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Until Return - Issue 5

June 2, 2008

Report: Sixth Al-Awda Convention – A Major Step Forward For The Right to Return Movement

"Palestine: 60 Years of Forced Exile - Time for Return!" was the guiding theme of the Sixth Annual International Al-Awda Convention on May 16-18, 2008 in Anaheim California. Thirty organizations and many individuals came together to host this historic event. Well over 1000 Palestinians and their supporters converged from various parts of the US, Canada, Europe, and Palestine. The largest Al-Awda convention in the US to date marked the 60th year of the Nakba and reaffirmed its unity, commitment and dedication to the struggle to Return.

Participants took part in a week-end of commemoration, education, discussion and organizing, resulting in a plan of action to carry us through the coming year and beyond. The convention culminated with a historic mass rally in solidarity with Palestinians in the homeland and the shatat (exile) around the world.

We have emerged from our coming together united, stronger, and eager to carry out our goal of realizing the inalienable Palestinian Right to Return. The convention once again reaffirmed its commitment to Al-Awda's points of unity.

Before the Convention

The first speakers and guests began arriving for the convention on May 12, 2008. On Wednesday May 14, 2008, Bishop Atallah Hanna was welcomed by community members. This reception was led by Al-Awda members Yousef Abudayyeh, Anis Zubi, Mazen Al Mokdad and Mahmud Ahmad of the Executive Committee. Dr. Sheikh Taiseer Al-Tamimi was received on Thursday May 15. Yousef Abudayyeh acted as the principal host for Bishop Atallah Hanna and Dr. Sheikh Taiseer Al-Tamimi from May 14 until both speakers left Los Angeles on May 20.

On Thursday May 15, Bishop Atallah delivered two important lectures to Santiago and Golden West Colleges. These events were sponsored by Al-Awda and were organized at these colleges by Al-Awda member Mais Jacir. The Palestinian American Women Association hosted a lunch (between the lectures) for the bishop.

On Friday May 16, Sheikh Tamimi was accompanied by Mr. Bassam Mahdawi to lead Juma’a prayer and Khutba to a full house at Riverside Mosque. The Sheikh and the Bishop each delivered a lecture at a banquet hosted by California State University at San Bernardino. This event was also facilitated by Al-Awda and organized at the University by Dr. Dany Doueiri and Al-Awda member Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb.

On May 15, invited speaker Haneen Zoabi, politburo member of Al-Tajamu’ al-Arabi al-Deomcrati Party presented a lecture organized by A.N.S.W.E.R. LA about the current situation of Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship. She also did an excellent interview with KPFK radio.

Convention Opening

The high pre-convention anticipation opened to a full house on Friday May 16, 2008. The Friday opening was coordinated and led by Dr. Zahi Damuni with a minute of silence in honor of Palestinians who were martyred in the 1948 era and since. This was followed by welcoming remarks by Dr. Zahi Damuni on behalf of the national executive committee and the convention's host committee.

"The Sons of Eilaboun" by Hisham Zrake, a powerful documentary was shown about the 1948 massacre, point-blank slaughter and forced eviction of the sons and daughters of Eilaboun, a village in northern Galilee. This massacre and eviction was carried out while Zionist forces implemented their notorious plan Dalet just four years after the world had defeated the Nazis. The survivors’ accounts provided further evidence of the brutality, inhumanity, and illegal foundation of the Zionist entity.

"Life Under 60 Years of Occupation" was a special presentation by three Palestinian women from the areas of Palestine that were occupied in 1948. The three were Lena Meari, Himmat Zu'bi, and Haneen Zoabi. Each discussed a different aspect of the ongoing racist Zionist policies and practices against the indigenous population, related to land, housing, education, marriage, and movement.

Dramatic staged reading of some 1948 refugee testimony featured actors Lucy Der-Tavitian and Nasser Faris, who were able to bring to life the narratives, histories, and lives of Palestinians before, during and after the Nakba. This was preceded by a reading of a very moving poem entitled “On this 60th”, composed by Al-Awda member Aida Hasan.

One of the highlights of the evening which followed the staged readings was the World Premiere of the Video Quilt to Mark 60 Years of Palestinian Nakba and Struggle to Return. The Video Quilt, a project of Al-Awda Media Center, produced by Al-Awda Member Alia Hasan, is a unique interactive presentation. It shows Palestinians and their supporters from around the world reaffirming the Palestinian right to return to their original homes and lands. The film was greeted with vigorous applause and great pride. The first film edition of this ongoing project of the Media Center may be viewed at

Powerful statements of solidarity, that roused the audience, were presented by Richard Becker of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, Paul Hershfield of the Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid, and John Parker of The International Action Center.

Sana Ibrahim, a student at California State University at San Bernardino, addressed and welcomed the attendees on behalf of the students who have been active with the host committee.

The opening events of the convention were concluded with a speech followed by a question answer session and book signing with Exeter University historian Ilan Pappe. Pappe emphasized the importance of the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and lands and the necessity to dismantle the racist nature of the Zionist state.

Saturday May 17, 2008

First Activist Panel

The first full day of the convention began with a brief critical assessment of activism for the return presented by Al-Awda Executive Secretary Dr. Jess Ghannam who described a renaissance and refocus of activism for Palestine and Palestinian justice since the creation of Al-Awda in 2000. He discussed the progressive emergence of a global coalition in support of the Palestinian right to return since the inception of Al-Awda.

This was followed by discussions of Youth Organizing for the Return with Ziad Abbas from Dheisha refugee camp, followed by the need to launch a serious Prisoner’s campaign as presented by Addameer attorney Dr. Anan Odeh, and a discussion of the relationship between Culture and Resistance by community organizer Michel Shehadeh.

First Lecture Session

The Saturday morning lecture session was coordinated by Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb. Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian-American journalist, former Al-Jazeera Producer and author of the "Second Intifada", led off by discussing the issue of Palestinian unity as a prerequisite to any debate on the future of Palestine and the direction of the Palestinian struggle. This was followed by speeches entitled "Toward a Democratic, Secular, Multicultural State" by Professor of English and Comparative Literature Dr. Saree Makdisi and "One State: A Solution Whose Time Has Come Again" by Dr. Ghada Karmi. Both speakers discussed their views on the significance and relevance of their vision of a one state solution. Each presentation was followed by lively discussion. The morning lecture session ended with book signing.

Lunch Keynote

Before a sell-out attendance, lunch keynote speaker Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, founder and president of The Palestine Land Society and former member of the Palestine National Council, discussed his recollections of the Nakba and the critical importance of rebuilding the Palestine National Council as a representative body for all Palestinians including those living in the shatat (exile). Dr. Abu Sitta also outlined a plan as to how Palestinians can accomplish such a task. Dr. Abu Sitta's speech was followed by a book signing of "The Return Journey" atlas which he authored, as well as the updated map he provided to the convention and which shows all the villages and towns destroyed with the occupation of Palestine from 1947-48 to the present (including the 1967 occupation and illustration of the “Wall of Shame”). Copies of this map may be obtained from Al-Awda at

Second Lecture Session

The Saturday afternoon lecture sessions were coordinated by Al-Awda member Muna Coobtee. These lectures began with an incisive and analytical discussion by Dr. As'ad Abu Khalil, professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley. Dr. Abu Khalil discussed the 60th year of al-Nakba. He spoke about new dangers in the Arab world including how Zionism has won allies among Arab regimes. He was followed by Haneen Zoabi who discussed the role of Palestinian women in the struggle to return.

Second Activist Panel

The afternoon session was concluded by an Al-Awda activist panel which reviewed progress, showcased achievements, and presented proposals for further growth and development, with requests for donations and other support. Hanin Bearat gave a progress report on the activties and organizing of Al-Awda’s new chapter in Phoenix Arizona. Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb discussed Al-Awda’s Media Center project describing the future plans and the projects that had already been carried out by the center. Al-Awda member Freddie Santistevan presented some of the goals, excellent progress, work and future plans of the growing Palestine Library. Dr. Jess Ghannam discussed Al-Awda's Refugee Support programs.

The panel concluded with a showing of the film"Twenty Five Thousand Tents - Maybe More" which focuses on the narrative of Palestinians stranded in no-man's land in Tanaf detention camp between Syria and Iraq. The production of this film was supported in part by Al-Awda's Media Center and Refugee Support Programs. It highlighted the importance of the integrative nature of these Al-Awda programs.

Special Events

A photographic exhibit by Naim Farhat as organized by Dr. Fayeq Oweis entitled "Waiting to Return" was on show throughout Saturday May 16. It depicted life in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Films were also presented throughout that day including: the premiere of "Forced Exile and Odyssey" about the work of world-renowned Palestinian artists Ismail Shammout and Tamam Al-Akhal; "The Presence of Absence in the Ruins of Kafr Bir'im" (2006) followed by discussion with film-maker John Halaka; "Confronting the Wall: Art and Resistance in Palestine" (2006 - Alan Craig); and "Driving to ZigZigland" (2006, feature film) which was followed by discussion with its maker Nicole Ballivian.

A thorough and detailed discussion of "Palestinian Embroidery" was presented by Mrs. Nisreen Malhis.

Saturday Banquet

The Saturday Banquet and Fundraiser drew more than 600 attendees. It began with a grand welcome for Bishop Atallah Hanna and Sheikh Taiseer Al-Tamimi, led by Yousef Abudayyeh. The MC’s of the event, Samera Sood, Chair Al-Awda’s Executive Committee and Nader Abuljebain, Al-Awda Executive Committee Internal Affairs Coordinator, opened the program with a moment of silence in honor of our martyrs. This was followed by “Mawtini”, the Palestinian National Anthem. The MC’s emphasized and referred to Al-Awda’s Points of Unity calling for the return of all Palestinians to their homes and lands of origin. Bishop Atallah Hanna and Chief Justice Dr. Sheikh Taiseer Al-Tamimi each gave passionate speeches about the sacredness of the Right to Return and the importance of reaffirming the unity of the Palestinian people in their struggle to return. Both received spontaneous standing ovations. World-renowned Maestro Dr. Nabil Azzam played a violin solo, and Dr. Zahi Damuni followed by Samera Sood called on those present to donate to help support Al-Awda’s work. Al-Awda member Mona Kadah also organized a raffle. An excerpt of Bishop Atallah Hanna's speech may be viewed at

Each table at the banquet had a listing of some of the villages and towns that were destroyed and/or occupied in 1948. Many of the attendees showed their support for Al-Awda's work by donating to Al-Awda in the name of a Palestinian village or town of origin. To see a partial list of commemorative donations that were made at the convention to support Al-Awda's work, go to

During the event, Bishop Atallah Hanna and Chief Justice Dr. Sheikh Taiseer Al-Tamimi were presented with a plaque honoring their dedication to the cause and their participation in Al-Awda’s historic Sixth Annual International Convention. These plaques were presented by Yousef Abudayyeh on behalf of the host committee. Bishop Atallah Hanna presented a plaque to Al-Awda in honor of its commitment, vision and dedicated work for the return.

Sunday May 18, 2008

The last day of the convention began with a members' meeting led by all the members of Al Awda’s Executive Committee. A number of decisions were taken by the attendees for the coming year. These included holding a youth training conference; enhancing connections internationally to other Al-Awda and Right to Return groups; working toward a meeting to be held in a refugee camp in Palestine or neighboring Arab country; and extending the work of Al-Awda's Media Center (for example by working to develop a weekly television program); Palestine Library by accumulating more books, recruiting support from Palestinian authors and donors; and Refugee Support by increasing the material and educational aspects of these programs. A preliminary discussion took place about the next location for hosting Al-Awda’s seventh convention.

This meeting was followed by a panel discussion including Dr. Abu Sitta, As’ad Abu Khalil, Ghada Karmi, and Ramzy Baroud. The panelists answered questions raised by the audience and participated in a debate about the feasibility of lobbying to create change in U.S. policy.

Mass Rally

The convention culminated with a historic mass rally to mark 60 Years of Palestinian Nakba and Struggle to Return in the "Little Gaza" (also known as “Little Arabia”) district of Anaheim. A caravan of nearly 30 cars, decorated with Palestinian national flags, drove six miles from the convention site to Brookhurst Plaza in Anaheim where hundreds of people joined the protest. Speakers included Dr. Sheikh Taiseer al-Tamimi and Bishop Atallah Hanna. Other speakers included Mahmud Ahmad for Al-Awda; Rinad Abdullah for The Palestinian American Women’s Association; Carlos Alvarez for The ANSWER Coalition; Marylou Cabral for The Party of Socialism and Liberation, Shakeel Sayed for The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California among many others. All of the speakers passionately urged the continuation of the struggle to return.


The message of the Sixth International Al-Awda Convention was resolute and powerful. Together, more than 1000 members and supporters marked the 60th year of the Nakba and reaffirmed their unity, commitment and dedication to the struggle to return - Until RETURN!

For convention photos, see:
First edition of the Video Quilt:

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

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) is the largest network of grassroots activists and students dedicated to Palestinian human rights. We are a not for profit tax-exempt educational and charitable 501(c)(3) organization as defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States of America. Under IRS guidelines, your donations to PRRC are tax-deductible. To make a donation, please go to


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