subpoena for their work against the wars and for Palestinian independence. Mr. Abudayyeh was on tour in Southern California to present the case to the media and concerned organizations.

In response to this miscarriage of justice, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression was formed, and local committees have grown out of it. Mr. Montes is active in the Los Angeles branch.

Mr. Montes is the Los Angeles target for his outspoken and dedicated work not only against the wars and against the repression of Palestinians, but also for his work with the Immigrant Solidarity Network. He has also spoken out against the policy of the United States vis a vis Columbia.

The Los Angeles Committee to Stop FBI Repression has made three demands: 1) Drop the trumped up charges against Mr. Montes; 2) return all confiscated material obtained during his arrest; 3) Stop the FBI harassment of antiwar and human rights activists throughout the country.

Mr. Montes’ next court date is August 12.

For more information about Mr. Montes and the work of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, please access: www.fightbacknews.org.

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Annual Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Gala

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Southern California chapter of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) will hold its annual banquet/fundraiser September 24 at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel in Anaheim, Ca.

Titled” “Healing Hands”, the event will feature prominent Canadian-Palestinian attorney, Diane Buttu as the keynote speaker.

In addition to Ms Buttu, there will be a video presentation about the children of Palestine; an address by Dr. Alexander Zorous, Associate Professor of Pediatric Neurology at Loma Linda University who has been on numerous PCRF missions, most recently this past July; the presentation of the Huda Sosebee Humanitarian award to Nurse Asma Taha, and Middle Eastern entertainment.

The PCRF was founded in 1991 by concerned humanitarians to meet the medical needs of children in Palestine. Eventually the purview of PCRF’s administration expanded. The organization sends medical teams to: perform surgeries, including plastic surgery; treat congenital ailments; treat heart ailments; provide dental care, eyeglasses, and custom build wheel chairs. The medical teams teach as well as treat, seeking to make the area self sufficient. There is a women’s empowerment project, summer camp facilities for disabled children, and emergency disaster relief. Last year at PCRF’s gala the organization announced the entry of PCRF into the field of pediatric oncology. This is only a partial list of the outstanding work of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

If the patient is deemed to need medical treatment that cannot be provided locally, he or she is transported free of charge by PCRF to a hospital in the West or the Middle East where appropriate care is available. This care, including follow up visits, is provided free of charge while the patient and perhaps an accompanying relative stay with a local host family.

The late Huda Sosebee, wife of Founder Steve Sosebee, was the heart of the PCRF. A dedicated social worker and advocate for the children of Palestine, Ms Sosebee worked tirelessly and dreamed in the last year of her life of extending the work of PCRF to include pediatric oncology. Last year the dream was realized and is now in its early stages at Hussein Hospital in Beit Jalla.

The keynote speaker, Diane Buttu, is an internationally known and respected attorney. She was a former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization and was cited for her work as a legal advisor and negotiator on peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. She has appeared on numerous occasions on TV news broadcasts.

The event will begin at 6:00pm. Tickets are $100 per person with table sponsorship available. It is suggested that tickets be purchased in advance of the event.

To reserve a ticket or to make a donation, please call: (562) 432-0005 or fax: (562) 684-0828.

To learn more about the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, please access their web site at: www.pcrf.net.

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An Historic Achievement by MPAC

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

With the proliferation of Islamophobia in the United States and the spike in hate crimes directed at the Muslim community, organizations to counter these phenomena and to project the truth while at the same time working within the Muslim community for empowerment, are essential if we are to survive as a democracy.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has stepped up to the bat in these arenas. Last week well deserved formal recognition took place in the form of a telephone call from President Barrack Obama to Haris Tarin. Mr. Tarin directs MPAC’s Washington, D. C. office.

During the course of the conversation the President recognized Mr. Tarin’s work with the Muslim community and through that community to the United States. Specifically, he praised Mr. Tarin’s work with Muslim youth, with interfaith clergy and lay persons, and for empowering the contributions of Muslims through civic engagement.

Mr. Tarin replied by telling the President that MPAC has a deep commitment to this nation and to Islam as do other Muslim institutions.

The telephone call is a testament to the success of MPAC in countering Islamophobia and in working within the Muslim community and reaching outward to other communities to establish roots that make Islam an integral part of the American fabric.

Mr. Tarin was raised and educated in Southern California. He is pursing an advanced degree at Georgetown University where he is studying at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Mr. Tarin, in his capacity as Executive Director, intersects with many government agencies and has addressed numerous conferences and symposia. He is a “go to” person for media outlets.

MPAC was established in 1986. Its vision was and continues to be to establish a vibrant Muslim community and to enrich with Islamic virtues the American society it is a part of. MPAC promotes the leadership of young Muslims, and it is a resource and partner to various government agencies.

Its awards and the programs it has formulated are many. Herewith a few: In partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, MPAC formed New Ground, a group dedicated to Muslim-Jewish understanding; MPAC became a consultant to a television series “Aliens in America”; MPAC Senior Advisor, Dr Maher Hathout, received the John Allen Bugs Award from the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, and MPAC, after a decade  of work, persuaded the Bush administration to desist from use of the term “jihad” in its official communications.

To find out more about the Muslim Public Affairs Council, please access their web site at: www.mpac.org. Mr. Tarin’s work may also be accessed at that web site.

13-30

Leadership Summit Summer 2011

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

With Islamophobia rampant in the United States, programs and people to combat it are essential. While there are very many with the knowledge, faith, and desire to be warriors in this mission, one essential ingredient is often missing. That is the practical knowledge of how to form teams to fight Islamophobia. This past Saturday that problem was remedied in a practical, “how-to”, nitty gritty session which gave these willing warriors their tools.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) California and the Muslim American Society held a leadership training program this past Saturday at the Islamic Center of Reseda in Reseda, Ca. Titled: Leadership Summit Summer 2011, the event was well attended and enthusiastically received. The speakers were highly motivational and well versed in the field of leadership training and its application to Islamic activity.

Mohammad Abbasi, the first presenter, is a Regional Director for Keller Williams Realty Group Greater New York area. His experience in the field of leadership training is vast, and he devotes his time to serving his community. In addition to his experience, he is able to teach in a way that captivates his audience. The message is well structured and comprehensive, educating the listener while making him enjoy the lesson.

Leaders make themselves leaders and consciously develop the necessary qualities for leadership, he began. They are not born, and no one can force leadership onto a person. To the surprise of the audience, he continued, in any group one can tell the leader because he or she is the one who talks the least. If the leader has formed efficient teams, the leader will be the least missed in the event of his absence. Leadership is about team building.

Brother Abbasi told of his visit to one of his companies after an absence The receptionist said upon seeing him: “May I help you?”. That is when he knew he was a success. He was a good leader because the company was able to function without him.

He spoke of former General Motors CEO Lee Iacocca whom the public perceived as being a great executive. On the contrary, Brother Abbasi insisted, he was a failure. The company could not sustain itself without him. As a leader he was a failure.

Speaking of the Arab world he described Arab leaders as being insecure. The do not reward success on the part of others for fear of the competition these successful people would present.

He also referenced President FDR and called him insecure. He chose a weak Vice President, Harry S. Truman, because he could not stand competition.  English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on the other hand, was secure and cultivated others to replace him throughout his entire political life.

A Board of Trustees, a position he favors, determines the course of funding and defines the group’s mission. In the United States we have the government sector, the private business sector, and the non-profits (known often as NGO’s – non government organizations). In the Middle East the NGO is absent and is very much needed. He made the point that a member of a non profit is not motivated by the chance to be elected to public office or by the paycheck he will receive. He is motivated by idealism. Because of this his dedication should be greater. He gave as an example the late Mother Theresa and her organization, Sisters of Charity. The audience seemed surprised to discover that there is a six month probationary period for her volunteers. People work for non profits because they have high ideals, and they will only work for organizations that have high standards.

After a lunch break CAIR representative Adel Syed spoke to the group. Brother Adel is the Government Relations Coordinator for CAIR – LA. His function is to strengthen working relationships between Muslims in the Los Angeles area and government officials and organizations.

Brother Adel referenced literature that had been given attendees upon registration. The discussion began with the problem of Islamophobia. He showed a map of the United States with many marked areas where opposition to the building of mosques took place.

“I never realized it was that bad” said one young woman looking at the well marked map.

“I knew about Park 51 and Temecula” said another “But I never knew there were this many.”

Also discussed were anti Islamic hate web sites: Brigitte Gabriel, Robert Spencer, and Pamela Geller, to name but a few. On the positive side in the news, again to name but a few, were Jon Stewart, the web site loonwatch (which tracks hate sites), and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (for his strong support of the proposed Park 51 Islamic Center).

Islamophobia was defined as was the term “close minded” and the term “open minded. To take a soft stance on Islamophobia is to accept a form of second class citizenship for Muslims. Civic engagement is primary. It is best not to begin with grandiose plans, as that will inevitably lead to disappointment. At the local level one might begin by becoming a county commissioner. Invite community members to mosques, Eid events, Ramadan Iftar, and to your homes. Engage in coalition building. Organizations such as CAIR and MAS are indispensable to this. After each success – or failure – analyze to decide what the next step should be.

“Reinforce positive norms for working together and continue to cultivate new leaders.”

We will know we have achieved success when being Muslim is considered an asset for a public official, and when those who associate with anti-Muslim hate groups will be de facto discredited.

Mitch Krayton, a noted author, coach and motivational speaker gave the day’s final presentation. He specialty is training people to be effective and confident public speakers.

Following is a statement from Brother Fiaz Zubair Syed of MAS who was one of the organizers of the day’s event.

“In the Quran, chapter 33 line 22, God says “For you the life of the Prophet (s) is a good model of behavior.”

One of the major roles of Prophet Muhammad (s) was to lead mankind toward a just society who strives toward God Consciousness. The purpose of this program is to understand what leadership is, it’s qualities, and every persons role of being a leader. This Leadership Summit is one in a series of many that will be introduced to the community where different skill sets will be shared, workshops will be conducted as well as opportunities to be active in our society and cause positive change. We believe in development of individuals through education and practice and that is why we (Muslim American Society) have partnered with CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) to begin training a group of young Muslim Americans to fulfill the mission of MAS and ultimately of Islam which is to: “To move people to strive for God consciousness, liberty, and justice, and to convey Islam with utmost clarity.””

13-29

A Dream For Palestine

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The focus of humanitarian concern through out the world is on Palestine. That beleaguered land has been called the world’s largest outdoor prison as its population continues to suffer under the boot of Israeli oppression. This oppression was qualitatively increased during the recent Operation Cast Lead assault by Israel. Visitors to have invariably been impressed by the courage and grit of the residents who live under conditions that would have destroyed the spirit of many.

Often ideas can be better conveyed by an example than by dealing with a whole. This is tragedy and triumph writ small.

The Samouni family of Palestine lost 29 of its members during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Dozens more were injured, many severely. Family members, including young children and the elderly, were forced to survive for days amidst the rubble with medical help forcibly kept away. It is unknown whether many of the initial survivors died slowly awaiting aid.

Ken O’Keefe is a long time human rights activist. He is one of the survivors of the attack last year by Israeli pirates on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Recently Ken met the Samouni family, and a magnificent idea was born, not only for the Samouni family, but for all of Palestine.

“Spending time with the Samouni family and literally becoming a member of this family is beyond a blessing, their cause is the Palestinian cause and together we are going to shatter this blockade once and for all and the proud people of Palestine will once again stand on their own two feet with dignity and freedom.”  

Herewith their story.

Samouni Intertrade Palestine is a commercial and social enterprise which will present the Palestinian people with an opportunity to end their dependence on the charity of others and the negative psychological impact such dependence confers. It will be trade not aid.

People and goods will be transported through the Rafah crossing going in both directions with the eventual goal of a Palestine that is rebuilt and independently functioning.

On the second day of July a convoy will leave London with the goal of arriving in Rafah three weeks later. Members of the Samouni family will be among the drivers. The convoy will carry raw materials for re building the infrastructure of Palestine; they will also carry industrial equipment necessary to economic development.

There are two primary partners: Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project. The former was created by Ken O’Keefe and Lauren Booth (the sister in law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) and grew out of their voyage to Gaza in the late summer of 2008 when two boats broke the decades long Israeli siege of coastal Gaza.

The Samouni Project seeks to provide long term quality education to the more than 200 family members as well as to the surrounding community of Zeitun.

The Samouni family has planted 29 olive trees, one for each family member killed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. They have obtained a community/classroom center with an adjoining playground. The teaching staff has been assembled and is currently preparing a curriculum. The infrastructure of the classroom is in place, and the Samouni family is awaiting the delivery of educational materials to make the classroom a reality. Aloha Palestine has the task of delivering the relevant classroom materials. The supplies are modest by Western standards. In addition to supplies, teaching and administrative costs must be secured. An investment in education is an investment in the future of Palestine.

Many in the West underestimate the effect of dependence on the mind set of those who are the recipients of charity, when that charity becomes a way of life; when independent action to improve one’s future is literally forbidden by an occupying power. It is as if the United States government said to the residents of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that the help they received would be permanent, and that the government would act as if there was a devastating hurricane in perpetuity.

Under Israeli occupation parents are helpless to rebuild their devastated homes and the infrastructure of their towns. This causes them to lose self respect and to lose the respect of those dependent on them. The world knows the physical losses suffered by Palestine under the boot of Israel. What the world does not acknowledge is the greatest loss Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians: the loss of dignity.

The goals of Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project is to transform Palestine from a prison to a thriving Mediterranean city.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process, began in 1995 with the stated purpose on the part of the European Union (EU) to “strengthen its relations with the countries in the Mashriq and Maghreb regions”. The Partnership today comprises 44 members. It was created to establish a common area of peace and stability; a zone of shared prosperity, and a rapprochement between peoples on a social, cultural and humanitarian level.

The state of Israel has done remarkably well with its membership in this partnership. Palestine, on the contrary, has conducted a miniscule amount of trade. Palestinians, in addition, are forced to buy the products of their captor.

Free trade is the linch pin of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and surely Israel has benefited greatly from this. Now it is time for Palestine to take its place in the nations of the region by exercising its acknowledged right to free trade through Egypt. Before the forced resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, access between Gaza and Egypt was severely limited. The current Egyptian Foreign Minister has  stated that it is time to end the blockade.

Both Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Mission are EU based and will hold the EU to its stated obligation to protect its members when such members are practicing safe trade. Safe trade is defined as follows:

The commercial exchange of non-hazardous items that pose no danger to society. Trade conducted transparently and fairly that develops prosperity while fostering stability and building security in the region where it is conducted.

Should there be an attempt to interfere with this lawful process attorneys for these two groups will be prepared to challenge such attempts with immediate legal action.

A Samouni family web site is in progress, and soon the world will be able to see the rise of a Palestinian nation through this family. Soon we will all be members of the Samouni family.

The head of the Samouni family has consented to answer questions posed by The Muslim Observer. The respondent is called Mukhtar which means head of family.

TMO: We are so impressed by what you have suffered and what you have done to turn tragedy into triumph. To begin with, how did you meet Ken O’Keefe?

Mukhtar: Ken O’keefe first came with Noor Al-Harazeen in January 2010, who we already knew as she used to help by giving food-clothes packages, Ken made a video report with us and then he started to come back every week and in order to talk about building a playground and planting an Olive Tree orchard, then we began working together to create the Samouni Project and building a classroom as well.

TMO: Are there NGO’s in Palestine that you will partner with?

Mukhtar: NGO’s no, but we are partnering with Ken O’Keefe in the Samouni Project. But other Societies have helped us with re-building our homes, like Alkitaab Wl Sunna Society.

TMO: Could you share with our readers the strengths that you and your family possess that permitted you to endure Operation Cast Lead and its aftermath and emerge as strong as you are?

Mukhtar:Sure , What happen to us was one of the biggest Gaza massacres in Operation Cast Lead.  During this operation they entered our neighbourhood, shooting at us and taking over our homes, they then put 100 members of our family in one room and started shelling it.  We lost our families, kids were murdered, many were lost.  How we could not share our story!  We want all the world to know what has happened to us and the Palestinians as a whole, we want all the world to know the real Israel.

TMO: Could you tell us some of the proposed curriculum for your school?

Mukhtar: We plan for a full curriculum including Arabic ( Elaab Wa Taalm ), so the kids can read and write, also we will have adult education for the parents who cannot read and write.  We will teach the Quran, also English ( Headway ) so our kids have the ability to connect with the world and act as ambassadors of Palestine.  

To access more information about this project please use the following sites: For Ken O’Keefe: ken.okeefe@alohapalestine.com and http://AlohaPalestine.com.

13-25

The STAY HUMAN Flotilla to Gaza

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Freedom Flotilla II, named the Stay Human flotilla, will sail for the beleaguered Gaza Strip of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the latter part of June. The postponement from the originally scheduled March departure date is due to the complex logistics involved in campaigns to raise money for multiple sailing vessels and to outfit them properly and prepare them for their journey. Another factor is the political turmoil in the region, particularly what is happening in Libya and Syria.

The name Stay Human was chosen to honor the late Italian Palestinian activist Vittorio ‘Vik’ Arrigoni. His recent violent death, under circumstances still in question, left the Palestinian activist community stunned. Tributes poured in from all over the world, and people who knew him and worked with him and were touched by his charm and dedication could only work through their grief by rededicating themselves to his cause.

His favorite expression to his co workers was “Stay Human”, and thus the flotilla name.

“Our message of peace is a call to action, for ordinary people like ourselves, not to hand over our lives to whatever puppeteer is in charge this time round, but to take responsibility for the revolution. First, the inner revolution- to give love to give empathy; It is this that will change the world.”

Two activists who contributed to this article, veteran  human rights activist and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) member, Greta Berlin, and human rights activist, ISM co founder, and member of the Flotilla Steering Committee, Huwaida Arraf, were among the many who paid tribute to “Vik”.

Ms Arraf delivered a tribute at his funeral and Ms Berlin had the following to say: “Nothing that we can write can capture the man who was so full of the joy of life, a man with the pipe in his mouth and the captain’s hat always tilted at an angle on his head.The man with the big smile and gentle nature, someone who used his physical strength to hold small children in his arms, sometimes several at a time. His laughter and his last comments every time we saw him will ring in all of our ears as we board the boats to return to Gaza at the end of May.”

In the past the organizers of the vessels have worked with the government of Cyprus. This coming flotilla is and will be working with the Mediterranean governments of France, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

Ms Berlin urges all our readers to advocate for the flotilla’s safe voyage. People should call their representative, send an email, call the White House, and the State Department and inform them that the American people expect all on board the vessels to be safe.

Most of the monies raised were raised by grass roots fundraising. The only boat scheduled to leave from the United States, named The Audacity of Hope”,  was funded in part by activists going into the streets of New York with buckets and asking for contributions. The organizing group bought a 100 foot boat that will support from 50-60 passengers. Most on board will be from civil society with a few notables.

The boat will not carry cargo but will carry messages and letters from the American people, said Jane Hirschmann of the US Boat to Gaza. The relevant web site is: www.ustogaza.org. Americans who want to send a personal message should access the web site to find out the protocol.

Present estimates give the number of ships in the flotilla as between ten and fifteen. A number of the ships represent joint ventures. The ships are nation oriented though they are networks of national organizations and do not represent a government or an NGO.

There will be high profile people aboard these ships including members of parliament. For security reasons many are not currently named. It is known that they will include Colonel Ann Wright, Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, and Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin as well as Rugby star Trevor Hogan. Mr. Hogan has written an opinion piece in The Irish Herald in which he announced that he will be a part of the flotilla and will be aboard the Irish ship to Gaza.

Foremost among the cargo will be construction supplies, equipment for hospitals, water purification systems, and generators. Organizers would also like to be able to bring solar paneling for Green energy so that Gaza might become more independent  of Israel for its energy needs. However the costs are prohibitive. Individuals who want to contribute but hold back because the amount they can contribute is small should consider that their donation, along with others, will purchase a part of an important commodity. Please access the following web site: www.freegaza.org/donate.  

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza is in need of volunteers, and some of the flotilla passengers may elect to remain in Gaza to work with them. Huwaida Arraf cautions those who wish to remain that pre arrangement must be made with an organization including the ISM. ISM works with fishermen who challenge the limitations that Israel places on their right to move their fishing vessels – and therefore their livelihood – more than a few miles from the Gaza coast. Farmers with ISM help challenge the buffer zones imposed by Israel which zones prevent them from reaching their land.

People who must leave Gaza may be on the departing vessels. Again Ms Arraf cautions that they must have the proper paperwork required by the nations where they hope to be taken as this is an immigration issue that the Free Gaza Movement has no control over. While previous vessels leaving Gaza have dealt with the issue, the permanent opening of the Rafah border renders the issue moot.

13-23

Eyewitness to the Fight for Freedom in Libya

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

Dr. Mahmoud Traina, an American born cardiologist of Libyan descent, visited the besieged city of Benghazi from the 23rd of February through the 5th of March. The city of Benghazi was the birthplace of the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi and the scene of the greatest violence and injury for the freedom fighters.

It was in Benghazi that the freedom fighters are trying to coordinate the efforts of the war. A number of former Qaddafi supporters, including members of the military,  joined the side of the freedom fighters. This includes membership in the Transitional National Council (TNC), the council of the freedom fighters.  Dr. Traina met one of the Libyan freedom fighters, Omar Al-Harari, a member of the TNC though not the head.

Dr. Traina reports that the spirit in Benghazi was euphoric for the people. Despite attacks and deprivation the people were joyous and optimistic in their efforts to secure the freedom that so much of the world takes for granted.

One person told him, “You can’t imagine the feeling of now being free after 42 years. Now that we have tasted freedom, we will never go back, no matter the price”.

Dr. Traina had received word earlier in the day from his sister that she and her family escaped from Misrata and were currently in  England.  Other family members and friends were still in harm’s way putting a cloud over this good news.

The living conditions in Benghazi are horrendous. There is no electricity, no water, and no sanitation. There are no infant supplies. Only the most basic medicines are available. A Cholera epidemic is a very real possibility. The hospitals are so crowded that they have had to dislodge half of their patient load to be cared from outdoors under tents. Injuries to limbs, normally treatable by orthopedic surgery, have often resulted, due to these primitive conditions, in amputations. There are no functional Intensive Care Units to treat for the critically ill and/or post surgical patients.

The lines for bread involve a three hour wait.

Dr. Traina spoke of the conditions he witnessed. “In Benghazi, people were beginning the process of self-rule and organization.  Volunteers manned the traffic signals, and organized traffic.  Others helped to feed the people with donated food in improvised “soup kitchens”. Other groups were going around cleaning up the debris in the city left from the violence. Medical staff was working overtime to care for the ill, especially the nursing staff who remained. (A large number of the nursing staff were foreign workers, and many of them left the country, but many stayed, and said they couldn’t abandon the patients who needed them)”.

Dr. Traina said that Qaddafi, after 42 years of despotic rule, believes that Libya belongs to him as one would own a personal possession. Qaddafi has said that if necessary to keep his power he will kill every Libyan and restock the country. He has used mercenaries from Chad, Mali and Niger. This became obvious when some of the mercenaries became hospitalized, and the personnel in attendance realized these patients spoke no Arabic.

In addition, Dr. Traina believes that there are pro-Qaddafi cells in Benghazi ready to spring into action when called upon.

When asked about opinion in the street about the United States and NATO as having a role to play, Dr. Trains replied that the Libyans want to win their freedom through their own acts. It is they who must play the leading role.

The Libyan people, he continued, want freedom as Americans know freedom. They want an open and accountable government and the freedom to form political parties. Nearly 100% of Libyans are Muslim, and Islam will play a role in their government. This is comparable to the role Christianity played in the early days of the American republic. Islam and freedom are totally compatible, he said, citing the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his early followers.

Dr. Traina dismissed the idea that the revolution, when successful, could be hijacked by radical forces. The people have fought too hard for their freedom and would guard in jealously.

Some organizations, he continued, have been able to get aid in by working with United Nations agencies. Others based in Ireland and the UK have been successful in this arena because they are not subject to the same sanctions.

Dr. Traina has suggested two web sites that he both recommends and is involved with. They are: www.libyanemergencyaid.com and www.islamicreliefusa.org/libya .

Dr. Traina is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and on the cardiology staff at Olive View – UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

The Muslim Observer thanks him for his time.

13-21

Palestine: “An Invisible Nation” at UC Irvine

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The University of California in Irvine held a week long educational event titled: Palestine: An Invisible Nation. Beginning on the 5th of May and lasting through the 12th, multiple events took place illuminating the plight of the Palestinians under the boot of Israel. Well known speakers including Alison Weir of If Americans Knew; Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, and University of California in Berkeley Senior Lecturer Hatem Bazian, spoke movingly to their audiences. Topics covered included Anti Semitism: The Zionist Facade; BDS: Apartheid ends Here, and Taking Bullets for Palestine.

The latter was particularly impressive. The presenter, a young Jewish Israeli citizen, Matan Cohen, spoke in a popular outdoor area known as The Flagpole. Shortly after he began to speak in front of the waiting audience others walking along this popular commons joined him. When he was about half way through his presentation a group entered the area carrying Israeli flags and placards supporting Israel. They walked in a circle around the speaker and the perimeter of his audience. A number of them spoke out during the presentation, and Mr. Cohen had to ask them to hold their comments until he was done, and he would enjoy addressing them during the question and answer session.

Mr. Cohen said that when one country occupies another, the occupied country becomes invisible. He called on young people in Palestine to march on Israeli roadblocks and roads marked “For Jews Only” on the 15th of May – the anniversary of the Nakba.

“As an Israeli Jew I stand with my Palestinian brothers”.

The Israelis say that BDS is destabilizing. They say that democracy is destabilizing. “How”, he asked, “can anyone living in a democracy say that?”

He said that Israel wants a democratic state for Jews and a Jewish state for Palestinians. While he referred to himself as an optimist, he warned that Operation Cast Lead might have been only the beginning.

“There seem to be a lot of hecklers” said one young woman.

“No” said a woman standing next to her. “They continuously circle the area to make themselves look like a larger crowd than they are”.

He spoke of the onslaught of repression within Israel against non-Jews.

After the event, students in the crowd spoke among themselves, discussing his speech and the calm and intelligent manner he used while addressing the hecklers. A recurrent theme was admiration for his courage in speaking  out and working for justice while living in Israel.

13-21

KINDERUSA Fundraiser

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate under the boot of Israeli oppression, groups which provide direct aid to this beleaguered land become all the more worthy of support and endorsement. They shine a laser like beam on the suffering there and then provide outstanding aid. One such group is KINDERUSA (Kids in need of development, education and relief) which focuses primarily on the smallest victims of war and occupation — the children.

KINDERUSA held a banquet/fundraiser this past Saturday night in Garden Grove, Ca. Titled: “Operation Survival”, the event filled the dining hall to capacity.

Two screens in the dining hall showed film clips from footage shot in Gaza. This presentation included horrific scenes of destruction caused by Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” as well as — at the other end of the spectrum — scenes of children enjoying the basic staples of childhood with the relief that KINDERUSA provided to them. In scenes that were particularly poignant, children in Gaza enjoyed summer camp activities, a staple in Western nation but not in this occupied territory until a KINDERUSA program was implemented.

Dr. Jess Ghannam, a member of KINDERUSA’s Board of Directors, was the Master of Ceremonies. Dinner followed evening prayers.

Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, Chairwoman of KINDERUSA, was introduced by Dr. Ghannam. She told her audience that 81% of monies raised for KINDERUSA go directly to projects. Only 19% is used for various administrative expenses. In Gaza KINDERUSA partners with local organizations to optimize their efforts.

KINDERUSA aims not only to encourage local agriculture, for example, but to give families choices over their purchases. This concept she juxta positioned with the donation of food baskets which eliminates choice.

KINDERUSA, Dr. Al-Marayati continued, works in the West Bank, Lebanon, and now Pakistan as well as Gaza. Their work has been expanded to include children with diabetes and children who are educationally disadvantaged. Dr. Al Marayati, an obstetrician and gynecologist, spoke about one particular dark aspect of the many Israeli checkpoints, an aspect perhaps not familiar to the public. The Israelis make no allowances for pregnant women in labor, women who are on their way to a hospital to give birth. These checkpoint delays can and often do result in birth taking place outside of a hospital, an unhealthy and possibly fatal complication for mother and child. In addition, cancer sufferers must pass through these checkpoints to and from their chemotherapy visits. This is often discouraging, lessening the number of people who seek treatments because they do not want to endure the accompanying stress.

KINDERUSA was in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

John Ging, the Director of Operations of UNRWA in Gaza, was the keynote speaker. Mr. Ging arrived at LAX from abroad a few hours before his presentation. The recent volcano eruptions in Iceland and their attendant flight delays raised fears that he would not be able to make the trip. Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, in introducing him, commented on our dependence on God in such circumstances.

Dr. Ging spoke of the three aspects of Israeli control of Gaza. He said it is “illegal, inhuman, and insane.”

Operation Cast Lead, he said, only exacerbated an already horrific situation. Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 after electoral victories by HAMAS. They declared Gaza a hostile entity.
Gazan water has to be treated in the home because of its intrinsic biological impurity.The sewage system does not work, and an unpleasant odor pervades the water even after treatment. The inhuman treatment of Palestinians is rooted in disrespect by the Israelis of international law. He traced the origin of this oppression to 1948 and the displacement of one million Palestinians. He called for the right of return, the right to compensation and the right to resettlement for Palestinians. The Palestinians must work with the problems and decide on the solutions. Since 1967 Israel has been an occupying power and has practiced, among other matters, collective punishment. The world has an obligation to protect the people who suffer under collective punishment.

What is insane, he asked? It is insane to subject people to the brutality that Gazans must endure and not comprehend that you are feeding radical and extreme elements. He encouraged his audience to travel to Palestine and see the truth of what he has said first hand.

He described the Palestinians he had worked with as extremely protective of their children and, despite their predicament, resilient, hopeful and positive.
Mr. Ging urged his audience to give generously.

“Mr. Ging is on scene. He certainly knows what he is talking about”, said one young woman after hearing the presentation.

Dabke followed the event. Palestinian embroidery, contributed by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund ( PCRF) , was available for purchase.

For more information on KINDERUSA and/or to make a donation, please access them at: www.kinderusa.org.

12-17

Muslim Observer Writer Takes Part in Conference

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

The Muslim Observer’s Dr. Geoffrey Cook took part in a conference sponsored by the South Asia Studies Association this past weekend. The two day event was titled: “South Asia and the West: Entwined, Entangled, and Engaged” and took place on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.
Dr, Veena Howard of the University of Oregon was the other presenter. Professor Dean McHenry of the Claremont Graduate school was the moderator.

Both scholars spoke on India’s M K Gandhi, his philosophy and his teachings and influence. Dr. Howard was the first speaker.

Dr. Howard’s specialities are comparative religion and Hindu thought. She is associated with the University of Oregon and Lane Community College in Eugene. She has delivered papers at other symposia including the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the Darma Association of North America.

She began by describing the eclectic sources of the philosophy of M K Gandhi. Yet, the philosophy he espoused and taught was his own. His passive resistance or satyagraha can be easily misunderstood if examined through the filter of Western values. Here it would imply a do nothing approach even in the face of injustice and oppression. Quite the contrary, Gandhi mobilized the masses including groups within India that were normally marginalized. He did this with “soul force”

His call to vows of chastity, simplicity and fearlessness resounded within the religious traditions of his country. They empowered rather than deprived his followers.He believed that Truth was the only perfect description of God.

“The soul is supreme”, said Gandhi and compared the soul to a to a superior steel sword. He appealed to the Indian collective and urged the people to pit their strength against evil through inner force.

Dr. Cook told his audience that Gandhi was as concerned with the welfare of Muslims in India as he was with Hindus. He wrote about Palestine from the 1920’s through the 1940’s. He also favored a caliphate in Turkey.

Gandhi’s opposition was not to Jews living in Palestine. He believed that friendship between Jews and Arab Muslims was possible – indeed the perfect solution -, and history would seem to support it. He opposed the assertion by Zionists of sovereign rights and the imposition of governance by them. His opposition was to Zionism as a political branch of Judaism and supported only by a small percentage of Jews. Making allowances for the time in which he lived, his bias was toward a one state solution (though the term was not in popular use then).

Dr. Cook spoke of his meeting with Dr. Richard Falk, the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur for the (Israeli) Occupied Territories. Dr. Falk was denied entry into Israel despite his standing. He favors a one state solution for the Israeli conflict, a point which Dr. Cook disputes. Dr. Cook suggested to Dr. Falk that he read Gandhi’s central essay

Dr, Cook described M K Gandhi as having a mind that was “a curious mixture of the practical and the impractical”. He developed his methodologies on non violence in South Africa. His commitment to truth and to justice would permeate his thoughts and his proposals.

Gandhi sympathized with Jews, but his devotion to truth and justice would not permit him to sanction Zionist entry into Palestine under “British bayonets”. He regarded Palestine as a British possession in the same way that his own country of India was a British possession.

Dr. Cook spoke of how much different the world might be today had we listened to Gandhi; how much freer from the conflicts that seem to be endless, in South East Asia and in the oPt particularly.

A question and answer session followed the two presentations.

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Gaza Freedom Marchers vs Egyptian Police

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Gaza has become the central focus of the human rights struggle. Many groups have called for its liberation, and many are striving to bring aid to that beleaguered area. This concern has accelerated since the launching of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead last year and the devastation that this operation wrought.

A coalition led by Code Pink had announced plans to enter Gaza through Rafah during a three week period which would coincide with the first anniversary of Israel’s destructive campaign. While in Gaza the group planned to march from Rafah to the Eretz crossing – the entry into Gaza from Israel – and symbolically link there with marchers from Israel.

Mary Hughes-Thompson, familiar to readers of The Muslim Observer and to activists worldwide, was a participant in the planned Gaza Freedom March. Ms Thompson is a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and has travelled to the Occupied Palestinian Territories several times. She  is co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement and was on the first ship to reach Gaza in August 2008, breaking a decades long siege. She has given The Muslim Observer an interview.

The story of the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) and its failure to achieve its announced goal is a story whose central factor and key players are Egyptian collaboration. The Egyptian police used an intimidating physical presence to thwart the peaceful demonstrators.

In late December some 1400 international activists assembled in Cairo prepatory to travelling to El Arish and then on to Rafah.  On arriving in Cairo they were told by the Egyptian authorities that they would not be permitted to assemble or to travel to Gaza.

Code Pink as speaker for the Gaza Freedom Marchers announced a press conference. Immediately after the announcement they were told by Egyptian authorities that they could not hold a press conference.

TMO:  Am I correct that the Gaza Freedom Marchers went to Cairo with the expectation that the proper protocol had been observed and that they would be permitted to travel to Rafah?

Ms Thompson:  The Egyptian authorities had agreed to facilitate our travelling to Gaza.  They had asked that the names and passport information for all participants be provided to them by November 30th, and this was done.

TMO:  What reason did the Egyptian authorities give for disallowing a press conference?

Ms Thompson:  I do know they had originally granted permits for both the press conference and for the orientation meeting which was scheduled to be held December 27th.  A few days earlier Egypt suddenly withdrew the permits which meant we could not hold either event.

TMO:  Could you tell us what threats were made to taxi cab drivers and/or bus drivers to prevent the group from using these means of transportation?

Ms Thompson:  They were told their licenses would be revoked.

TMO:  Could you tell us the behavior of the Egyptian police when they blocked the exits from a number of hotels where activists were staying?

Ms Thompson:  They blocked exits from a number of the hotels where activists were staying.  We had several policemen stationed outside our hotel at all times, and every time we left we were asked where we were going and when we would be back.  The first couple of days a policeman came with us in our taxi and stayed with us all day.  Each time we took a taxi from our hotel, a policeman questioned the driver, took his license number and ID, and, on one occasion, sat on the hood of our taxi refusing to let us leave.

TMO:  Did the GFM group at any time engage in or threaten violence?

Ms Thompson:  I would definitely say no to that. There was not a great deal of violence at all but what there was was on the part of the Egyptian police trying to control the crowds and trying to lock us into our hotels to prevent us from assembling.

TMO:  Did you have an opportunity to interact with the Egyptian people?

Ms Thompson:  While in Egypt we met several high profile people who were actively engaged in protesting. In fact, we went to the courthouse one day to support a local lawyer who was part of a group trying to challenge the Egyptian government’s building of the wall along the Rafah border. At the end of our trip Yvonne Ridley hired a van to take us to the pyramids (so she could videotape Hedy). {TMO: Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old Holocaust survivor and a Palestinian activist}, and our driver pointed to the spot on which we had been roughed up a few days earlier and said:  “The other day there was a revolution there.”

TMO:  Would you describe for our readers the details of the Egyptian police activity vis a vis your group at Tahrir Square?

Ms Thompson:  We decided that on the day we had planned to march to Erez crossing, we would hold a symbolic march in Cairo, and go as far as the Egyptian police would let us.  We started in Tahrir Square, opposite the Museum, and we ended there.  We came in small groups of two or three, from all directions, and the police were waiting for us.  They stopped my group (me, Hedy, and her two friends from St Louis, Sandra and J’Ann) and wouldn’t let us go to the meeting point.  We refused to leave, and insisted we were tired and needed to sit on a bench on the sidewalk.  Suddenly we saw a swarm of people crossing the street, and we ran to join them.  We were immediately surrounded by policemen three deep, and they wouldn’t let anyone in or out.

Generally the police didn’t use rough tactics, and I think my grey hair and cane might have helped me.

Even assembly in small groups was not permitted and any such gatherings were quickly surrounded by Egyptian police in riot gear.

Eventually through the intervention of Susan Mubarak, the head of the Egyptian Red Crescent Society, 100 of the Gaza Freedom marchers were told they could travel to Gaza and bring with them the supplies they wanted to provide to the people there. This happened before the event at Tahrir Square.

TMO:  Thank you Ms Thompson on behalf of The Muslim Observer. You have given us an insight into events in Cairo, an insight not readily accessible in the media.

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Muslim Americans for Palestine Event

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

muzammil-siddiqi
Muzzamil Siddiqi

The plight of the Palestinian people as they suffer under the boot of Israeli occupation is at the forefront of humanitarian concerns of people throughout the globe. Many individuals and organizations have addressed themselves to the Palestinian plight.

In December of 2009, as the world observed the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead and the devastation wrought then by Israeli forces on an already beleaguered land, a new organization pledged to help Palestine was introduced to the public.

Muslim Americans for Palestine (MAP) is a project of the youth division of the Muslim American Society (MAS). Readers of The Muslim Observer will be familiar with MAP as its formation was announced at the MAS convention during the last weekend of the year. Its objectives are in many ways similar to those of other Palestine oriented group, yet it is also distinctive.

This past Saturday the group held its first formal event, a banquet and fundraiser at the Crowne Park Anaheim Resort in Garden Grove, Ca. Islamic Relief cosponsored the event and was the recipient of the funds collected. Islamic Relief will use the funds for their relief work in Palestine.

After prayers the evening began with a recitation and translation from the Holy Koran. Dinner followed.

During the early evening as people took their seats, two screens presented a video of MAP and its founding principles and goals.

The keynote speaker was Alison Weir, a human rights activist from Northern California. She spoke of the plight of Palestinians from her personal experiences and from the testimony she has received from eye witnesses, victims, and victims families. Her first trip to the oPt was in 2001 and was a fact finding expedition. What she discovered was the reverse of what she had been told by the media and her own government. Her organization, If Americans Knew, and her web site, www.ifamericansknew.org  are excellent and hard hitting sources of knowledge about Palestine.

As she spoke, her quiet voice and her presentation of facts and the inevitable conclusions these facts indicated, captivated the audience. Her emphasis was on the bias of the American media toward the state of Israel and against the Palestinian people. Ms Weir cited major news outlets: The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC Evening News and the Associated Press. “I am not talking about Fox News” she said.  She spoke of their unerring misreporting of deaths, always exaggerating Israeli losses and minimizing Palestinian ones; always manifesting a bias towards Israel with such consistency that it defied simple error or random chance. As she spoke, charts were shown on the two screens, statistical proof the accuracy of her claims. In addition cards were passed out to every guest with similar data.

Ms Weir included National Public Radio in her list of news outlets biased towards Israel.

Ms. Weir concluded by urging her audience toward action.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi was another informative speaker. Dr. Muzammil’s leadership in the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC); the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); the Fiqh Council of North America, and the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC), to name but a few organizations, have made him a sought-after speaker. As a theologian and Islamic scholar he is also famous for his interfaith work.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi spoke of his trip to Palestine with interfaith leaders. The audience gasped when he spoke of the  650 checkpoints imposed on Palestinians by their Israeli occupiers..

“ I never imagined that there would be so many. How do you get through the day?” asked one young woman. As if in answer to her question Dr. Siddiqi spoke of the hardships wrought by these checkpoints on workers, students, and people in need of medical help.

Dr. Siddiqi urged people to visit the oPt and “see with their own eyes” the conditions there.

Dr. Siddiqi also spoke of the place of Jerusalem in the Islamic faith and referenced Koranic verses.

Attorney and human rights activist Reem Salahi spoke of the “Irvine 11”. A murmur passed through the audience with this familiar reference. These eleven students are threatened with expulsion or suspension by the University of California in Irvine (UCI) for exercising their free speech rights during the appearance on campus of Israeli Ambassador to the United State Michael Oren. In addition, the University has referred their case to the District Attorney in Orange County.

Ms Salahi was part of a delegation to Gaza a year ago, a delegation sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild. There the group found numerous violations of International law on the part of the Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead.

Ms Salahi said that to speak of the Irvine 11 was not off subject. They are symbolic of the plight of the Palestinian people. The Israelis are the occupiers and the oppressors. The presence of their representative at UCI is not acceptable.

In dealing with the Israeli/Palestine issue she made an analogy with a boat that should be parallel but is instead diagonal with Israel on top. Muslims want fairness for Palestine: they want to right the boat.

Muslim Americans for Palestine has a three pronged approach to the Palestinian problem: Educate, Empower, Preserve. It is a grass roots organization dedicated to justice and self determination in Palestine. Recognizing the natural affinity between the American Muslim community for Palestine and recognizing also the pioneering spirit embodied in youth, MAP, in accordance with the Islamic faith. has been launched.

For further information, please access the MAP web site at: www.mapalestine.org

Islamic Relief may be accessed at its web site: www.islamic-relief.com.

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Once More to Gaza

February 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Readers of The Muslim Observer are familiar with the Free Gaza Movement which in August of 2008 sailed two ships from Cyprus to Gaza breaking a decades long blockade by Israel. Four more missions followed successfully. The sixth voyage resulted in an attack by Israeli Naval forces that severely damaged the ship putting the lives of all aboard in jeopardy. The captain was able to bring the ship safely to a port in Lebanon; during the seventh attempt Israeli threats to the safety of the passengers along with terrible weather forced the ship to return to port.The eighth vessel was hijacked by the Israeli Navy, resulting in the confiscation of the vessel and the imprisonment of its passengers and crew in Israel. Despite repeated requests from Free Gaza attorneys, the ship has not yet been returned.
This courageous undertaking was the inspiration for other subsequent movements to aid the beleaguered people of Gaza.

Those who believed that the mission was over, that the dream had ended, did not reckon correctly with the dedication and courage of the people of the Free Gaza Movement. This spring a flotilla of six to ten boats will again sail to Gaza. Of these, five have been funded by IHH from Turkey, and a third, a cargo ship, has been funded by donations from the people of Malaysia. This time the Israeli Navy will be faced with a small navy, a navy of freedom fighters.

The ships will carry reconstruction material essential to the rebuilding of Gaza yet forbidden to them by the Israelis.

Fundraising is essential as is maximum publicity. Returning members of Viva Palestina and the Gaza Freedom March make excellent speakers for fundraising events. Since the Israeli occupiers do not permit the importation of paper or paper products, the Free Gaza Movement has launched a campaign which it has titled: The Right to Read. Books that are desperately needed are listed on the group’s web site: <www.freegaza.org>. If reconstruction material is to be donated, please contact friends@freegaza.org.

Three leaders and founders of the Free Gaza Movement were recently honored by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Greta Berlin, Paul Larudee and Kathy Sheets were each given a Gertrude Welch Peace and Justice Award.

The California organization established the award to honor those who made an outstanding contribution to social justice and peace both locally and globally.
Those who support the goals of the Free Gaza Movement but are not able to make the trip are urged to work in an auxiliary capacity.

In addition to fundraising and publicity supporters can urge their members of congress or parliament to join the voyagers. The Movement already has Members of Parliament from South Africa, Turkey, Malaysia, Europe, and South America on board.

Members of a land crew, support crew and media are also needed for the coming journey.

Suggestions, volunteering and contributions may be made at the above cited web site.

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Haiti Fundraiser

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMnS

Despite Islamophobia rampant throughout the world and Muslims everywhere under attack, when disaster strikes as it has in Haiti, Muslims react instantly with charity and a deep sense of humanity.

If the foregoing seems to describe a paradox, to Muslims, helping others in distress regardless of religion, is a Koranic mandate. This past weekend Islamic Relief held a successful fundraiser in Anaheim, Ca to raise funds for disaster relief in earthquake ravaged Haiti. The speakers described the Islamic duty to support this cause citing Koranic chapters and centuries of precedent.

Before a capacity crowd the evening, which began with a recital from the Koran, featured such noted Muslim figures as Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Dr. Maher Hathout and Imam Zaid Shakir. 

A video showing the devastation in Haiti played during the length of the evening.

Dr. Siddiqi said that natural disasters are trials, both for those who are stricken and those who are safe. For the former, it is a test of faith; for the latter, it is a test of charity.

“We are all part of the human family”, Dr. Siddiqi told his audience.

When Dr. Maher Hathout took to the podium he asked his audience to imagine what life must be like for people whose very existence changed in a matter of seconds.

“We do what we do because we are followers of the Koran and of Mohammed (pbuh).”

Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute spoke of the parallel between the tragedy of Haiti and the tragedy of Gaza. In the former there is mobilization through out the world to come to the aid of the Haitians. For Gaza, one year after the devastating attack by Israel, rebuilding has not begun and aid convoys are turned away. Despite this the people of Gaza have raised money for the suffering people in Haiti.

Islamic Relief leader Anwar Khan presided over fundraising and spoke of his experiences in Haiti. He had just returned from a two day visit, and his testimony was particularly compelling because he spoke as an eye witness.

“The smell of death was everywhere”, he said.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake left an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, and initially 200,000 were killed. Many survivors have died since due to malnutrition and dehydration and injuries received during the quake. People are sleeping in the streets with nothing under them but bricks. With a shaky infrastructure to begin with, there is very little that the earthquake did not damage or destroy. Homes, schools, places of worship, government buildings – all suffered damage and those that are not level are unsafe.

Islamic Relief set up temporary shelters in tented areas for 120 families. They worked with and befriended the Haitians whom they helped. This contrasts with many other relief efforts in which the volunteers felt the need for body guards and also the need to construct barbed wire fences between themselves and the Haitians. The humane ambiance of Islamic Relief’s work in addition to the direct aid is an outgrowth of religious faith.

“I never realized how devastated that poor country was” said one woman after hearing Brother Khan speak.

The evening was presented by Islamic Relief in coordination with the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. Sponsors were CAIR-LA, MPAC, MAS, MSA-West and COPAA.

Islamic Relief is a charitable organization which has operated for a quarter of a century to alleviate poverty, illiteracy and suffering and to bring aid and comfort to victims of natural and man made disasters. They are often the first responders to any emergency, and their work covers every part of the globe. They operate without reference to nationality, creed and color. They partner with other aid groups both local and international.

The list of their activities is encyclopedic. Here are a few: an orphan support program; water and sanitation development; education, and income generation. They have been in Pakistan in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes there; in Gaza when Israeli bombs were dropping; in Ethiopia during a famine, and in our Gulf States in the aftermath of Katrina.

To find out more about Islamic Relief and/or to contribute, please access them at: www.islamicreliefusa.org.

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