The tweets that could change the world: Removal from 9/11 anniversary flight has sparked ongoing dialogue, says half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife

News of BTWWTF?!?! Co-Blogger Shoshana Hebshi-Holt’s detainment goes viral with a little help from social media

By Aleza Freeman

“Silly me. I thought flying on 9/11 would be easy.” And so begins Shoshana Hebshi-Holt’s viral blog post from Sept. 12, 2011 — a blog post that has now been read around the world.

Shoshana Hebshi-Holt. Photo by the author.

A personable, peaceful 35-year-old with black kinky-curly hair and a dark complexion, Shoshana describes herself as the product of love between two warring peoples (a Saudi dad and a Jewish mom). She says she knew she could potentially be subject to additional searches or suspicion while flying, “because of the way that I look.”

She even recalls a conversation with her late father shortly after 9/11. He was nervous about being watched, because of his ethnicity.

But when fully armed law enforcement stormed Frontier Airlines Flight 623 on Sunday, September 11, 2011, “I never in a million years thought that I would be targeted.”

After the plane landed at Detroit Metro Airport — shadowed by F16s — gun-wielding officers boarded,  stopped at her row, forcefully handcuffed her and her two seat mates (whom she did not know), took them to a holding cell for questioning — and  “No one would tell me what was going on, when I asked.”

According to the Des Moines Register: “FBI officials said Hebshi and the two (Indian) men were removed from the plane as a precautionary measure based on reports of suspicious activity on the plane during the flight and heightened security measures during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The three individuals were strangers to each other, but sat in the same row on the plane … and at no time were the three individuals uncooperative with the flight crew.”

All three were released later that night. Shoshana took to her blog the next day from her Ohio home. She eloquently wrote of her ordeal — how she was stripped of her clothes and her liberties — in prolific detail.

Within hours her formerly modest blog, Stories From the Heartland,  garnered thousands of comments and international media attention — all with a little help from social media.

“I posted the link straight to Facebook, and that’s how it got its momentum,” says Shoshana. “I didn’t even get around to tweeting it because people started tweeting before I could put it out there, so I just let it go.”

No one seems to know what their rights are these days because we have lost so many of them.

Shoshana’s Facebook friends were already on high alert before she posted her blog. A former journalist with a graduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, it was Shoshana’s instinct to report through social media what she saw on the airplane, particularly when she saw “gun-toting” law enforcement surrounding it.

As her tweets were simultaneously posted on Facebook, her friends grew a bit concerned. Then the posts stopped flat at “Majorly armed cops coming aboard.”

Several hours passed with no communication, and what started as a regular day for many of Shoshana’s Facebook friends turned a day of watching a national incident unravel.

“When Shoshana ‘left us hanging,’ I knew something was wrong,” says her former co-worker Cathleen Maclearie, adding that she thinks its ridiculous that someone would accuse Shoshana of suspicous activity.

“After reading her blog, and hearing all she want through, I was and am pissed off,” she says. “Pissed that my friend had to go through this and pissed that our country has given way to people’s unfounded fear.”

But Shoshana says she isn’t angry at the person who reported the “suspicious activity,” just frustrated by the country’s shifting priorities. As she’s discovered from the aftermath of posting her blog (and reading its more than 3,200 comments) a lot of people are “very OK” with what happened to her. They think that this kind of reaction to suspicious behavior is warranted because it ‘protects’ the masses.

“No one seems to know what their rights are these days because we have lost so many of them,” she says. “Are we living in a police state or approaching that status where everyone lives in fear?”

Since publishing her blog post,  the mother of twin 6-year-old boys says her days have been long; late nights corresponding with people over various formats, doing interviews, writing about her experience for various publications, and trying to fully grasp the situation. She has spoken with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but does not yet know what, if any, action will be taken.

Her story has been covered in the form of news articles and commentaries by the Associated Press, MSNBC, USA Today, Forbes, Washington Post, and Huffington Post — just to name a few. She was named TruthDigger of the Week. And her Twitter followers have grown from 70 to more than 800.

Shoshana believes her dad would have appreciated the dialogue her blog has sparked. “Maybe we can all learn something in the process,” she says.

“I can’t believe that I have drawn so much attention,” adds Shoshana. “I’m in my own little bubble of going about things. I still have kids to take care of, dinner to make, laundry to fold.”

That’s the power of the pen (or blog, as the case may be).


Social media tells story of friend’s terrifying ordeal, racially profiled on 9/11


It all started around 1 p.m. with a simultaneous tweet and Facebook post:

Stuck on a plane at Detroit airport…cops everywhere

The day was Sept. 11, 2011, the 10 year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the post was by my friend and BTW, WTF?!?! blogging partner Shoshana Hebshi. I saw it in my “Top News” feed on Facebook. Worried for Shoshana’s safety and a bit curious, I clicked to her profile page, where I found four more updates, freshly posted:

A little concerned about this situation. Plane moved away from terminal surrounded by cops. Crew is mum. Passengers can’t get up.

Cops in uniform and plainclothes in a huddle in rear of plane.

I see stairs coming our way…yay!

Majorly armed cops coming aboard

And that’s where the posts stopped. Quickly scrambling the Internet, I found a developing news story stating that there were reports of “suspicious” behavior on a plane that had landed at Detroit Metro and passengers were being removed. So at 2:55 p.m. I commented on Shoshana’s page:

hoping you are among them

But I had this sinking feeling she wasn’t.  Perhaps it was because she hadn’t updated her status in quite some time. Perhaps it was because she hadn’t responded to the hundreds of concerned comments pouring in from her friends on her Facebook page. It was a  social media cliffhanger …

Soshana’s husband posted an update on Facebook around 7 p.m.:

Dudes, Shosh was racially profiled and arrested. Dragged off the plane in handcuffs and taken to a cell. Her crime? The color of her skin. 

And that’s how I learned through social media that one of the most peaceful, friendly people I know — a mother, wife, friend, journalist and American citizen — was stripped of her personal liberties and freedoms, simply because her half-Arab (half-Jewish) skin color lumped her among the “suspicious.”

Today Shoshana described her ordeal on her personal blog. She explained how she and two Indian passengers were handcuffed by heavily armed officers, dragged from Frontier Airlines Flight 623, then spent the next few hours locked up, strip searched, and questioned by Homeland Security.

The link (Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit) quickly spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter, through IM, and onto other blogs, with friends, family, friends of friends, and strangers posting and reposting it. And around 6p.m. tonight, an editor at The Las Vegas Sun texted me that an AP story on the incident, (which Shoshana links to in her blog), was the No. 2 Top Read Story on their website, behind a story on Ellen DeGeneres.

With the help of social media, Shoshana’s story went viral!

So after a day-and-a-half engrossed in each step of my pal’s ordeal through the world of social media, I did something totally uncanny. I logged out of Facebook, turned off my computer, took a break from texting, and picked up the telephone.

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