Friday, October 10, 2008
In May of this year, the Middle East Task Force, a small group of folks based in Ann Arbor, MI began organizing a protest against the Zionist "Fair to Remember" at the Michigan State Fairgrounds on August 21, 2008. The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit had started advertising their celebration of Israel's creation a few weeks earlier.
At any given time, about half of our group were Arab Americans and we called the event the "Fair of Shame" because Israel's creation was a Nakba or "catastrophe" for Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslim people. In 1947-48, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed by Jewish forces, more than 350 Palestinian villages were ethnically cleansed and later destroyed, driving some 726,000 Palestinians from their homes into exile. The fallout from the Nakba still reverberates in Palestine, the region, and, not least of all, in the hearts of the three Palestinian Americans--all born in Palestine before 1948--who helped us organize the protest.
Concerning the protest, the Detroit News (8/21/08) reported, "Some leaders in the Arab American community of Metro Detroit said there is little support for the protests ... 'There was an attempt to adopt a joint statement between the Arab-American and Jewish communities,' said Imad Hamad, Michigan director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. 'It did not happen, but the demonstration was announced without much input from the community and I would not expect many people from the Dearborn community to participate.' "
From the very beginning reaching out to the metro Detroit Arab and Muslim community and its leaders was a priority for us. We even delayed announcing a time and place until late June in order to give others an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the planning. And nothing would have pleased us more than having the more established leaders of metro Detroit's Muslim and Arab communities take charge of the protest planning.
Local representatives of Friends of Sabeel-North America were contacted in May and that organization declined to formally support the protest due to concerns about being accused of "anti-Semitism." The Palestine Office was contacted in May or early June and declined to participate citing unspecified legal liability concerns. Several Muslim and Christian religious leaders were approached and most expressed some support but, apparently, did little or nothing, to turnout members of their community at the protest.
For example, in June, one prominent imam wrote that the planned protest was a "Great idea" but as far as we can tell no one from his mosque attended it. Beginning in July, Mr. Hamad himself was contacted by e-mail, phone, and fax. One of our Palestinian members also met with him personally. I, personally, left two phones messages at Mr. Hamad's office but got no response.
Some of us have personally seen thousands of members of the Muslim and Arab community turn out in Dearborn on November 29th, the International Day of Solidarity with Palestine. We can only speculate why so many people stayed away from the Fair of Shame protest. In any case, it is not for us to say whether it was wrong for any given person or group to fail to support or attend the Fair of Shame protest. But Mr. Hamad's complaint about lack of input into the protest planning is without merit. We went to great lengths to reach out and if community leaders did not want to work with us then they could have easily worked around us and organized a protest of their own.
The same holds true, of course, for Metro Detroit's non-Arab, non-Muslim majority community leaders, who, if they haven't actually colluded in supporting Zionism, have generally done precious little to oppose the Zionist-driven, US taxpayer-funded killing and injustice in Palestine and surrounding countries. The words of Kathim Al-Sahir should speak to all of us. Here are a few lines from his song, "Ah Ya Arab" (Oh, Arabs):
My Arab brotherSigned,
I am bewildered
What changed the revolutionaries' sword into a cane?
What changed the Arabic tongue into a wooden tongue?
Oh, my people ...
We didn't sell Arabs out, not even during the worst of calamities ...
Michelle J. Kinnucan
On behalf of the Middle East Task Force