Rally calls for right to return to Palestine
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON--Chanting "No return, no peace!" and "Occupation has got to go," several thousand Palestinians and supporters of their rights marched through the streets of the nation's capital September 16 and rallied across the street from the White House to demand the right of the millions of Palestinians to return to their homes and land. The event, which attracted many from a new generation becoming politically active, was spirited, enthusiastic, and an expression of the confidence that several generations of Palestinians have in this ongoing fight for their homeland.
The action was organized by Al-Awda--The Palestine Right to Return Coalition--which comprises some 80 groups. Nearly 4,000 people participated, according to organizers, making this one of the largest and most broadly based such actions to occur in the United States. People came from throughout the United States, with large contingents from New York and North Carolina, as well as from Canada, especially from Montreal and Toronto.
The protest was an occasion "to celebrate the resilience and resistance of the Palestinian people," according to the flyer distributed to promote the event, and to mark the anniversary of the massacre in September 1982 of more than 1,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. Rightist militiamen conducted a three-day killing spree after being let into these camps by Israeli military forces, who at the time had occupied the western sector of the Lebanese capital.
The day of the demonstration in Washington, protests occurred in the West Bank town of Bethlehem where 2,000 demonstrators in the Balata camp and about 300 in the Dheisheh camp rallied. Actions also took place in Lebanon and the United Kingdom.
The state of Israel is built on the dispossession of the Palestinian people and territorial expansion. Some 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and land by Zionist military units when the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. Since then the Israeli rulers have displaced many more, including when they seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in a six-day war in 1967.
The many varied signs carried by the protesters here highlighted this brutal reality and the resistance to it. They stated facts such as, "Israel is built over destroyed Palestinian villages," "52 years of injustice," "452 villages destroyed," and "5.9 million Palestinians demand the right to go home." One of the banners carried in the march listed more than 100 names and stated, "We Israeli and American Jews Support the Rights of Palestinian Refugees."
"This is not a one-shot deal," said Jess Ghannam, a member of the steering committee of Al-Awda, who was among several people from San Francisco participating in the march. "The Palestinian struggle is always there." Actions like this help "put it in the consciousness of every day Americans."
Mary Nazzal, 21, is a leader of Turath (Heritage), a group at Columbia University in New York that she described as the "Arab voice on campus." She described this action as "the biggest Palestinian demonstration I've been to. There were many Palestinians from everywhere, including people who had never been to Palestine." The action provided a "sense of solidarity among all of us--in Palestine, in refugee camps, and in the United States and Europe," Nazall stated.
A number of the young activists at the action spoke about the experiences of their parents and grandparents being uprooted from their villages and lands by the Zionist regime. These youth, many of whom have been radicalized growing up in the United States where they have had to confront the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim campaign of the U.S. government and big-business media, expressed their determination to see this fight through until the Palestinian people have won their right to self-determination and can return to their homeland.
Mahmud Hamideh, from Yonkers, New York, who works in scaffolding, carried handmade signs that stated, "Palestinian Workers Made the Desert Bloom" and "Remember the Massacre at Deir Yassin." In an interview he described the experience of his father, who as a young boy living in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin had to "run out of his sixth grade class because of militants shooting up young boys and men" and was forced to emigrate to Jordan. On April 9, 1948, Zionist military units murdered 254 unarmed inhabitants of this town, in what is now Israel.
Hamideh was born in Jordan, spent his childhood in Puerto Rico, and now lives in the United States. "I'm three of a kind--Puerto Rican, Arabic, and American. I have no choice but to think equally about the three things that I am," he said. "This demonstration is great," he added. It shows that the "Palestinian community is more powerful than ever."
FBI frame-up in North Carolina
Bilal Shammout from Charlotte, North Carolina, had helped organize 70 people to attend from that city. An even larger contingent came from Raleigh. He also was involved in organizing a press conference to protest the arrest in July of 17 people living in Charlotte, mostly of Lebanese origin, whom the U.S. government is seeking to frame up as "terrorists."
The 17 were formally charged with "smuggling" cigarettes from North Carolina to Michigan, and most were also accused of "fraudulent marriage." Meanwhile, the government has been looking for further charges to concoct against them, while smearing them in the media as dangerous individuals by associating them with Hezbollah, which is smeared as a terrorist group. Hezbollah is an organization with a mass following in Lebanon that led the struggle that forced Israeli occupation troops to withdraw from southern Lebanon earlier this year.
"Eleven of them are still held in prison," said Shammout. "If they're guilty sentence them, but don't label them as terrorists, don't label the community as terrorist."
Hani Razeq, a student at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, commented on the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. "Since the Lebanese got their land it has given the Palestinians the confidence that, if they can do it, we can. It just requires struggle," he said.
Among those from Chicago were several high school students whose parents are refugees from Palestine. Nasri Mansour, 14, commented, "I feel the land] it's still mine." Diba Rab, 22, who attends the University of Illinois, expressed concern that Palestinians' homes "are still being taken away" by Israeli authorities. The U.S. government is giving the Israeli regime money and remains its "biggest financial supporter," she pointed out.
A number of other people joined the march and rally besides those of Arabic descent. One Palestinian youth, for example brought his friend from Bosnia.
Karissa Loewen, 20, a student at Goshen College in Indiana, said she came because "I don't feel like I can sit at home in my house when my country is supporting the creation of refugees in Palestine."
"It's really exciting to see people coming together," said Jennifer Jajeh, 27, who is going back to live in the town of Ramallah, on the West Bank. She pointed to the daily "horrible conditions" of life facing Palestinians living in the occupied territories every day. They have to "carry permit cards that say, 'undefined nationality.' They have no freedom to go to Jerusalem, and need permits to travel in Israel."
Dalia Ahmed, from Albany, New York, whose family is from Egypt, thought the demonstration was significant because for the first time Arab-Americans "are making a presence that can be noticed."
"The rally was exhilarating," said Amira Solh, 23, one of the main organizers of the 500-strong NewYork/New Jersey contingent, and a leader of Al-Awda. "This march was not just about the refugees but about the right of all Palestinians to return."
"This is the very beginning of a new movement," Solh said. "The Right of Return Coalition is part of the rising of the Palestinian resistance movement in the United States."
She added, "Mobilizing on the right to return is so critical because the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian] Oslo accords only legitimize the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. They have made legal what was illegal. These negotiations have sidelined the refugees into oblivion."
At a 1993 meeting in Oslo, Norway, the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization reached an agreement establishing limited autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since then, several rounds of negotiations have followed, but fundamental questions remain unresolved. Talks in July, which revolved around Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the return of refugees, collapsed.
A range of speakers addressed the rally. The talks were interspersed with music, dancing, and poetry readings. They included Palestinian Legislative Council member Abdul Jawad Saleh, Jim Zogby of the Arab-American Institute, and a representative of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"Our right to return is not theirs to deny. We shall regain that land," stated one speaker, Dr. Imad ad-Dean Ahmad. "Our children are being raised every day of their lives to remember" their Palestinian homeland.
Duha Mohammed Zeidan, who lives in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, spoke about the massacre that took place there 18 years ago. "We are committed" to this fight, she said. "Unless Palestinians are allowed self-determination and the right to live in their own independent state, there will be no peace."
Rania Masri of the Iraq Action Coalition spoke about her visit to south Lebanon after it was liberated from Israeli military occupation. She went to the Lebanon-Israel border and "saw the fence that separates our land, that separates us from each other." She called for "tearing down all fences that divide us." There must be "no divisions between Lebanese and Palestinians."
Lauren Hart and Autumn Knowlton contributed to this article.
BY CELIA PUGH
LONDON--Some 1,000 people marched here September 17 in support of the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland.
Among those in attendance was Ruden, 18, a student here. "My family lives in the Homs refugee camp in Syria. They were driven out of Palestine in 1948 and we've never been able to return," he said. "Palestinians like me live in Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, and Lebanon but we're stateless. We have no rights in these countries. I'm too young to have lived in Palestine, but my nationality is in my heart. I want to return."
Ruden added, "My friends and brothers are conscripted into the Syrian army at 18 for two and a half years. "Syria is not my country so why should we be in its army?" He noted that one of his brothers had been killed while conscripted.
Most marchers were Palestinians and others of Middle Eastern origin. They were joined by other supporters of the Palestinian struggle.
A striking number of the demonstrators were in their teens and 20s, many born here to Palestinian parents. Many enthusiastic youth wearing "No Return, No Peace" T-shirts helped lead all aspects of the demonstration--distributing flyers, collecting funds, and marshalling the action. Palestine solidarity groups are active at many colleges around the country.
Speakers at the rally urged the crowd to continue campaigning, including for the release of Samar Alami and Jawad Bolmeh, who are in prison here. The two young Palestinians were framed on conspiracy charges after the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London. They have already served four years of a 20-year sentence. An appeal of their case and a protest picket line will take place here October 24 beginning at 10:00 a.m. at the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.