Fedwa Wazwaz

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian- American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. By profession, she is a senior data warehouse programmer with the University of Minnesota. Read more about Fedwa Wazwaz.

Posts about Government

Training Cops to Fear Somalis and Muslims

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: November 22, 2013 - 5:08 AM

On Thursday, November 21, 2013, a law enforcement training on terrorism was offered in Minnesota. This training was organized by former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher of the controversial new Center for Somali History Studies.  Yes, terrorism is a real threat to our nation and law enforcement needs to be educated about that threat.

As an educator and a concerned citizen wishing for the safety and well-being of every civilian, I support educational trainings.  Yet, I am concerned about this training.  Is the training meant to strengthen our law enforcement or is it meant to selectively create a circle within our nation that hardens our deep-seated prejudices and biases to keep the Muslim community marginalized and outside this circle?

American Muslim leaders and leading organizations have been very vocal and firm in unequivocally condemning terrorism and terrorist organizations, including Al Shabab.  Last month, Minnesota imams were the first to collectively condemn the horrific attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a leading civil rights organization, has repeatedly stated that “any action that harms innocent civilians is reprehensible and deserves condemnation.”  Muslim organizations and scholars are quite vocal condemning terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and whoever commits it. 

So why am I concerned about this training?

As an educator, I focus on two important points: First, evaluate or question the source.  Second, evaluate or question the methodology - the research, processes, critical thinking, omissions and numbers.  I also immediately separate and remove any emotionally appealing statements.

Let us question the source.

Are the trainers experts on terrorism? 

Are their credentials and backgrounds sound or are they individuals who have no qualifications or have deep-seated prejudice against Muslims? 

Do any of these experts have the necessary qualifications or level of understanding to speak on terrorism or on the Muslim community?

Do any of these experts have a reputation for accuracy?

Do any of the experts have a motive for being inaccurate or overly biased?

Are there valid reasons for questioning the honesty or integrity of these presenters?

Let us begin with the organizer. Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher was referred to as “Ramsey County's most controversial cop.” His own police department alleged that he  "exaggerated or falsified" his investigation of domestic and international terrorism threats in the east metro.
SEE: Fletcher Defends Terror Probe (Star Tribune)

In an interview with the Twin Cities Daily Planet, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office stated that Fletcher's claims that Ramsey County residents were threatened by 22 domestic and 11 international terrorist groups "came from an active imagination" and that the Terrorism Information Briefs "never existed."

City Pages stated that "Fletcher's office apparently dreamed up the whole idea that his jurisdiction was under threat from dozens of domestic and international terrorism groups" and that "the research was done by staffers cruising the internet and watching CNN." It further states: "It's hardly the first time Fletcher and his office have been at the center of controversy. Some of his department's handiwork was employed in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, when he directed preemptive raids against Twin Cities activists who later became known as the RNC 8. Two years after they were arrested in the guns-drawn raid, the cases against them fizzled."

SEE: Meet Bob Fletcher: Ramsey County's Most Controversial Cop (City Pages)

Those 33 Terrorist Groups in Ramsey County? It Was "A Very Big Lie" (Twin Cities Daily Planet

Bob Fletcher, Former Ramsey County Sheriff, Fictionalized Terrorism Reports (City Pages)  

Along with Fletcher, the co-presenters for the training include: Omar Jamal, Abdirizak Bihi, Mohammed Farah, Michael Rozin, Jeff Weyers, and Gary Olding. 

Michael Rozin, "formally of the Israeli Defense Forces, trained at the Israeli Security Academy," was featured in an NPR story on racial and religious profiling at the Mall of America. 
SEE:  Shoppers Entangled In War On Terrorism (NPR) 

Omar Jamal, a convicted felon, has made unsubstantiated, hate-inspired statements, such as referring to Minneapolis as a "slaughterhouse for immigrants."
SEE: When Somalis are in the news so is Omar Jamal (MPR)

Similarly, the Pioneer Press reported that Bihi has had run-ins with the law, including a restraining order for "threatening and stalking" a woman and DWIs. In March 2011, there was an "active warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his probation."
SEE: Domestic terrorism hearing witness from Minneapolis has had a troubled past (Pioneer Press)

Is this how legitimate community leaders behave? Are these individuals best suited to train law enforcement?

Fletcher has organized controversial trainings for law enforcement in the past. Concerned community members felt the trainings did not distinguish between terrorists and mainstream Muslims and Somalis. The training flyer referred to the terrorist organization Al Shabaab as an "Islamic" organization. It included pictures of Somali men with AK-47s on it with the headline, "Understanding the People of Somalia."

In November 2011, more than 30 Twin Cities Somali and Muslim organizations challenged the credibility of the seminar in Minneapolis. Several police departments across the state declined to participate.
SEE: Muslim groups to Bob Fletcher: There's No "Islam" in Terrorism (Minnesota Public Radio)
Groups Object to St. Paul Somali Seminar, Call It Anti-Muslim (Pioneer Press)

The training claimed that there is "an alarming trend of radical imams recruiting and radicalizing American-raised Somalis to be suicide bombers for the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab." 

However, the FBI said it has no reason to believe the mosque was indoctrinating people:

"At this point, we have uncovered no evidence to show there was any effort of any mosque or mosque leadership or mosque imam to take part in any recruitment or radicalization of these young men," said Special Agent E.K .Wilson of the Minneapolis division of the FBI.

While investigators believe that some of the secret meetings happened in a mosque, it doesn't appear to be a case of a radical imam brainwashing his students. In most cases, Wilson said, it was likely friends influencing friends.

"It looks like the recruitment process of these men was on a very peer-to-peer type scale," Wilson said. "Some of the individuals were more culpable than others, but it was a very lateral chain of command when it came to who is responsible." 
SEE: Minnesota Muslim leaders skeptical and disappointed after radicalization hearing (MPR) 

In May 2012, Fletcher's training was canceled in Mankato after Somali leaders met with city leaders to discuss the controversial content of the seminar. As a result, all of the city organizers withdrew their support of the seminar.

In March 2013, Catholic Charities, who had agreed to host the training in Waite Park, apologized for the training's anti-Somali/anti-Muslim flyer. They also agreed to remove the anti-Muslim/anti-Somali content from the presentation slides.

The Executive Director of Catholic Charities publicly stated: “It used language that was wrong. It was a mistake on our part. No one should ever think of anyone from the Somali or Muslim community as affiliated with a terrorist organization."
SEE: Muslim Education Event Comes Under Fire (KNSI) 

We must support educational trainings on terrorism.  It is within our nation’s interest.  However, we must stand against trainings by fearmongers. It is against our nation’s interest. 

Fearmongering undermines our nation, in particular law enforcement’s ability to effectively protect our country.  It undermines peace officers’ relationships with the American Muslim community, leading to a rise in racial and religious profiling. Reports have highlighted law enforcement's use of biased experts and anti-Muslim training materials nationwide. The United States Congress has scrutinized these practices.
SEE: Congress Grills FBI Chief About Anti-Islam Trainings

Let us question the methodology. 

A sound methodology is a methodology that can be challenged openly and transparently.  It stands on arguments that are complete, critical thinking processes that are cold, sterile and devoid of emotional manipulation.  It is difficult to question the methodology of this training. 

On Thursday, November 21, CAIR-MN reported that a Muslim contacted the civil rights organization to report that he was barred from this controversial law enforcement training seminar on terrorism. The man reported that he approached the registration table, registered his name and email address, and was provided with a folder containing training materials and the agenda. However, he said that Bob Fletcher then approached him and asked him to leave. Fletcher allegedly told him that the training was by invitation only, mostly for law enforcement and for Fletcher’s Somali friends. Yet, this appears to be pretext. The event was publicized in public venues, including the main page of the organization’s website. The website includes an online registration page open to the community, along with a link to Paypal.

This raises a serious red flag:  Omission and suppression of alternative voices, hence the arguments are not complete or sound. 

Educational trainings for law enforcement should test for hidden bias.  Our ability to understand others can be obfuscated by our own hidden biases and stereotypes.  It is easy to argue we are not biased, but the reality is that bias is outside our sense of awareness.  Acknowledging hidden biases is the first step to an effective training.  Test Yourself for Hidden Bias

In addition, trainings on terrorism should involve terrorism experts that do not have a motive in the training.  Trainings that omit alternative voices and relevant evidence can appear to be stronger than they really are. 

As we work together to protect our country, we must be vigilant and firm in the face of arguments or expertise embedded with fear mongering and bias.  We must do the job well and right and rely on credible sources and factual information.  We must not readily accept whoever speaks on the matter without sound investigation. When sources and experts prove to be questionable, we must be accountable and responsible to seek out more reliable information, sources and experts.

A word of caution, it is extremely easy to manipulate people with numbers.  Hence, we must seek out experts on the fundamental principles of probability and statistics before believing statistical information offered to us in a manipulative manner. 

SEE: How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, and Innumeracy:  Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos. 

When sources and experts are biased or have a self-interest, chances are numbers and arguments are being used to manipulate instead of educate the audience.  This is not within the interest of our nation.  We must stand against such trainings.  Profiling, misrepresenting and alienating an entire community does not help combat terrorism.

Source: CAIR-MN Action Alert

Reflecting on King's Challenge to America

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: January 20, 2013 - 2:50 AM

On December 14, 2012, late in the afternoon - I became aware of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was painful to read the stories, emails and newsfeed as they poured over the tragedy. In times of crisis and pain like this, as a Muslim I immediately turn to prayer to gain strength and to reflect on the situation. In the evening, I joined an online prayer service on SeekersHub in Toronto.

The Toronto team was able to gather a large crowd at the Hub and online for our prayer for the victims and families of the murder in Connecticut. "The believer is pained by the pain of another," said Shaykh Faraz Rabbani while leading the prayers for the affected families of Connecticut.

Mainly through social media discussions, I began reading various viewpoints regarding the shooting. Some argued for greater gun control. Is this tragedy due to a lack of gun control policies? Maybe. We can consider this argument. But let us consider the argument that frequent mass shootings of innocent people are not symptoms of lack of gun control policies as well. Did Timothy McVeigh use guns in the Oklahoma bombing?

Others compared the discourse on the Newton Shooting to a month earlier discourse on the Israeli bombing of Gaza. On November 2012 - while bombs were hitting Gaza, and over 160 people died – many of whom were children, the US House of Representatives in one minute gave its “vigorous support” and “unwavering commitment” to Israel. Both, the U.S. Senate and House passed by unanimous consent resolutions defending Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip. These resolutions expressed no regret or mourning at the Palestinian loss of lives.
In response to the resolution, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) disputed statements that the U.S. House of Representative unanimously endorsed Israel's “right to act in self-defense” in Gaza. According Rep Kucinich, the bill was introduced at 12:04 pm. The resolution was “agreed without objection” by 12:05 pm. “There was no notice, no committee hearing, no discussion and no debate. In such a fashion, we achieve unanimity on great matters related to the Middle East,” said Rep. Kucinich.
As the discussion on the Newton shooting continued, some commented on the use of drones in Pakistan, and how the deaths of innocent people in Pakistan by US drone strikes has passed without mourning, grief or reflection in the US. Recently, a U.S. drone killed eight people in rural Pakistan, bringing the estimated death toll from drone strikes in Pakistan this year to 35.
In a Washington Post article published on January 13, 2013 - Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) argued, "A recent study by human rights experts at Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported: approximately 700 since 2004, including almost 200 children."

What does the violence in Gaza or Pakistan have to do with the Newton Shooting? I believe they are all connected.
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings taught Muslims that, "The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich." This is not just an Islamic teaching but it was also taught by noble Americans who nurtured our country to a higher understanding of human dignity and value.
On April 4, 1967, Reverend Martin Luther King challenged America regarding the Vietnam War. In my opinion, what is true of the Vietnam War is true of the war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in Gaza, where many Palestinian civilians were killed funded by the US tax dollars. In "Vietnam: A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal," Martin Luther King said the following:
"My third reason [for opposing the war] moves to a deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the past three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked me, and rightfully so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent…”
This weekend - as a nation we will celebrate Reverend King's life. As we reflect on his life - let us step in his shoes and imagine having a face to face interaction with the desperate, rejected and angry young Gazans or Pakistanis, like King had with the Blacks in the ghettos.
Then, they ask us, and rightfully so, what about Gaza and Pakistan, and look at the destruction of Gaza funded by US Tax dollars? And they further ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Doesn't the US hit Pakistan with drones killing innocent people in Pakistan? How can we talk about gun control when we are financing violence in Gaza. How will we respond?
Like Prophet Muhammad and MLK, I firmly believe you cannot condemn the violence of the oppressed until you firmly condemn the violence of the strong, of those with power and influence.
A condemnation of the violence in Connecticut requires us to also condemn the violence which killed many nameless children by our own weapons. Our drones and missiles kill children as well, and not just guns. Instead of a national debate on gun control, we need a national debate on all forms of violence and accountability to the rule of law. 
Furthermore, I encourage us to reflect on our thought processes and our self-defense rhetoric and ask ourselves - how different is our voice and our thoughts from those that took the lives of innocents in school shootings? Are we looking at people outside our boundaries, over there, the way the shooters behind the school shootings looked at our innocents in schools? Has our pain and fears blinded and deafened us from seeing, hearing or comprehending the voices of those "hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence?"  Read the article - The reviews are in: 'Zero Dark Thirty makes me hate muslims'
Tragic events like the Connecticut shooting remind us to do some soul searching. What makes any country great is the commitment to great principles like human dignity, human rights, value of life and rule of law. Are we going to hold ourselves accountable for selectively applying these principles when they suit us? Do we believe these principles are for everyone or only for certain Americans?
I think it is important for the American perspective to wake up and realize that all human life is created equal and that problems far worse do exist and need to be addressed just as urgently. By saying this, I don't at all mean to minimize the brutal massacre of children and school teachers or the pain and suffering of those who are in Connecticut. What I do mean is that violence like this is far more widespread than we realize, and that where these types of events occur on a massive scale there is rarely a movement to hold perpetrators with power and influence accountable to the rule of law.
My heart goes out to the people who were affected by the unspeakable crime in Newtown and to all the nameless and faceless children who died everywhere without a committee hearing, discussion, public debate and mourning.

Fighting for Survival, not Destruction of Israel

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: November 17, 2012 - 3:35 PM

I was preparing an article to respond to the current violence in Gaza when I realized that history is just repeating itself. Thus, I looked at previous articles and decided to simply repeat what was written before. It appears to me peace to some means a hope that the Palestinians would just disappear and stop seeking their rights protected under international law. Palestinians are simply fighting for their survival, not the destruction of Israel. 

Let me respond to the questions floating in cyberspace.
Israel’s Right to Exist?
In order to answer this question, it is important to understand how Israel was created.

Israel's right to exist cannot come through massacres, deadly force and the humiliation of Arabs. It cannot come through starving 1.7 million Gazans unless they accept submission to Israel. It cannot come through carpet-bombings of civilians in Gaza and Lebanon. It cannot come through the expulsion of Arabs from their land, Arab-only home demolition, and construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements. It cannot come through violating International Law. It cannot come through allowing Israel the right to act without any sense of boundaries or accountability to any rule of law. Israel must earn its way to legitimacy and make amends for the history of terror and violence in the region as well as the numerous massacres and war crimes upon which it was built.
Peace Process or Piece Process?
Juan Cole, a political analyst on the conflict writes:
“Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).”
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT, responded to this classic argument best:
“You can’t defend yourself when you are militarily occupying someone else’s land. Call it what you like, it is not self-defense.”

Some will argue that Israel left Gaza. However, to Palestinians, Israel did not leave Gaza, but instead turned it into an open-air prison. There was a recent report by the IDF to determine what the minimum caloric intake for Gazans should be in order to determine how many trucks of humanitarian aid can be allowed into Gaza without facing starvation.

Retaliation or Indiscriminate Killing?
And with every surge of Palestinian violence, Israel has struck with an evident lack of mercy. In the past, we heard “put the fear of death into the Arabs,” “mow them down,” and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, threatening Palestinians with a “shoah,” which means holocaust.
In the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report found Israel applied the “Dahiya doctrine.” The report said on page 23:
"The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations."
Recently, Israeli transport minister, Israel Katz, recommended forcing the Gazan population into Egypt and cutting off their water and electricity.
Human Shields?
Stephen Zunes, a political analyst on the situation posted this on his Facebook:
“Following the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, detailed on-the-ground investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC and others took place that were quite critical of Hamas and accused them (and Israeli forces) of a number of war crimes. Yet they were unable to find a single case of Hamas using ‘human shields.’ (See pp. 75-78). And I'm seen no evidence that Hamas is doing that now, either. Yet members of Congress and others are still insisting that civilians being killed by Israeli bombardments are because Hamas is using ‘human shields’."
SEE: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/015/2009/en/8f299083-9a74-4853-860f-0563725e633a/mde150152009en.pdf
We must agree that security is a right for all, and not just for the exclusive set of people with nuclear arms. A state simply seeking security does not deny the right of another state or people to security. That is, unless it is not security that Israel seeks, but security from accountability for waging war crimes and ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their homeland.

See: Israel to counter Palestinian attempt at UN
"If the Palestinians go to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral initiative, they must know they will be subject to severe measures by Israel and the United States," the station quoted Lieberman as saying on October 24.
Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?
In an interview with Norm Finkelstein, a political analyst and author of many books on the situation - I asked him the following question:

Wazwaz: Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively. In fact, both men were considered terrorists in their lifetime. MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy. You recently explained that Gandhi also did not see nonviolence as allowing yourself to be raped and doing nothing. Can you explain nonviolence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?

Finkelstein: Gandhi's opinions on nonviolence are complex and not always consistent. But it should be clear that Gandhi ranked courage and bravery as high as nonviolence, and he repeatedly said that if you don't have the courage and bravery to resist the oppressor nonviolently then you should use violence. He repeatedly denounced those who used nonviolence as a cover for their fear and cowardice.

Hatred of Jews or Israeli Apartheid?
It's true that some Arabs have expressed unjust anti-Semitic feelings. Similar sentiments were expressed by Jews toward Arabs. However, this conflict is not about hatred of Jews or hatred of Arabs, but an illegal military occupation that is against international law. The anti-Jewish and anti-Arab feelings are byproducts of the conflict, not the root cause of it. 
This conflict is not a Jew vs. Arab conflict. It is not Judaism vs. Islam conflict. Israel remains in violation of abundant UN resolutions. There are quite a few Jews, some quoted in this blog, who came out and spoke against the occupation. Some saw the striking similarity between what they suffered in the holocaust and what they are seeing in the lives of Palestinians.
Hajo Meyer is the author of The End of Judaism: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed. In this Huffington Post article, he writes of the similarities between his experiences in Germany and what he saw of the suffering of Palestinians. Here are his words:
See: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed
“I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of ‘blood and soil’ in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people — coerced ghettoization behind a ‘security wall’; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival — force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.”

Until we recognize the Palestinians as a people with rights protected under international
law - the conflict will continue and the map of Palestine will continue to shrink. Calling for restraint while financing an illegal military occupation against international law and protecting the occupier from accountability for violations of international law - will not produce peace or security for anyone, but violence and insecurity for all as is evident for all to witness to.
To follow the current conflict and stay abreast of the situation see the following:

Flotilla Attack: Interview with Norman Finkelstein

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: June 24, 2010 - 6:32 AM

Another important voice that I felt necessary to bring to the discussion on the flotilla attack is Dr. Norman Finkelstein.

Dr. Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. For many years, he taught political theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict, although he is currently an independent scholar. Finkelstein is the author of five widely-translated books.  He has just completed a new book entitled A Farewell to Israel: The Coming Break-up of American Zionism.

Dr. Finkelstein is Jewish, and his parents were Holocaust survivors. He shared some photos on his website and asked a very important question to reflect on.  "At what point does it become too close for comfort?"

In this interview, I asked Dr. Finkelstein to address some questions and claims raised in the media about the flotilla attack.

Wazwaz:  In the article “Turkey's off balance, and tilting the wrongway,”  Thomas Friedman argues that Turkey is "joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel."  In Friedman's view, the anger in Turkey is not a result of 9 people shot at close range 30 times by armed commandos but due to a tilting to extremism.  Do you agree with this analysis?

Finkelstein:  Friedman is a preposterous blowhard.  Erdogan spoke out against the Gaza massacre in winter 2008-9 -- as did most of the world.  Alongside Brazil he brokered a diplomatic settlement with Iran - which is what most of the world wants.  He supported an end to the illegal Israeli siege of Gaza -- as did most of the world.  He deplored Israel's murderous assault on a humanitarian convoy in international waters -- as did most of the world.  So, where is the extremism?

Wazwaz:  A local Rabbi, commented the Israeli defense story which is that the deaths of the nine humanitarian activists were a result of a conflict.  She said, "I am convinced that the activists on all seven boats were angered by Israel’s decision to defend its blockade of Gaza with this military operation. Only on one boat, the Mavi Marmara, did some of the activists respond to the Israeli commandos with physical violence. In the conflict that ensued, tragically,  nine people were killed."  Have you seen the new videos that emerged by Iara Lee from Culture of Resistance?  And how would you respond regarding this Israel defense story?

Finkelstein:  Even if one grants for argument's sake that Israel had a right to stop the humanitarian convoy, it had many nonviolent options.  It could have disabled the propeller or the rudder and towed the ship to port.  Israel has said that it didn't expect forceful resistance from the passengers: so, why didn't it board the vessel in broad daylight?  It chose the most violent option of an armed commando raid in the dead of night because it wanted to show the Arabs/Muslims that its armed forces were still up to snuff and because it wanted to humiliate Turkey.

Wazwaz:  Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren commented on Stephen Colbert Show, that he is worried that calling for an international investigation into the Flotilla Attack, would allow Libya and Sudan to investigate Israeli actions.  The UN did not send Libya or Sudan to investigate the bombardment of Gaza in 2008, but Judge Goldstone, a  respected jurist with an impeccable record as well as a Zionist.  Can you briefly comment on Michael Oren's fears that an international investigation allows Libya and Sudan to investigate Israel?

Finkelstein:  Oren is a congenital liar.  The proposal by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was for a commission composed of the former head of state of New Zealand, the U.S., Turkey and Israel.


Wazwaz:  As we look at the discussions happening across the US on this incident, I rarely see voices of Palestinians or intellectuals with a clear knowledge of the facts on the ground invited to comment to the claims being made.  Were you invited to any discussion taking place on this issue by any major paper or TV network?  CNN, NY Times, etc.?

Finkelstein:  I have NEVER been on a national radio or television program in the U.S. except for Democracy Now!  I have never been on National Public Radio.  My last two books did not receive a single review in the mainstream press (including the Nation).

Wazwaz:  In the aftermath of the attack, a campaign is being waged to project the Turkish Charity Organization, IHH as a terrorist organization.  There were even calls by democrats to refuse visas to any members of the Flotilla.  First have any of these members of congress contacted you to hear the opposing argument - since they took an oath to serve this country and not themselves?  I am not aware of any Congressional hearings where Palestinians, especially abused by Israel have taken place.  And second, what are your views on reconstructing the Flotilla activists as terrorists?

Finketstein:  It's one of the wonders of American life that after an armed Israeli commando unit stormed a humanitarian vessel in international waters and killed ten passengers, Congress wants to have the victims declared terrorists; and it is one of the wonders of Israeli life that it has managed to turn the perpetrators of wanton murder into the victims of a "lynching."


Wazwaz:  Noam Chomsky argued that since Israel is militarily occupying someone else's land, then it cannot be defending itself.  The occupation is against International Law, and it existed way before Hamas came in power.  Yet, as Israel continues the settlement building and Arab home demolition and confiscation of Arab land, and the UN failure to stop clear violations of International Law, what options remain for Palestinians to protect themselves from being pushed into disconnected reservations?

Finkelstein:  The Palestinians have the right to use arms to resist an occupation that after nearly a half-century has become a de facto annexation and denial of their right to self-determination.  However, the fact that morally and legally they have that right doesn't mean that it's the most prudent strategy.  In my opinion, a national Palestinian leadership committed to mobilizing nonviolent resistance can defeat the Israeli occupation if those of us living abroad lend support to it.


Wazwaz:  Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively.  In fact, both men were considered terrorists in lifetime.  MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy.  You recently explained that Gandhi also did not see non violence as allowing yourself to be raped and doing nothing.  Can you explain non violence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?

Finkelstein:  Gandhi's opinions on nonviolence are complex and not always consistent.  But it should be clear that Gandhi ranked courage and bravery as high as nonviolence, and he repeatedly said that if you don't have the courage and bravery to resist the oppressor nonviolently then you should use violence.  He repeatedly denounced those who used nonviolence as a cover for their fear and cowardice.


Wazwaz:  Thank you very much for this interview.


Flotilla Attack: Interview with Iara Lee

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: June 24, 2010 - 6:20 AM

I was on vacation the past two weeks and wanted to catch up with a few people regarding the attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla headed for Gaza.  I listened to TV reports, read newspapers, and emailed people who I felt needed to be given a chance to respond to the coverage.  I summarized the main points and turned them into questions.  I managed to get hold of two people who agreed to give me time to answer these questions.

Below is an interview with Iara Lee, an activist and filmmaker who was a passenger of the Mavi Marmara, the flagship vessel of the humanitarian convoy.  Lee managed to hide raw video footage and released it recently to show the Israeli claims were not accurate.  You can read her blog as well as see the raw video footage here.

In this interview, Iara Lee discusses the claims made in defense of Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara.

Wazwaz:   What instigated you to be part of this campaign and why Gaza?    Why not another place where there is human suffering and persecution?    Are you not practicing double standards and picking on Israel?

Lee:  I am doing work in many parts of the world: North Korea, the Congo, Brazil, Iran etc. Our Cultures of Resistance network's main goal is to promote global solidarity and peace with justice worldwide. I literally work all my waking hours but there are so many conflicts in the world, I do all I can but we obviously need to engage a lot more people to make a dent towards more justice in this world.  As far as Israel/Palestine conflict, for many years I have been involved in the effort to find a just peace in that region.  I believe the dominant double standard is western nations condemning smaller, weaker nations for war crimes that they themselves are guilty of.  As an American citizen, I feel an obligation to the Palestinian people as it is our tax dollars that support and maintain the brutal occupation of their lands. So to answer your question, it is the US government immoral behavior that got me involved.  In my case there is no double standard, as I am a staunch supporter of international law in ALL cases of human rights abuses, across the world.


Wazwaz:  A local Rabbi commented the Israeli defense story which is that the deaths of the nine humanitarian activists were a result of a conflict.  She said, "I am convinced that the activists on all seven boats were angered by Israel’s decision to defend its blockade of Gaza with this military operation. Only on one boat, the Mavi Marmara, did some of the activists respond to the Israeli commandos with physical violence. In the conflict that ensued, tragically, nine people were killed."  Since you were on this ship where the "conflict" was - how would you respond regarding this Israel defense story that the participants of this ship instigated the violence?

Lee:  As our own footage will indicate, the passengers on the Mavi Marmara were not looking for a fight but were ready to resist attack as legal rights to self-defense. The fact is that Israeli commandos came in shooting.  Please note that not a single Israeli soldier was killed -- to the contrary, their injuries were treated by passengers, as the NY Times published photos of passenger doctor treating Israeli injured soldier.  If we really wanted violence, we could have easily injured those soldiers more, even killed them.  Please also note that they were only injured in the process of being forcefully disarmed of their weapons. 


Wazwaz:  Can you describe briefly the first encounter you had with an Israeli commando on the Ship?  How were you treated and what happened in the aftermath of the invasion?

Lee:  The first thing they did was confiscate all media on board the ship - photos, footage, audio - everything.  None of this was returned to the passengers.  This is of course their attempt to control the narrative of what happened.  Luckily, they are failing in this capacity.  After keeping us captive at the lower deck with weapons pointed at us whenever we moved, they started handcuffing us and kept us restrained in stress positions. We were then, as kidnapped passengers, taken to Israel's Ashdod port and then on to jail in Southern Israel.  Many other passengers, mostly males, were beaten and suffered various abuses in custody.  Fortunately I was not among those. During our time in jail only after much persistence from our embassies, we were able to talk to them.  As you see, one illegal action after another on their part...


Wazwaz:  You managed, despite meticulous Israeli efforts, to sneak out raw footage of the attack.    Every major network and mainstream paper kept replaying the IDF video knowing Israel stole all photos and video footage to counter its story.  Had this been Iran, we would have heard analysis on how Iran violates freedom of speech and press.   Yet, what we heard was the parroting of Israeli claims - with the full knowledge that all evidence of the participants were taken.  Since you released your video - were you invited to any discussion taking place on this issue by any major paper or TV network?  CNN, NY Times, etc.?  Congress? 

Lee:  The American press is under strict orders to never contradict the Israeli narrative of anything - whether it be Lebanon in 2006, Gaza in 2008-09, Palestine on a daily basis or what happened most recently on the Mavi Marmara.  So even though our footage contradicts the Israeli account of what happened in almost every way, I was never once invited by a major network to present this footage. But you can't stop info. Over 1 million people watched our footage on the internet, reposted it and it went viral. I also allow people to use the material to illustrate other survivors testimonies, people who want to make analytical short films, Al Jazeera used good chunk on their documentary, BBC just requested to do the same.  I am not protective about the footage, the main goal is to make it available as public service, since Israelis stole/confiscated all other materials.


Wazwaz:  In the aftermath of the attack, a campaign is being waged to project the Turkish Charity Organization, IHH as a terrorist organization.  There were even calls by democrats to refuse visas to any members of the Flotilla.  First have any of these members of congress contacted you to hear the opposing argument - since they took an oath to serve this country and not themselves?  I am not aware of any Congressional hearings where Palestinians, especially those abused by Israel, have taken place.  And second, what are your views on reconstructing the Flotilla activists as terrorists? 

Lee:  This is of course propaganda.  Like our press, our congress is dedicated to serving the interests of the Israeli state, even over the interests of their own people here in the US.  No one from congress contacted me.  Keep in mind that the youngest of the Mavi Marmara victims - a 19 year old boy killed by four bullets to the head - is also an American citizen.  Yet no US leader has called for an investigation.  Such control of our leadership is accomplished through a very powerful, right-wing Israeli lobby.  Without evidence, and with blood on their hands, all they can do is shout "terrorist" and blame the victims for their own murderous conduct.  


Wazwaz:  Having been on the ship where 9 people were shot 30 times at close range, and having interacted in the journey with people on the ship - what was your perception of the people on that ship?  Did you hear calls to kill Jews, or language that was anti-Semitic?  Do you recall these individual participants and if so can you share anything about their deaths or journey on the Flotilla?

Lee:  The passengers on the boat came from all walks of life - secular, religious, old, young, male and female. During interviews I conducted many mentioned that they have nothing against Jews but the terrorist state Israel.  It is preposterous that anyone on board called for death to the Jews or uttered any other anti-Semitic slogans.  We all shared a commitment to NON-VIOLENT action against the illegal blockade of Gaza.


Wazwaz:  Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney, the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively.  In fact, both men were considered terrorists in their lifetimes.  MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy.  You mentioned on your Democracy Now interview that you were trained in non violence resistance.  Can you explain non violence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?

Lee:  There have been many "Palestinian Gandhis."  Unfortunately such non-violent action is consistently met with brutality.  Tight control of the media, however, means that the only information the world receives is that which justifies Israeli brutality.  After the popular movie 'Avatar," residents in Bilin dressed up as the characters from that movie to protest the border wall.  Their hope was that by dressing up as the sympathetic aliens from that popular film that the world might find some room in their hearts for the human beings suffering in Palestine.  They were dispersed by tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets, and then never heard from again - least of all in the media.


Wazwaz:  Thank you so much for your time.


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