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Until Return - Issue 3

by Nader Abuljebain
Al Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
December 11, 2007

Palestinians in the United States are a unique immigrant population. While Palestinians came to Latin America more than one hundred years ago, most of that population in the United States consists of those who came here after being forced from our ancestral lands and homes and livelihood by the Zionist invaders. We all came seeking refuge, some to integrate themselves into US life, others to await the time when they could return and some to struggle to demand the Right to Return to our homeland, closed off to us by the Zionist theft and settler occupation of our lands and homes. We are the only group of immigrants to the US who have been expelled from our country of origin due to the Euro/US imperial imposition of the Zionist State of Israel, creating an anti-Arab, anti-Muslim settler state in the Arab world.

Naji el Ali

Most Palestinians in the US have become well integrated into the economy and the larger society. The positive aspect of this is that we have a very high level of education and a generally high level of economic stability. Most of us have become further educated, established families and opened businesses, participate in the arts and sciences and other professions or have settled into whatever stability remains in blue collar jobs. On the other hand, we all wrestle with our ability to maintain our language and culture and the narrative of our expulsion, since the Zionist narrative dominates US culture. Therefore we must struggle in exile, as our sisters and brothers at home struggle, for our right to be, as Palestinian Arabs, in our own country.

In certain parts of the US we live in clusters of relatively high Palestinian populations. Others are scattered across the country. Those of us in high cluster areas have more connection to our shared culture and language. As Right of Return activists a key task is to bridge the gaps. One of the models we can study is the US Mexican community. Mexicans cannot be classified as immigrants in the traditional sense, since they were the original inhabitants of the US Southwest and victims of the Spanish Conquest of their lands and they are free to return or go back and forth to their country at will. They comprise a much larger group than Palestinians and are most prevalent in California and much of the South West, although that is changing as they move across the country in search of jobs. Leaders of the Mexican community dealt with the problem of separation by organizing across the US on the basis of the Mexican states from where the people came. So there is, as only one example, an organization for all the people from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, wherever they live in the US. They have created local and national structures, share resources, organize youth groups, social service networks, music, dance and literary networks, national fiestas and political actions (note the massive national May Day 2005 turnout for immigrant rights). In this way the language and culture of Mexico is preserved as part and parcel of the Mexican community of the Americas, and helps to fight for their rights as residents of the US.

Palestinian Embroidery

Palestinians in the US are finding their own way in this matter, while taking a page from the book of Mexicans living in this part of the Americas. In areas where Palestinians live in close proximity we should be encouraged to form cultural centers that relate to the village, town or city from which we were expelled, to preserve the heritage of that locality, and create branches of the same society, wherever similar communities exist, in order to build networks that can be transferred to the future generations and enriching the Palestinian narrative.

For all of us the issue of Return is primary. There are many cultural projects related to Return and refugee support that such community centers could undertake, such as Arabic lessons for adults and children that utilize educational material derived from the history of Palestine; establishing Arab and Palestinian literature libraries; organize children’s written and artistic contests around Palestinian themes, including the subject of Return; children need to be encouraged to write book reports for social studies or composition classes on  subjects related to Arab Palestinian history and heritage. Many grade schools do this as part of their social studies classes and we should learn to take advantage of all opportunities to show off our foods, clothing, poetry and music.

What makes the preservation of the culture so difficult for those living in exile in the US, is the relentless commodification of US life. This affects not only everyone living here, including Palestinians, but threatens our Arab birthright.

Our tasks are many. We need to continue to commemorate Palestinian national occasions by drafting declarations, holding seminars, art exhibitions and performances, and public gatherings. A most crucial type of organized cultural activism is the collection, recording and publicizing of personal testimonies and orally transmitted memories of the Nakba period as remembered by its survivors who reside in our US communities. Studies put the number of surviving Palestinians who experienced the Nakba at 10 percent of the Palestinian people. We are now in the very last years when recording the experiences of people who lived in Palestine before 1948 is still possible. Collecting testimonials, at least at the earliest stages of the process, does not require a lot of training and could be carried out by activists from all age groups. Oral testimonies help create solidarity among Palestinian refugees and individuals and groups. That solidarity could lead to further political action in support of the refugees and their rights. Personal testimonials by refugees could be utilized in various information and advocacy campaigns, as primary resources. An example of how this has been an effective tool by our Latino sisters and brothers, was recording the testimonies of Central American refugees to the US during the US proxy wars, using them in advocacy campaigns in support of the peoples of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Much work in the area of Palestinian culture has been done over the past ten years. Hardly a month goes by now without an event by Palestinians in the US bringing indigenous Palestinian and Arab music, art, plays, and dance groups to local and national attention. More and more of these events have been well reviewed by the mainstream media and well received by the public. Many books have been written about Palestinian life, both fiction and non-fiction and poetry. Film and video have become very effective tools for political organizing, many advocating Palestinian rights in Palestine and the US. The question of Palestine is very much on the agenda in the US, thanks to the work of activist/artists. Until a few years ago many people in the US had never heard of the Right of Return, it was never discussed in the media and the authentic voice of Palestinians was rarely heard. This has changed as we begin to take back and reform our own narrative.  At the level of the mainstream media, this interest in Right of Return is barely visible, but that only serves to emphasize that the broadening of awareness of the importance of Right of Return is a victory of Palestinians in our own communities. In the process we are also learning self-reliance in the Shatat (Forced Exile) as well as in the larger society.

The imposed imperial Zionist narrative, using certain words and terms, has been implanted in our thoughts and language and has affected how we present ourselves. It will continue to be imposed and we must continue to learn to use our own words. Here are a few examples:

ARAB NATIONS: We are not different nations but one nation in different countries, we are ARAB COUNTRIES.

DIASPORA: This is a term the Zionists use to label their voluntary movement in the world without ethnic extermination, while to Palestinians the forced expulsion was due to massacres and under the gun, as a deliberate tool of European imperialism  Although the word Diaspora is used by many activists and academics, it is a wrong use, and the term for us to use is  FORCED EXILE.

ETHNIC CLEANSING: The term Ethnic Cleansing which is being commonly used must be changed to Ethnic Eradication or Extermination, since there is nothing clean about eradicating and uprooting population from their homeland, but rather it is a dirty and criminal act.

FIRST & SECOND INTIFADA: These are incorrect terms, since the1987 Intifada, and Al Aqsa Intifada, are not the First and Second. The Palestinian resistance has sparked many Intifadas since the 18th century within and outside Palestine against the Turks, British, Zionists, and also against Arab Governments, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has been ongoing for almost 400 years of invasions and occupations. Therefore the proper identifying term is 1987 INTIFADA and AL_AQSA INTIFADA, following Intifada AL BURAQ INTIFADA of 1929, or 1936 revolt, or Daher Al Omar rebellion of the 18th century, or the anti-Mohammad Ali campaign in the 19th Century.  

ISRAELI ARABS: There is no such category. These people are our brothers and sisters who are living under the 1948 occupation. They are not ‘Israeli Arabs’ we should call them OUR PEOPLE OF THE 1948 AREAS.

JEWISH/ARAB OR JEWISH/PALESTINIAN: Our conflict is not with the Jews, but with the Zionists and Israel. This conflict should be stated as ARAB/ZIONIST CONFLICT or PALESTINIAN/ISRAELI CONFLICT.

MAHSOM: This is a word heard lately from our brothers and sisters of 1967 areas, which means Road Block in Hebrew. As Palestinians and activists, we should never use the Israeli terminology, so as not to legitimize the occupation translation.

MIDDLE EAST: This an old colonial term, used by the British and the French who measured their Asian colonies according to their distance from Britain and France. They were called Near East, Middle East, Far East. These terms include non-Arab countries   (Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and ‘Israel’), and excludes two thirds of the Arab world, which is in Africa. We should use the ARAB WORLD for political discussion, while geographically; we should use WESTERN ASIA, NORTHERN AND EASTERN AFRICA.

MOSQUE of DOME of the ROCK is being used mistakenly as AL AQSA MOSQUE.

OCCUPIED TERRITORIES & DISPUTED TERRITORIES: These areas should be identified as THE 1948 OCCUPATION and/or 1967 OCCUPATION, and we should never use the term DISPUTED because the territories are not disputed, but occupied in 1948, and/or 1967.

PALESTINE-ISRAEL: When visiting our country, some people say they have been to Palestine. When asked if they visited Jaffa, they reply, no, we visited Palestine only, we went to Ramallah, as if Jaffa no longer Palestine and the only Palestine is what’s left of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Right Of Return AND Right To Return: Whenever we talk about THE RIGHT OF RETURN, we should stress the RIGHT TO RETURN, to be clear that Return it is not only a RIGHT but it also needs to be implemented.

SETTLEMENTS: Mostly settlements are formed when an empty area is found  and people settle in it, which is not the case in our situation, because those are COLONIES and not SETTLEMENTS. However, these ‘settlements’ go beyond colonization to actual war crimes as defined by the 4th Geneva Convention

United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), although this agency has done much good humanitarian work for the Palestinian Refugees, from health, to education, to social work, to employment, etc...  The danger of forming such an agency outside of UNHCR, the United Nations Higher Committee for the Refugees, (initially formed to take care of  Jewish Refugees after the Nazi persecution) which later  extended its work to the rest of other world refugees. The intent to separate  the Palestinian refugee issue from the Refugee issue in general following WWII was not to consider them in the same category as Jewish refugees, so as to avoid the connection between those who peopled the stolen land of  Zionist settler state (ending the European Jewish refugee problem) and those (the Palestinians) who were forcibly expelled from their homeland.  

In refining and more precisely defining our thought processes, we are restoring and expressing our narrative on our terms in our collective voice.

The presentation and the preservation of our culture in the shatat (forced exile) has played an important part in the political struggles of our people sometimes under conditions beyond our control, as the US manipulates and tries to usurp our leadership in the homeland, causing confusion and dissension among us.  But we persevere. We have raised the issue of our sisters and brothers suffering and resisting in the refugee camps of our own land, inside our own Zionist occupied country. We have been able to present the plight of our people in Zionist prisons, through films, poems and lectures. Through power point presentations, films, and plays we have made known the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The Palestinian refugees who were living in Iraq are either being assassinated or living in a disastrous situation in tents’ camps on the Iraqi-Jordanian and Syrian borders. The Palestinian community in Lebanon is being politically, economically and socially smothered and devastated.

Sixth Convention 60th Year of Al-Nakba

The living situation in the refugee camps of Gaza is desperate as the Zionists starve, bomb and otherwise murder our children as collective punishment for carrying out their vaunted ‘democratic elections’, now being nullified because the election results were not to their liking. For almost 2 years our people have been continuously punished for their resistance. The West Bank is in the process of being overwhelmed and walled out by Zionist settlers. They need all our support, which includes the necessity of making their plight known to the public every single day. The political situation of the Iraqi refugees is a disaster as millions have been forced to leave as the US  occupation destroys their ancient land.  There is only one solution: the return of all refugees to their homes in Palestine and Iraq or anywhere else on this earth. Return is both an individual and collective right. Whether or not we as individuals return to live in the homeland, it is our right to make that decision. We can return to our lands for any length of time we so desire, we can leave our properties or pass them on to our children, it is and will always be our inherent right. It can never be negotiated away. Our duty, is to make certain this happens--sooner rather than later – by all the means available to us..


Al-Awda has many activist/cultural programs that other communities can emulate. Below are only a few examples:

We now have a Palestine Media Center based in Southern California. We have established in partnership with Alternate Focus, also San Diego-based, and for the third year, we are sponsoring an International Film Contest about the Palestine struggle, with awards, recognition and international distribution of the winning films. We also have a training project in this collaboration to teach videography to anyone who wants to learn.

A new feature to be added to the program of the Al-Awda 6th Annual International Convention, which will take place in Anaheim California on May 16-18, 2008, will be a Video Quilt as part of the commemoration of the Nakba and the 60 year resistance of our people. We will collectively create this Video Quilt to demonstrate that among Palestinian refugees and their many supporters there remains a strong united voice for the Right of Return. We will stitch together the voices of refugees and this Video Quilt will be premiered at the convention.

We have sponsored music and dance troops from Palestine and most recently sponsored the Marcel Khalife concert as a part of his North American Tour. His appearance in San Diego sparked controversy around a venue that refused the concert, after taking our deposit for the full payment six months earlier, and then canceling on the grounds that Al-Awda was being divisive by not including an Israeli artist for ‘balance'. We found another venue quickly for the very successful concert. However, the controversy made headlines around the world, and gave us the opportunity to talk about our work specifically our advocacy for the Palestinian Refugees Right to Return on radio, television and in newspaper interviews, making this concert the perfect example of the melding of artistic activist work, and showing how the two are inseparable.

One of our most important innovations to date is the start up of a Palestine Library at our national Center in Carlsbad, CA. It will become a repository for a wide variety of publications that deal with the struggle for Palestinian return and liberation. The library will also serve as a repository of Al-Awda Center's multi-media educational materials related to various aspects of Palestine, its people and Arab culture. The library is an important addition to the educational materials which are available online via Al-Awda's websites.

This is just a sampling of the cultural political work being done by the Palestinian community and our allies. We invite all our readers to share with us the unique ways which you find to make our work more effective. We can be reached at

Until Return!


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