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Wheels of Justice: A Biased View of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Posted: January 31, 2007

Wheels of Justice, a bus tour which has traveled across the country with a mission to "educate North Americans on the occupation of Palestine and Iraq" since July 2003, has presented a biased, distinctly anti-Israel view of the Middle East during hundreds of visits to high schools, churches, libraries and college and university campuses. 

While the Fall 2006 leg of the Wheels of Justice tour has ended, the tour is scheduled to begin again in April 2007 in the Southwest, "making the tour more accessible," according to its Web site. 

Funded primarily by donations and merchandise sales, the tour is sponsored by the
International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Al-Awda, Voices in the Wilderness and the Middle East Children's Alliance (see below).  According to its Web site, the tour was created to "build upon and reassert the massive domestic opposition to war against Iraq and occupation of the Palestinians" by offering "first-hand experience irrespective of partisan politics and sound bite sloganeering."  The sponsors and organizers of Wheels of Justice are unapologetic in their criticism of Israel and support for the plight of the Palestinians.  No attempts are made to present a balanced view of the conflict.  The toll on Israelis and bloodshed by Palestinian terrorists is often minimized.

Many of the activists traveling with the tour have spent time in Iraq as members of Voices in the Wilderness or in Israel as volunteers with the ISM.  One of the primary goals of the tour is to present activists that can offer eyewitness accounts of their experiences in Iraq and in Palestinian villages.

Anti-Israel Speakers

  • Among the various speakers listed on the tour's Web site is Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Yale University associate professor and founder of the anti-Israel group Al-Awda.  Qumsiyeh, who joined Wheels of Justice as a speaker in April 2004, has made no attempt to hide his strongly anti-Israel views. During the fourth Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference at Duke University in North Carolina on October 15-17, 2004, Qumsiyeh called Zionism "a disease." Qumsiyeh also asked audience members, "If apartheid was a problem in South Africa, why do we consider it a solution in Palestine and Israel?"  In an article published in Al-Ahram (September 2004), Qumsiyeh called for support of the "Iraqi resistance" against the pro-Israel "cabal" in Washington.  "Only by awakening the U.S. public and linking it to resistance movements from within the world community (including the Iraqi resistance)," he wrote, "will this pathway to destruction be avoided."
  • Alison Weir took part in the tour in 2004.  Weir is the founder of If Americans Knew, a Berkley-based anti-Israel organization.  She often writes for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, an anti-Israel publication that frequently serves as an apologist for Muslim American groups advocating anti-Semitism and support for terrorism.  She also writes for CounterPunch, an anti-Zionist radical left newsletter.

  • Brian Avery is an ISM member. During the fourth National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement at Duke University in October 2004, Avery criticized the U.S. media for a "campaign of misinformation by Zionist-leaning news editors." Avery also urged attendees to pressure the U.S. government to stop giving military aid to Israel. "In a lot of ways, the real battle is not in Palestine, the real battle is in America," Avery said. "That's where the power is, that's where the money is."

  • Joe Carr, a self-described anarchist, has been active with the ISM and with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in the Palestinian territories and in Iraq. During the spring and summer of 2003 he coordinated ISM's activities in the Gaza Strip. The Wheels of Justice Tour describes him as "an anti-oppression activist and performance artist." Carr's Web site declares that it is "dedicated to the overthrow of US-led global capitalist oppression." 
High School Visits

The tour's visits to high schools around the country have been among its most problematic.  Presenters have misled impressionable audiences by promoting unbalanced views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often comparing the plight of Palestinians to the suffering of Native Americans during the European colonization of North America.  They also refuse to acknowledge that any Palestinians engage in terrorism and equate Israel alternately with apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.  

The tour was scheduled to appear at Andover High School in Massachusetts at the invitation of six teachers on October 27, 2006. The appearance was canceled by school officials, who were provided with a background briefing about the tour's history, including its previous visits to high schools around the country, where presenters promoted distinctly unbalanced views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Andover High School principal Peter Anderson later reversed the decision and the tour addressed students on January 5, 2007, as part of a series of three forums, "each featuring a different perspective on Middle East conflicts," Anderson said in a statement.

In response to the controversy surrounding the school's decision to cancel the tour's appearance, Ron Francis, one of the six teachers who organized the visit, called the result "political discrimination tinged with racism," adding that, "Zionists, by that I mean people who support a Jewish privileged state, the Zionists don't want people to be educated about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians."

Ceylon Mooney, the tour's co-coordinator and one of its booking agents, has described the bus as "a mobile classroom," that "comes complete with teachers and a wide range of instructional materials: videos, photographs, essays, fact sheets, etc." 

A flier with information about the tour's school programming, posted on the Voices in the Wilderness Web site, reads: "At high schools, we often speak to assemblies, show slides/videos or PowerPoint, and visit classrooms…either going to the classroom or having classes visit us in a reserved room is the norm, but we are flexible."

Mazin Qumsiyeh indicates that tour speakers have spoken "to literally hundreds of schools (including elementary, middle, and high schools) in 48 states in the U.S."

Among the tour's other high school stops:

  • Brookfield High School in Connecticut on November 6, 2006.  A member of the history department organized the appearance, which featured Mazin Qumsiyeh and focused almost exclusively on the Israel-Palestinian issue. The presentation was attended by students over four periods during the school day as a part of their history and social studies classes.

  • Newtown High School in Connecticut on November 23, 2004.  Approximately 50 students and teachers listened to tour speakers, including Al-Awda founder Qumsiyeh.  "I would compare this Palestinian/Israeli situation with the Native Americans here in America when the colonials first came," Qumsiyeh told the students.  "The Native Americans were driven from their natural homes and led to live on small reservations.  Huge populations were wiped out."  He went on to say, "There are approximately four million Jews living in America.  Five billion dollars in military support goes to Israel every year.  The American government is clearly behind Israel – at the expense of the Palestinians."

  • In April 2004, the tour visited North Andover High School in Massachusetts.  The school's principal invited Rabbi Robert Goldstein, of Andover's Temple Emanuel, to offer an alternative perspective.

  • In December 2003, Davis Senior High School in California cancelled a scheduled visit after the local Jewish community raised concerns.

  • During an appearance at Ukiah High School in California on December 4, 2003, students were able to visit the bus during their lunch break and after school.  They heard from ISM volunteer Lauren Anzaldo, and from John Farrell, a former high school teacher and member of Voices in the Wilderness.  Anzaldo discussed how Palestinians are affected by the occupation and said that Israeli soldiers "come in the middle of the night and shoot at schools -- during the day too -- security guards are posted on campuses."
Tour Sponsors

  • The International Solidarity Movement is a well-organized movement that spreads anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation and voices support for others who engage in armed resistance against Israel.

  • Al-Awda (Right of Return Coalition) is an international grassroots organization that argues that Palestinian refugees have the right to return "to their original homes and villages" and should be paid restitution.  The group has organized large protests and promoted rallies around the slogan "Palestine Will Be Free From the River to the Sea," a coded phrase which shows the group's unwillingness to accept the existence of the Israel.

  • The Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness was founded in 1996 and is comprised of self described "nonviolent war resisters" who seek to "educate people in the United States and abroad about the consequences of US militarism" in Iraq.  According to the groups' Web site, "Many of us refuse to pay taxes for war."

  • The Middle East Children's Alliance, founded in 1988, describes itself as "a non-governmental organization, working for peace and justice in the Middle East; focusing on Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Iraq."  Based in Berkeley, California, it has co-sponsored several anti-Israel events with Al-Awda.
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International Solidarity Movement

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Backgrounder: Mazin Qumsiyeh

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