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WRMEA, April/May 1997, pgs. 67-68

California Chronicle

Alex Odeh Memorial Statue Vandalized in “Hate Crime”

by Pat McDonnell Twair

The sickos are back.

At 4:30 a.m. Feb. 6 Santa Ana police received an anonymous call that red paint had been poured on the Alex Odeh Memorial Statue in front of the Santa Ana Central Library. Police headquarters are just yards from the statue, but for the second time in four months, hatemongers got away with defacing the statue. The first incident happened Oct. 11, on the 11th anniversary of Odeh’s assassination. He was killed in 1985 when a pipe bomb exploded as he opened the door to enter his Santa Ana office. He was the regional director of the American- Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the night before had said on a radio program that Yasser Arafat was a man of peace.

Police estimate that two gallons of paint were thrown on the statue; two sets of paint-soaked footprints were visible from the statue to the nearby curb. The FBI is treating the vandalism as a hate crime.

JDL Harassment

When the statue was placed in the Santa Ana Civic Center, the Orange County seat, in April 1994, the Jewish Defense League protested vociferously. On Aug. 27, 1996, when the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Odeh’s killers, JDL hecklers yelled and shouted obscenities at the FBI spokespersons who announced the reward.

In Washington, DC, ADC President Hala Maksoud voiced her concern that the JDL continues without restraint to slander Odeh and to spread hatred against Odeh and, by implication, against Arab Americans. A case in point is the JDL Web site on the Internet that calls Odeh a “terrorism lover.”

In a national statement, Maksoud concluded: “This cowardly act of vandalism highlights the urgency to resolve this case, as Alex’s murderers are still at large.”

Khalil Bendib, the Algerian-American sculptor who created the Odeh statue, told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,: “I read that there were straight lines of red paint across the neck and wrists as if the perpetrators were trying to kill Alex again. That is sick.”

The same sentiment was echoed by Odeh’s brother, Sami, who viewed the defaced statue and commented: “Whoever did this must be a sick, deranged person.”

Anaheim attorney Stephen Mashney told reporters that not enough is being done to solve violent crimes directed against Arab Americans. “Of course the objective of law enforcement is to protect citizens. But certain groups are not pursued as vigorously as others when it comes to investigating these crimes.”

JDL chairman Irv Rubin again went on record stating: “I think the guy [Odeh] is a war criminal.”

Immediately after the 1985 assassination the FBI identified three suspects, all of them believed to be affiliated with the JDL, who fled to Israel. Two of the suspects were Robert and Rochelle Manning, who took refuge in the settlement of Jewish religious militants at Kiryat Arba outside Hebron on the West Bank. After years of legal delays Israel consented to the extradition of Robert Manning to the U.S., where he is serving a life sentence for his role in a murder-for-hire plot in which a Manhattan Beach, CA secretary was killed by the explosion of a package bomb mailed to her employer. The Israelis claim Rochelle Manning died of a heart attack just before she, too, was to be extradited to California.

Focus on Tunisian Food and Wines

Tunisia has long been an extremely popular and reasonably priced vacation destination for Europeans. Now this beautiful Mediterranean country is trying to attract American tourists. The best way, the Tunisian government believes, is through their stomachs. The proof of the pudding, or was it couscous, was the gastronomic conference put on by the American Institute of Wine & Food featuring the food and wines of Tunisia at the Marina del Rey Ritz-Carlton, near Los Angeles. The AIWF, which was founded by the Mother of all Cooks, Julia Childs, is regarded as the foremost organization of its kind. It spared no pains to import the best chefs and experts in North African cuisine for the Jan. 23 to 25 event.

Tunisian Ambassador Azouz Ennifar was on hand to acquaint California “foodies” with the culture, cuisine and culinary mystique of his country. He also took time out to travel to Orange County, where he discussed investment opportunities in Tunisia with West Coast entrepreneurs. The luncheon program was organized by Col. F. Joseph Hunt, vice president of the Southern California Chapter of the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (Pacific) Inc.

“The Olive as a Metaphor for Immigration” was the theme of the three-day conference and, indeed, Tunisian olive oil played a major role in cooking demonstrations such as preparation of a Djerba-style couscous by Ulysse Palace Hotel Chef Abdel Haourari Abderrazak. The master cook mesmerized the audience as he steamed marinated fish in an unpainted perforated earthenware pot that fit, double-boiler-style, into a metal container. An interpreter listed the ingredients as cumin, pepper, chopped onion, garlic, carrots, turnips, potatoes, peppers, spinach, tomato paste, parsley and, of course, “olive oil, olive oil and more olive oil.”

Another demonstration dealt with Tunisian breads, including Pain du Sable, oasis bread cooked in sand. And there were panel discussions on such esoteric matters as the nuances between northern and southern briks, ragouts and harissas, and the future of Tunisian cuisine in the U.S.

Dr. Lotfi Ben Rejeb, press counselor of the Tunisian Embassy in Washington, DC, guided AIWF members through a slide lecture on Roman mosaics that reveal the food preferences of ancient Tunisians. “Food is part and parcel of the collective identity of a given people over the generations,” he said in opening his lecture, “and the line demarcating North Africa from the Middle East separates those who eat couscous and those who eat rice.”

While the Berbers originally occupied the southwestern part of Tunisia, he said, by the 8th century B.C. the Phoenicians had established Carthage on the Mediterranean. They were destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. By the 2nd century A.D., Carthage had been rebuilt and its school of mosaics supplied masters of the art throughout the Roman empire.

“What sculptures were to Italy, mosaics were to Tunisia,” Ben Rejeb said, pointing out that there are more Roman mosaics in Tunisia than anywhere else in the world. These mosaics revealed a preference for wine and grapes, quinces, pomegranates, berries, figs, pears, dates and cherries. Hunting scenes suggest that wild pigs, goats, hare, gazelles, guinea fowl, ducks and quail were choice items on the menu.

Dr. Rejeb pointed out that Pliny once wrote that Tunisian dates were so delicious only fear of death could make one stop eating them. “Romans celebrated food as life,” he concluded. And, judging by the AIWF gastronomic adventure, so do the Tunisians.

At the gala banquet closing three days of savoring Tunisian delicacies prepared solely with Tunisian olive oil, Ambassador Ennifar remarked: “We’re returning home weighing a few pounds heavier, but with lower cholesterol than when we arrived.”

AAPG Poetry Festival Draws Record Audience

Arabs love poetry and if you have any doubts about this, they would have been dispelled by the crowd of 350 people who filled the American Druze Society Center on Feb. 20 for the 12th annual Poetry Festival of the Arab American Press Guild. “The people were so pleased and kept asking for more until we decided we should have a second festival this year in the summer,” stated AAPG President Samir Twair.

Commented Shaheen al-Wirr, who was visiting from his home in Jordan: “I’ve survived every tragedy that has befallen the Palestinians since 1947, but tonight gave me hope to see Arabs from all countries united to celebrate their rich heritage in poetry and music.”

Frosting on the cake was a half-hour performance of Andalusian muwashshahat by the Kan Zaman Folkloric Ensemble under the direction of Wael Kakish.

“I felt as if I were back home for a few hours,” commented one happy participant. Another said it was like a shot in the arm to realize that Arabic poetry and music are alive and well in California.

Nineteen poets from nearly as many Arab countries read their original works. Prevailing themes were love, nationalism and missing one’s homeland.

Twair, who emceed the event, noted it is the job of the AAPG to carry the torch of Arabic culture and history into 21st century America. “Poetry has a special place in all cultures, and all nations take pride when their people carry their poetry to a new land,” he said. “The pre-Islamic people of Arabia were natural-born poets. They spoke in poetic phrases and left us this rich legacy.”

A video tape of the entire program can be obtained by sending a $25 check to the AAPG, P.O. Box 291250, Los Angeles, CA 90027.