New York, NY - Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, held its second international convention here April 16, entitled “Sustainable Struggle: The Road to Palestine.” Several hundred Palestinians and supporters, hailing from Canada, the U.S., Europe and Palestine, held a series of informational and strategy workshops aimed, in general, at advancing Palestinian rights, and, in particular, at the right of Palestinian refugees’ to return to their homeland.
The convention date coincided with Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, the second anniversary of the fall of the Jenin refugee camp. The gathering acquired additional importance when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited George W. Bush two days before the convention. Bush again pledged full support to Israel, going so far as to state that the Palestinians should drop their demand for the right to return - and that the U.S. would not push Israel into withdrawing from, or ending its illegal military occupation of, the West Bank.
Participants at the convention rejected the Bush-Sharon proclamations, as well as other attempts to liquidate the right to return, including the so-called ‘Geneva Accord’ and the U.S.-sponsored ‘Road Map.’ The convention resolved to challenge all designs that deviate from the Palestinian national program, especially the right of return. Those at the meeting also determined that a letter should be sent to the Palestinian Authority and its representatives, notifying them of the convention’s resolutions and decisions.
Participants reaffirmed that the right to return to Palestine is an “inalienable, collective and individual” one. It is a right that cannot be diminished by the passage of time or by any treaties, edicts, declarations, political agreements or modifications in international law. The right to return is neither negotiable nor open to concessions or interpretation.
Equally significant, the convention adopted the Points of Unity, which stress the indivisibility of historic Palestine (which includes the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and present day ‘Israel’) and which call for the creation of a democratic state for all its citizens in all of historic Palestine. This reflects the fact that the struggle for return is inseparable from the larger Palestinian struggle for national liberation and self-determination.
At the opening plenary session, keynote speakers Karma Nabulsi, a former Palestine Liberation Organization representative now living in London, and Ali El-Kassed, a long-time Palestine solidarity activist from New York, spoke of the over 5 million Palestinian refugees who were exiled from their land and homes upon the founding of the state of ‘Israel’ in 1948 - an event called Al Nakba, the “Catastrophe” by Palestinians and others in the Arab world - and the essence of the right to return as it relates to Palestinian national consciousness.
“There can be no real solution to the Arab-Israeli, or Palestinian-Israeli, conflict without the full implementation of the right to return,” said El-Kassed in an interview after his address, “because the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan will never forget their homes and land in pre-1948 Palestine. The struggle for the right to return is the most revolutionary and progressive struggle in the world today, because, when we’re victorious, it will be a huge blow to Israeli settler-colonialism and U.S. imperialism. This is an important movement, and it has an impressive, coordinated character throughout North America, which we haven’t had in a long time.”
The final day of the convention called for a national week of action from May 15-22 to commemorate Al-Nakba; days of action from Sept. 17-28 to commemorate the Israeli-supported massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982 and the current breakout of the Intifada on Sept. 28 2000; organizing campaigns to support Palestinian refugees in Iraq and in Montreal, where dozens have been threatened with deportation; and identifying the years 2004 and 2005, in North America, as the Year of the Palestinian Right of Return.
At the convention’s conclusion, hundreds of the participants joined other community members in a protest at the Israeli Consulate on Second Avenue in Manhattan, demonstrating against the assassination of the Hamas leader Abdelaziz Rantisi, whose murder was announced to stunned conventioneers the day before.
Background for this article provided by 2004 Al Awda Convention Committee