FIU activist faces harassment

February 16, 2011

Florida International University needs to issue an apology to a Palestine solidarity activist who faced intimidation for speaking up, writes Victor Agosto Brizuela.

WHEN CAN asking a question at a public forum at a university get you in trouble? When you're a Palestinian student, the speaker is an Israeli official, and the university is Florida International University (FIU).

"Mnar has the strength of 10 men," said an Egyptian-American demonstrator at a recent south Florida Egyptian solidarity rally. She was talking about Mnar Muhareb, a 22-year-old senior at FIU in Miami.

Mnar, a Palestinian-American, has been a relentless fighter for Palestine since she began attending pro-Palestine rallies at the age of nine. If she's not busy organizing events as president of Students for Justice in Palestine at FIU, she's leading chants at demonstrations.

Last November, FIU and the consulate general of Israel co-sponsored a campus event entitled "Mission to Haiti: Israel's Relief Efforts After the Earthquake." The event was open to the public, so Mnar decided to attend. She wanted to hear what Israeli Ambassador Danny Biran had to say regarding Israel's humanitarian efforts in Haiti.

Israeli ambassador Danny Biran giving a presentation about his government's aid to Haiti
Israeli ambassador Danny Biran giving a presentation about his government's aid to Haiti

No one could be faulted for believing that Muhareb, who stands exactly five feet tall, literally has the "strength of 10 men" after witnessing the conduct of Ambassador Biran and Mnar's treatment by FIU campus security after she arrived at the lecture.

As soon as Mnar and her sister (who was wearing a hijab) sat down, security officers immediately flanked them on both sides. Two more officers positioned themselves directly behind the sisters. "Every time we bent down, the officers watched any movement...which was amusing for a while because it was unusual, and we were not doing anything," Mnar recalls.

AFTER THE lecture ended and the question-and-answer session began, Mnar patiently waited in line for her turn. Once she reached the front of the line, she introduced herself as the "president of Students for Justice in Palestine." Almost immediately, "it was like the room took a breath," she says.

Suddenly, all of the people behind her in line were gone and replaced by security officers. A then-nervous Mnar proceeded to commend Israel's humanitarian efforts in Haiti before moving on to Israeli domestic policy. "I also like the sayings you used--'Do unto others as you would want done unto you' and 'Love thy neighbor'--and with that in mind, I would like to ask you when you will put forth the effort you have in Haiti into Palestine?" she asked.

What you can do

Email FIU president Mark Rosenberg to tell him that FIU should not allow politically motivated intimidation of its students on campus, that FIU owes Mnar an apology for the mistreatment she endured at the hands of FIU security, and that FIU should launch an investigation into this incident.

In response, Biran began hurling abusive language at her. Mnar, meanwhile, was terrified at the sound of a Taser repeatedly buzzing behind her. "Oh my God, I'm going to get Tased, and no one is going to care," she recounted thinking to herself.

Muhareb was once shot at by IDF soldiers as she helped a young boy get through a hole in the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel. The boy needed vital medical attention after being badly beaten by IDF soldiers the day before. However, she says, this experience at FIU made her "the most afraid" she has ever been in her life, and she is still visibly shaken whenever she talks about the incident.

"We help the Palestinians as much as we can, but they don't want aid, they want weapons," is the last thing she heard Biran say.

"So Operation Cast Lead was aid?" replied Mnar.

Apparently, that was the last straw. Campus security "escorted" Mnar out of the event. Mnar's sister was also kicked out. She told Mnar that a member of FIU Shalom (the pro-Israel organization on campus) called her a "terrorist" and a "Hamas supporter." "I don't even like Hamas," she told Mnar.

Still shocked by what had just happened, Mnar began handing out fliers to people standing outside of the auditorium. Soon after, the same campus security that removed her from the event watched as an Israeli government supporter ripped up SJP fliers and threw the pieces at Mnar's face. Clearly, FIU security is more concerned with the safety of the Israeli government's image than it is with the safety of its own students.

Several students, confused about what they had just seen, asked Mnar about Operation Cast Lead and took fliers. "I'm glad at least some curiosity sparked for the audience," she says.

Last week, after several attempts to seek redress for what happened, Mnar was told by the chief of campus security that she could not file a complaint because she had "no witnesses," in spite of the fact that this was a public event featuring a high-profile Israeli public official and that it was attended by members of FIU's administration and faculty. She was also told that FIU campus security does not carry Tasers--but that if they did, they would not be used on students.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg, FIU campus security and Ambassador Biran should publicly apologize to Mnar for violating her right to free speech, for violating her right to attend the event and for creating a hostile learning environment. She should also be allowed to press charges, and FIU should launch a full investigation into this incident. Students at FIU should feel safe to ask any questions they want to ask at FIU-sponsored political events.

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