In the Media

01/01/08: Community reacts to Mideast violence

      January  1, 2008    

Community reacts to Mideast violence

By Aatif Ali Bokhari  --  The Arab American News  --

DEARBORN – In the wake of Hizbullah's capture of Israeli soldiers and Israel's subsequent crippling attack on Lebanese infrastructure, the local Arab American community here mobilized to take a stand against what it sees as Israeli state terrorism.

At presstime, Israel had launched an all-out land, air and naval bombardment of Lebanon, destroying the airport, infrastructure such as bridges, highways and power plants and attacking the headquarters of Hizbullah and the home of its leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah.

The Congress of Arab-American Organizations issued a press release at an emergency meeting Thursday in response to the serious escalation of Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. They called for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon and Palestine.

"CAAO members strongly condemn the indiscriminate killing of civilians, especially of children," said CAAO Chair Abed Hammoud. "Over the past few days, the Israeli Army has launched an aggressive campaign in Gaza, then expanded this campaign of terror on a more severe level into Lebanon. So far, the U.S government has justified and supported the Israeli crimes under the guise of 'self defense', although Israeli leaders have bluntly stated that the objective of their bombings by air, land, and sea is to destroy the country of Lebanon and its infrastructure and collectively punish its people."

"CAAO members are appalled that, while the international community has condemned the Israeli actions and called for a cessation of its criminal behavior, our own government is not only supporting the killing of hundreds of civilians, but it is also encouraging the systematic destruction of two blooming democracies in the Middle East," said Osama Siblani, head of media relations for CAAO. "U.S. officials also do not seem to care that tens of thousands of the civilians under attack by Israel are U.S. citizens currently visiting Lebanon on vacation."

CAAO called on the U.S. government to intervene immediately to broker a ceasefire by all parties in an effort to stop the escalation of violence and make room for a strong, U.S.-led diplomatic action to resolve all outstanding issues, including the rescue of the thousands of U.S. citizens trapped in the cross-fire.

On Friday, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR – Michigan) held a press conference at the Islamic House of Wisdom at 10:30 a.m. In a prepared statement, Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-Michigan said, "Our concern is not only based upon the increasing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the deaths of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.

"Our concern also resides with the thousands of American citizens, a large portion of them being Metro Detroit residents, that are in the region on vacation whose lives are in jeopardy as we speak. …

"It is our hope that the Israeli government discontinues their assaults on the civilian populations of Palestine and Lebanon and accepts their calls [for a ceasefire] that have been made by the legitimate governments of Palestine and Lebanon."

Alluding to an incorrect version of an eye for an eye, Imam Mohamed Ali Elahi said that the Israelis are "making millions blind, just for two Israeli eyes."

He added that the conflict seems to be spiraling and that "it looks like the Israelis are planning a bigger mess for the region."

Imam Abdullah El-Amin, Executive Director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) said, "The CIOM has a long history and excellent reputation as an organization dedicated to interfaith and intercultural respect and cooperation. … But never in the nearly 20 years of its existence, have we seen such wanton disregard for human life and dignity as we are witnessing in this current situation of attacks in Palestine and Lebanon.

"We call upon the leaders of our country to stop using its veto power in the United Nations to only help one side and allow the continued slaughter of many human beings," said El-Amin.

More than 500 people showed up at an afternoon press conference and rally at the Islamic Center of Detroit. A number of speakers came up and gave passionate speeches. Members of the crowd had brought signs and flags showing their solidarity with the Palestinian people.

"Bombing water supplies is not defense. Silence is complicity. It is important to let our government know that they are not doing this in our name. Enough is enough!" said moderator Hassan Newash, Director of the Palestine Office-Michigan.

"This is not the way to win the the hearts and minds of Muslims Arabs, to give Israel the green light to kill innocent people and destroy the only democracies in the Middle East, the Palestinian democracy and the Lebanese democracy," said Osama Siblani.

Siblani told the crowd, "I know you are afraid, and you have been subjected to a great deal of harassment in an attempt to silence you and send you into hiding. I know you are terrorized, afraid for yourselves and your family here in America, but you have a duty now to be brave and stand up against tyranny and terror," he added, calling Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the leader of a bunch of "terrorist criminals."

"Stop the killing, stop the war," thundered the crowd. "Stop aid to Israel now."

"I am a lawyer, I know the law, when a person backs a criminal, they are a criminal. The president is a criminal!" said Hammoud.

Hammoud, like many Lebanese Americans in Metro Detroit, has kids currently visiting their grandparents for the summer in Lebanon and they are trapped in the crossfire.

"[The pro-Israeli lobby says] the Palestinian Christians are leaving the land because of Muslim oppression. I am a Christian. I say it now, we never had any problem with our Muslim brothers, our problems were always with the Zionist movement," said George Khoury to strong applause.

A severe thunderstorm in the evening threatened to rain out a "Hands Across Warren Avenue" demonstration organized by the Congress of Arab American Organizations in Michigan. The human chain attracted more than 1500, according to Dearborn police. The demonstrators stood shoulder to shoulder under the rain to show soliderity with their brethren in Lebanon and Palestine. They came with short notice from all walks of life, old and young men and women to express their anger at the terror that the Lebanese and Palestinians have been subjected to in the last few days at the hand of the Israelis.

Cars passing by honked their horns and waved fists at the crowd in encouragement as the crowed defied the storm.

A memorial service for the fallen victims of the Israeli attack on Lebanon and Gaza will be held at the Islamic Center of America at 6 p.m. on Sunday. The center is located at 19500 Ford Road in Dearborn.

The CAAO also is organizing a demonstration to be held on Tuesday, July 18, at 5:00 p.m. at Warren and Oakman in Dearborn.