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Until Return - Issue 1

Report on the Fifth Annual International Al-Awda Convention from the Host Committee

June 3, 2007

Despite attempts to silence our voices, The Fifth Annual International Al-Awda Convention took place on the 59th anniversary of al-Nakba under the theme "Uniting for the Return" at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Anaheim California on May 25-27, 2007. The convention was dedicated to Palestinian cartoonist martyr Naji el-Ali to mark the 20th anniversary of his assassination. Hundreds of Palestinians and their supporters took part. In the midst of the continued attacks on our people and the deteriorating health conditions especially in the refugee camps and areas of Palestine occupied since 1967, the renewed war against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and the increasingly severe suffering of our people caught in the US war against Iraq, Al-Awda members and supporters developed a number of plans of action at the convention to carry us through in the lead up to the 60-year commemoration of the Nakba, and beyond. We have emerged from our coming together united, stronger, and eager to carry out our work. The
convention reaffirmed its commitment to Al-Awda's mission, goals and points of unity

Convention Opening

The convention opened on Friday May 25, 2007 with a meet and greet social which included a light meal generously provided by the Palestinian American Women's Association (PAWA) of Southern California. This was followed by powerful welcoming remarks by Alia Hasan on behalf of the host committee and Rana Sharif on behalf of the students and youth. Dr. Jess Ghannam then welcomed the attendees on behalf of Al-Awda's international coordinating committee.

Nakba Commemoration

These welcoming speeches were followed by a captivating and moving Nakba commemoration at which more than a dozen Nakba survivors from many towns and villages in Palestine provided their personal accounts of what they recalled happened to them in 1948. Several described how they were shot, and others how they escaped attack and survived living as refugees in tents made of bed sheets under trees for more than a year. Others spoke of the horrors of the massacres they witnessed, and the attempts by Zionist terror squads to intimidate and frighten Palestinians civilians to flee their homeland. Introduction to the Nakba commemoration was provided by Dr Zahi Damuni, co-founder of Al-Awda.

Opening Lectures

The Nakba commemoration set the stage for what followed during the rest of the convention. In opening lectures on the morning of Saturday May 26, 2007, Elias Rashmawi, member of the ANSWER National Steering Committee and National Coordinator of the National Council of Arab Americans, spoke eloquently about the political necessity of raising the right to return and
the general situation facing the Palestinian movement today. He also highlighted the importance of protecting Al-Awda, the organization, from corporate, Zionist and other attacks that it has been increasingly exposed to. Nadia Keilani spoke about the devastating situation facing Iraq and its people since the US invasion, and Leila Al-Arian spoke of her father's political persecution and imprisonment by US authorities.


The opening lectures were followed by a panel discussion that described some of the ongoing projects in support of Palestinian refugees. Dr. Jess Ghannam reported on the acute crisis in health care services and on several projects to increase healthcare access. Muna Coobtie spoke on behalf of PAWA about its important and sustained refugee support activities in Palestine and Lebanon. Mahmoud Zubaidi reported on the important activities of Al-Awda's West Coast Refugee Support Committee including highlighting, worldwide, the atrocious conditions under which Palestinians stranded on the borders with Iraq are currently living. He also reported on some of the fundraising efforts that were directed to help those stranded particularly in al-Waleed and surrounding makeshift camps on the Iraqi side of the border, which are very difficult to reach and where the situation is most severe. The refugee support panel discussion was facilitated by Ruba Malley, a coordinator of the West Coast Refugee Support Committee.

The Saturday afternoon sessions included a variety of other workshops. A symposium for students led by Alia Hasan, Rana Sharif (UCLA) and Tarek Husein of SJP at UCR emphasized the need for community members to become more involved in supporting student activism for Palestine at local campuses especially in light of the repression that such efforts face. Another
workshop led by Mahmud Ahmad on coalitions and building solidarity featured Richard Becker of the ANSWER Coalition and John Parker of the International Action Center. Becker and Parker each spoke about the success their organizations have had in integrating the Palestinian right to return into the anti-war movement. The connections between the struggles of the Palestinian, Iraqi, and other peoples for freedom from occupation and imperialist domination were highlighted.

Other workshops for the return included ones that dealt with institutional organizing, media, writers and artists, and boycotts, divestment and sanctions. The institutional organizing for the return workshop included presentations by Bianca Shana'a who traveled from France to take part in the convention, Rhoda Shapiro from Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada, and Dr. Zahi
Damuni from Al-Awda's National Coordinating Committee. The discussions focused on different ways to further professionalise our work nationally and internationally and to identify priorities including through further development of the Al-Awda Center in San Diego.

The media for the return workshop was led by Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb assisted by Mona Kadah, both from Al-Awda San Diego, and included presentations by Ed Sweed and Andy Trimlett of Alternate Focus. This workshop focused on ways to expand and professionalise our media work also through further development of the Al-Awda Center in San Diego. The Artists and Writers for the return workshops included presentations by artist Dr. John Halaka and writer Nader Abuljebain and dealt with identifying ways by which the Palestinian right to return could be highlighted in various forms of art expression and writing.

The boycotts, divestment and sanctions workshop included presentations by Charlotte Kates of Al-Awda NY and New Jersey Solidarity, Yael Korin of Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid and Yousef Abuddayeh of the National Council of Arab Americans and Al-Awda San Diego. The workshop discussions focused on various ways to develop and implement boycotts, divestment and sanctions as productive forms of activism for the return.

Film Screenings

Several films were also screened during the Saturday of the convention including "US vs Al-Arian", "Nowhere to Flee", "One Year of Peaceful Resistance Against the Wall in Billin" and "Occupation 101". The film"Occupation 101" was introduced by its makers Abdallah and Sufian Omeish. The film screenings were managed by Freddie Santistevan.

Palestinian Cultural Event

The convention continued on Saturday evening with an exceptional event celebrating Palestinian culture. The masters of ceremony were Samera Sood of PAWA and Al-Awda, and Nader Abuljebain, co-founder of Al-Awda. The event featured speakers and musicians highlighting the rich Palestinian cultural heritage. It also included an exhibition of thirty cartoons by martyr Naji el-Ali. One of the keynote speakers, author and professor, Dr. Naseer Aruri, explained Israel's role as a regional watchdog for US imperialist interests. The other keynote speaker, Dr. Jamal Zahalka, an Arab Palestinian member of the Knesset, presented facts clearly debunking the myth of "Israeli democracy". He also spoke about the case of his comrade Dr. Azmi Bishara who is being persecuted by the Zionist state for his effective advocacy for Palestinian rights.

The cultural festivities on Saturday night also included an outstanding performance by world renowned violinist and maestro Dr. Nabil Azzam, who led his orchestra and singers Manal Rifa'i and Ahmad Al-Asmar in patriotic songs that the attendees joined in. Fundraising at the event was to support Al-Awda's ongoing work such as the efforts to develop a Palestine
Media Center.

If you wish to donate to help with these important projects, please go to and follow the instructions. Pictures from the Palestinian Cultural Event may be viewed at

Convention Conclusion

On Sunday morning, May 27, 2007, Dr. Zahi Damuni provided a detailed account of what led to the change of venue from UCR. This was followed by a report by Yousef Abuddayeh and Dr. Jess Ghannam on a recent meeting of Palestinians that took place in Beirut. These reports were followed by some discussion including those of the best strategies to pursue.

Immediately after these discussions, a representative from each workshop, that took place the previous day, provided a report of the discussions and recommendations of their workshop. Some of the highly significant decisions that were adopted by the convention included developing further Al-Awda's Center in San Diego to include a Palestine Media Center and a
Palestine focused library.

Among other resolutions, the convention also expressed its support for Dr. Azmi Bishara. The text of this resolution is as follows:

"Al Awda expresses its support with our brother Dr. Azmi Bishara. We stand shoulder to shoulder with him and our people in historic Palestine in their struggle against discrimination, persecution, apartheid and all violations of their political and national rights."

The convention also recommended the development of actions on and around June 20, 2007 to coincide with World Refugee Day to remind the public of the plight of Palestinian refugees as the largest and longest suffering refugee population in the world today.

The Host Committee

The Host Committee of the Fifth Annual International Al-Awda Convention included Al-Awda's chapters in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside, The Palestinian American Women's Association, The Free Palestine Alliance - Southern California, The National Council of Arab-Americans - Southern California, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCR, The Muslim Students
Association at Palomar College, The Muslim Students Association at UCSD, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, The Middle East Cultural and Information Center - San Diego, The Muslim Students Union at UCR, The Arab Community Center of the Inland Empire, The Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid - Southern California, Students for International Knowledge at
CSUSB, and The Muslim Students Association at CSUSB.

We thank all who supported and took part in the landmark convention we hosted. Our work for the Fifth Annual International Al-Awda convention was the first stepping stone in the many events we have planned leading up to the 60th commemoration of the Nakba. We invite all who support the work of Al-Awda to join us at the next annual Al-Awda convention.

The Fifth Convention Host Committee
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352
Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Tel: 760-685-3243
Fax: 360-933-3568


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