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.
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.
The Muslim and African-American communities in Detroit, Michigan strongly feel that Imam Luqman Abdullah is innocent. They may be wrong. They may be defending a guilty man, but they have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our country. No jury or society can declare a man guilty unless it's sure—beyond a reasonable doubt.
I contacted Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to discuss this case.
Wazwaz: Can you briefly explain what happened according to your understanding of the case?
Walid: On October 28, 2009 How we understand it is there were- and this is according to the criminal affidavit- there were three confidential informants, of them at least was an agent provocateur that led the Imam and a couple of other congregants to a warehouse. According to community members, this person was an agent provocateur was passing himself off as a businessperson and bringing them there to do jobs. The Imam owned a pickup truck and he was asked to drive these gentlemen over there to help move what ended up in some televisions at a warehouse. Once they got to the warehouse, the agent provocateur excused himself, and then percussion grenades were then exploded within the warehouse. FBI agents came in with guns drawn. As the individuals were laying down and as we have been told the Imam was not brandishing a firearm, dogs were let loose. As the dogs came through and started to rip through his jacket sleeves right here and we’ve seen the pictures were marks on his face. Then the FBI purports that the Imam then put out a gun and shot the FBI canine, and then they filled him up with 21 gunshots, including one in the back.
The FBI and the police never called for medical assistance for the imam, but they flew the dog in their helicopter to a vet.
Wazwaz: Did the Imam have a gun?
Walid: We’re not even sure if the Imam even had a gun. We sent in a Freedom of Information Act request which has not been answered by the FBI in regards to the necropsy report which is basically on autopsy report of the dog to see what caliber bullets entered into the dog. Because in fact, it could of been bullets the FBI or so-called friendly fire.
Wazwaz: How was he found by the medical examiner?
Walid: According to the medical examiner, the Imam’s body was moved from the warehouse to the trailer and was found with his wrists handcuffed. There was very little blood at the actual scene where he was shot 21 times. The family got his body the following day and an autopsy was done without permission of the family. They retrieved his body with the director of a funeral home who was Muslim. For a longtime, the findings of the autopsy were suppressed by the police.
Wazwaz: Why do you believe the FBI was after him?
Walid: Informants were sent to the mosque claiming they were looking for extremists' activity. The affidavit calls him a highly placed leader of a Sunni fundamentalist group and that he had a plot to overthrow the government and impose Shariah. No one in the mosque was charged for anything. The charges were mainly dealing with stolen goods.
Wazwaz: How was the family notified of the shooting?
Walid: The imam's son, Mujahid, saw the news of his father on television.
Wazwaz: Did you meet Imam Luqman personally? How would you describe him if you did?
Walid: I never heard him give a sermon, but met with him with different community leaders and imams. My interaction with him is that he was a very quiet man. In a group of people, he would sit back and listen. He would wait till he heard everyone before offering his opinion. He did a lot of assistance in helping people who were transitioning out of prison. They owned a few properties that they were fixing to turn into transitional housing. Many people who attended his mosque were poor, some of them being homeless.
Wazwaz: How would you describe the coverage in the media in Detroit?
Walid: In the beginning, the coverage was that he was a radical extremist. A few TV stations reported everything the FBI said as facts. As civil rights groups got concerned - the coverage started to change, there were more editorials and coverage questioning the FBI, police and their suppressing the autopsy report. Congressman John Conyers and others started to get involved. The mayor of Detroit and state representative, Betty Scott called for further investigation.
Wazwaz: How do you feel the investigation is going right now?
Walid: Right now they are reviewing the FBI shooting, but they have not launched a civil rights investigation. We're hopeful that Congressman Conyers will hold hearings regarding the usage of confidential informants and agent provocateurs in houses of worship.
Wazwaz: Has any major civil rights organization spoke on this issue?
Walid: A number of organizations have written Holder letters, like the NAACP, Muslim Advocates, ACLU, and others.
Wazwaz: If you can say one thing publicly to Attorney General Holder what would it be?
Walid: We would like a robust and thorough transparent investigation into the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah. If wrong doing is found, we hope that he has the courage to fire those responsible and to also prosecute them.
Wazwaz: In such an investigation, doesn't it require a relationship with the community?
Walid: I think it is very important for those doing the investigation, - that they meet the community and to actually see the mosque and the people who were there.
Wazwaz: Does the family have a spokesperson that can speak on their behalf?
Walid: Family has a very articulate spokesperson, Omar Regan, who is a comedian and actor who served as a body double for Hollywood star Chris Tucker. And CAIR has kept this issue in the forefront in the media.
The African-American community in Detroit Michigan feels strongly about getting a platform to tell its story. Only a few media stories have touched on how Imam Abdullah lived and helped the homeless people. I hope people of influence and voice can give them such a platform to be heard and understood, and afterwards, by all means, ask hard and critical questions regarding the case.