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Al-Awda holds successful International Convention in Florida

By Cassia Laham |
November 18, 2014
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Panel at Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, International Convent
Panel at Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, International Convention. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Fort Lauderdale, FL - On the weekend of Nov. 14, Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, held its Twelfth Annual International Convention here at the Westin Hotel. The successful event included speeches by prominent activists, academics, artists and journalists from Palestine and the pro-Palestine movement throughout the U.S. Supporters from across the country discussed plans for building the Palestine freedom movement.

Anas Amireh, one of the lead organizers of the South Florida chapter of Al-Awda, proclaimed, “We are activists for Palestine!” Amireh continued, “We in Al-Awda bring all religions, all factions, all societies, to one core goal: to serve the Palestinian cause and to make 100% sure that no agreement or resolution is created in the name of Palestine without the Palestinian right of return!”

One of the main issues addressed at the convention was maintaining momentum of the Palestine solidarity movement. Discussions centered on how to better organize and unify pro-Palestine local and international groups. Panelists also discussed how to get more people out to protests and events and how to bring the story of Palestine to various communities who also face oppression in the U.S.

Organizations represented on the panels included the National Lawyers Guild, Florida Palestine Network, Electronic Intifada, People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism (POWIR), Students for Justice in Palestine, and many others.

Pamela Maldonado was on the opening panel called “Empowering Our Coalition.” She said, “POWIR organizes with Al-Awda South Florida and has been a part of numerous rallies to demand justice for Palestine and for all Palestinian refugees right to return.” She continued, “As an anti-imperialist group we understand that Israel has always been funded and is still being funded by the U.S. government, and that these forces of oppression are connected. We continue to organize against our U.S. tax dollars being used to continue the ethnic cleansing that is taking place in Palestine and against the U.S. government persecuting activists that speak up for justice."

Many convention-goers were interested to hear about the suppression of free speech at a major American university. The University of Illinois fired Professor Salaita, a newly-hired expert teaching American Indian studies. Salaita posted several messages this past summer to his Twitter account criticizing Israel's war on the people of Gaza. Now Illinois students and professors are waging a campaign to get Salaita reinstated. Salaita is speaking at many colleges and universities about his views and the issue of academic freedom. There is a growing movement by professors and academic groups to boycott the University of Illinois for its hostile actions. The suppression of free speech by university officials and backed by the Illinois Board of Trustees exposed the role of big money donors in controlling the agenda of a state university.

Another major issue of the Al-Awda convention was solidarity with Arab American and Muslim political prisoners in the U.S. and how to maintain support for them. The case of Rasmea Odeh, the 67-year-old Palestinian American activist who was sent to jail on Nov. 10 was a big focus. Odeh was brought to trial because the Department of Homeland Security claimed that she falsified her citizenship papers when she filed them over ten years ago. The highly politicized trial came at a time when activism for Palestine is at its peak. Likewise, the U.S. government’s repression of Arab Americans and Palestine solidarity activists continues to grow.

Odeh’s trial is an attack on the Palestinian community and a threat from the U.S. government to all who fight against U.S.-supported aggression abroad. Panelists at the convention discussed Odeh’s trial, ways to continue the fight to free her and how to keep the momentum for this Palestinian icon going. Letter-writing campaigns, protests and call-in days are being encouraged.

The convention ended the evening of Nov. 15 with a gala that included Palestinian music and food and a performance by the Handala Dabke Troupe, a South Florida-based dance group that performs traditional and modern Palestinian pieces to preserve their culture and song. The troupe announced that they are auditioning this year for “America’s Got Talent” to bring their cultural resistance to a wider audience.

“We in Al-Awda are pure and solid activists,” Amireh of Al-Awda concluded. “We are fighting the good fight! The fight for a one-state solution and the fight for the Palestinian right of return!”