In the Media

07/15/06: Crisis in the Middle East- Metro Detroit communities take sides; Jews back Israeli initiative; Arabs urge political action

Detroit News- July 15, 2006

Crisis in the Middle East- Metro Detroit communities take sides; Jews back Israeli initiative; Arabs urge political action

Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

The growing conflict in the Middle East resonated in Metro Detroit again Friday with Arabs and Muslims calling for an end to Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and Gaza and local Jews and representatives of Israel saying the country is properly defending itself.

"We say to Israel that this is not your solution, this is not the way to establish safety and security and peace in the Middle East," said Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, of the Islamic House of Wisdom, during a news conference by Muslim leaders at the mosque in Dearborn Heights.

"We want Israel to stop its angry and arrogant policies, to humble itself and don't think that by attacking another nation's integrity and independence and humiliating a neighbor that you can solve your problem," Elahi said. "Your solution is to change your policies."

Local Jews took exception to the criticism.

"When somebody does things like come on to Israeli land and kidnap soldiers and fire rockets into populated, urban areas, there is only one appropriate response: To make sure you get those people back and that this never happens again," said Peter Alter, a lawyer and president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Throughout the day, at rallies and news conferences, leaders of the Arab and Muslim communities urged political action to confront what they said is Israeli aggression. They called on the Bush administration to change policy and broker a cease-fire.

"Today, it is essential that the Arab-American and American Muslim communities stand in a brave and very articulate way, not for the interests of Lebanon or the interests of Palestine, but for the interest of Lebanon, Palestine, the Arab and Muslim worlds and the United States of America," Osama Siblani, of the Council of Arab American Organizations, said to the roaring approval of about 400 people gathered at the Islamic Center of Detroit.

"There are a bunch of terrorists led by Ehud Olmert (the prime minister of Israel) who are trying to take the United States on an adventure that is not only going to destroy the interest of the United States but whatever is left of the credibility of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in the international community," said Siblani, who also is editor in chief and publisher of the Arab American News.

But the Israeli consulate for the Midwest, in Chicago, posted statements by Olmert and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni saying Hezbollah is the aggressor in the raging battles in Lebanon.

"The international community, including the U.N. Security Council, has demanded, repeatedly, time and time again, that the government of Lebanon dismantle Hezbollah," Livni was quoted as saying. "In these circumstances, Israel has no alternative but to defend itself and its citizens."

Alter of the Jewish Federation cited statements by both Syria and Saudi Arabia criticizing Hezbollah's actions in firing on Israeli soldiers and seizing and holding two of them.

"It is time for the rest of the Arab world to speak up and say this kind of behavior by Hezbollah is beyond the pale," Alter said. "What Israel is doing is highly and totally appropriate."

But few, if any, local Arabs and Muslims saw it that way and many made it clear that they supported the actions by both Hamas and Hezbollah in recent weeks to fire on Israeli soldiers and to capture them -- saying the militias were exercising self-defense.

They also said the Israeli response has been grossly disproportionate.

"Never have we seen such rampant disregard for human rights and dignity as we are witnessing in this current situation of attacks in Palestine and Lebanon," said Imam Abdul el-Amin, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, a group of some 35 mosques. "We feel Israel is grossly overstepping its grounds.

"To threaten to completely devastate large metropolitan cities and millions of people living there to avenge the abduction of these soldiers is akin to using double-barreled shotguns to kill a housefly," el-Amin said. "You may kill it, but look at the devastation they will cause in their own house."

You can reach Gregg Krupa at (313) 222-2359