By Susan Schwartz, TMO
As people of conscience throughout the world look for solutions to the unjust treatment Palestinians, one organization centers on a key issue: The Right to Return.
Al-AWDA, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, held its ninth Annual International Convention this past weekend in Anaheim, Ca. The theme of the Convention was: Onward, United and Stronger.
The event began on Friday evening with a display of cultural resistance through various art forms. The attendees snacked on Arab appetizers and listened to poetry, viewed art works and heard two film makers speak about their work.
Workshops filled most of the next day. Covered were such topics as Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions; Return from Exile Project, and Palestinian Childrenâ€™s Rights Campaign.
Dr. Paul Larudee of the Free Palestine Movement (FPM) conducted the workshop on the Return from Exile Project. Dr. Larudee declared that the Nike slogan â€œJust Do Itâ€ should be the slogan for Palestinians. Too long have Palestinians waited for some organization – the United Nations – for example, to smooth their Right to Return. It is time, he said, to â€œjust do itâ€.
He gave as a comparison the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. The freedom fighters there did not ask permission of an outside body nor did they act with a preconceived notion of being rescued should their attempts fail. They not only took to the streets, they did so in such large numbers that they became unstoppable.
Dr. Larudee suggested that on a pre selected day a group of Palestinians who satisfy the requirements for the Right to Return, fly from various nations into Ben Gurion Airport. They must have a family home inside the Green Line; be citizens of and have a passport from a nation from which Israel does not require a visa; should be willing to go to jail for two weeks; must be willing to resist non violently being thrown out of Israel, and be content with the knowledge that they will be denied future entry.
The movement, Dr. Larudee emphasized, is direct action and non violent. The Free Palestine Movement is an outgrowth of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), an organization which still exists and was the first group to break the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza, Palestine with two boats in the late summer of 2008. Dr. Larudee described the feeling of euphoria as the two boats approached Gazan shores to the cheers of the residents, crowed into the area where the boats would dock. He spoke proudly of the certificate of Palestinian citizenship he received on that voyage.
The web site of Dr. Larudeeâ€™s movement is: www.freepalestinemovement.org.
During the presentation of the Palestinian Childrenâ€™s Rights Campaign, two young women, students from San Diego schools, spoke of the plight of children under Israeli occupation.
â€œEvery year 700 children are imprisoned by Israel in the West Bank.â€
The speakers went on to describe middle of the night raids where children are torn from their families; interrogations with no guardian or attorney present; imprisonment for three months with no opportunity to contact the outside world, and forced confessions, written in Hebrew which the children do not understand.
â€œI never realized it was this terribleâ€ said one woman in the audience. â€œHow can this go on?â€
The women went on the explain that since rebuilding materials are forbidden by the Israelis to enter Gaza, young boys often collect gravel and metal scraps. To do this they must bend over and dig. It is common for Israeli forces to open fire when the children are in this vulnerable position, the aim being to hit their legs.
The Palestinian Childrenâ€™s Rights Campaign is a few months old and is an AL-AWDA project. Information may be obtained and contributions made at: www.al-awda.org.
Invited guests included: Laila Al-Arian, Michel Shehadeh, Ali Abunimah, and Dr. Salman H. Abu Sitta.
KinderUSA, International Action Center, and the International Solidarity Movement were among those organizations that held displays.
A banquet was held in the evening to honor the valuable work of Dr. And Mrs. Musa Nasir. The Nasirs are not only active and productive members of AL-AWDA, they also founded the Palestine Childrenâ€™s Relief Fund (PCRF). The PCRF provides treatment free of charge to Arab children in the Middle East with emphasis on Palestine. Often the work is on site, but, if that is not feasible, the children are transported to nations where they can be treated to a restoration of health. The PCRF also trains medical personnel in the oPt and donates medical equipment to Palestinian hospitals. They have recently announced their entry into the field of pediatric oncology.
AL-AWDA is a broad based, non profit, democratic and grass roots organization which seeks to create awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people. It is composed of activists and students and seeks particularly to create such awareness among members of the media and elected officials.
AL-AWDA demands the Right to Return for the Palestinian people: the restoration of Palestinian rights including return to homes and compensation for confiscated and damaged property.