The right to return is not up for negotiation, reports Anayat Durrani from the Al-Awda conference
Al-Ahram Weekly, May 28 - June 3, 2009 Issue #949
"Freedom for Palestine, Growing Our Global Movement" was the theme for the seventh Annual International Al-Awda Convention 22-24 May in Garden Grove, California, attracting some 1,000 attendees. The convention marked the 61st year of the ongoing Nakba, or catastrophe, and 61 years of the struggle to return.
"Our objective is to keep the right of return at the centre of any discussion of the Palestinian cause," said Zahi Damuni, co-founder of Al-Awda.
Among the speakers was Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed during his service in Iraq. Sheehan gained international attention when she protested against the Iraq war, camping outside President George Bush's Texas ranch.
"My son is the victim of US foreign policy, as are the people of Palestine the victim of US foreign policy," said Sheehan. She spoke against the "aid" to Israel and described the US-Israel relationship as an "unholy alliance", affirming that "more Americans would have compassion for the Palestinian cause if they knew the truth."
Fernando Suarez Del Solar, a Mexican who lost his son Jesus when he stepped on a US cluster bomb while fighting in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, travelled to Iraq and was deeply moved after visiting a Palestinian refugee camp on the border of Jordan. He asked children what they wanted most and a 10-year-old girl told him, "I want to go home. I am from Palestine."
Richard Becker of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition, said the US administration is finally realising it must address the Palestinian issue seriously, setting the stage for conflict with the Israeli government. "What Israeli leaders want is land. They want all of the land of Palestine," said Becker. "The US has a different perspective... what they want is to dominate the region and eliminate all resistance that stands in the way of their domination. And this domination is part of a strategy of global domination."
Michael Prysner, an Iraq war veteran and ANSWER activist called for the right of return for all Palestinian refugees, and reparations. "For any individuals who had a hand in the Gaza massacre, from Israeli generals to US politicians to media CEOs who distorted the reality, we demand they be indicted for war crimes," said Prysner.
University of California professor Jess Ghannam said Palestinians form the largest, oldest refugee problem in the world. "What started in 1948 with 800,000 refugees has grown into well over six million refugees," he said. Over 100,000 people in Gaza were displaced and lost their homes as a result of the Israeli attack in December 2008. He said there are people living in Gaza who lost their homes in 1948, lost their homes once again in 1967, again in 2002 and for a fourth time in Gaza.
Jamal Nassar argued that Israel's offensive against Gaza was in response to missile attacks by Hamas in violation of the ceasefire were false. "It is a lie. In fact, the ceasefire was broken by the Israelis while we in the US were busy electing a new president," said Nassar. "On 5 November, Israel went in and killed a number of Palestinians activists, and destroyed some houses there. That was the beginning of the breakdown of the ceasefire." Regarding the new Israeli government, he said, "clearly our enemy has gone to the extreme. Anytime your enemy goes to the extreme, you are closer to achieving your dream."
Regarding media coverage of Gaza, Al-Jazeera correspondent Khaled Dawoud said Israel miscalculated how their offensive into Gaza played out. "Israel started this war with this very solid media propaganda plan of how to control the way the outside world is going to see this war. And they failed," said Dawoud. He said Al-Jazeera showed the side that Israel did not want seen, "what the rest of the world does not show." He strongly credited "citizen journalists" and the Internet with helping show the real situation on the ground and exposing it to the rest of the world.
British MP George Galloway discussed the upcoming US Viva Palestina Convoy, expected to raise $10 million, to leave by air on 4 July from New York to Cairo where participants will purchase 500 trucks and ambulances and drive across the Rafah border into Gaza. The fiscal sponsor for the convoy will be Pastors for Peace. Americans will drive the convoy in vehicles flying American flags. Vietnam veteran and peace campaigner Ron Kovic, the hero of Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" will be the co-leader of the convoy.
Galloway said it was fitting that the convoy leave from America, "where a black man whose father would not have been served in the cafeterias of Washington, now occupies the White House built by black slaves." He believes the election of Obama is significant. "Because he knows the truth. He's the first president who knows about Palestine."
The legendary British MP reminded his audience about the little girl who asked him, following the successful entry of UK Viva Palestina into Gaza, "Where are the Arabs?" He said this time he will have an answer. "The Arab countries have left you alone. But the Arabs in America are with you all the way."