Campaign for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights:
(Boston, 8 April 2000)
More than one thousand Palestinian/Arab Americans - intellectuals, veteran and new community and student activists - as well as North American solidarity activists, followed the invitation of the Trans-Arab Research Institute (TARI) and dozens of co-sponsoring organizations to a one day conference entitled "The Right of Return: Palestinian Refugees and Prospects for a Durable Solution." Due to limited space available in the auditorium of the Boston University Law College, not all of them could attend the April 8 Conference, which many described as the first major public event on Palestine in the United States since the decline of activism in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War.
The Conference was opened by Edward Said, who raised the fact that the Oslo process has finally come down to the one issue that has been the core of Palestinian suffering since 1948. He stated the need for the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership which will fight for the implementation of refugees' right of return to their homes and properties in what is now Israel. He was followed by a panel of political analysts - Ilan Pappe (University of Haifa), Noam Chomsky (MIT), Alain Gresh (Le Monde Diplomatique), Robert Fisk (The Independent), and Jaber Suleiman (A'idun Refugee Rights Group/Lebanon) - who presented outlines of Israeli, US-American, European, and PLO positions on the Palestinian refugee question. The sense of powerlessness that was about to overwhelm the audience, confronted with the speakers' accounts of an almost almighty Israeli-international alliance against the Palestinian refugees' right of return, was successfully encountered by Jaber Suleiman (A'idun) who reminded the participants that activism must be guided by "pessimism of analysis and optimism of action" - thus preparing the setting for the speakers of panels two - four.
Panel two, "Palestinian Right of Return and Restitution", provided a forum for the presentation of new information and expertise which can be turned into tools for the promotion of Palestinian refugee rights: International Refugee Law as a mechanism for the enforcement of refugee rights (Susan Akram/University of Boston); updated evaluation of Palestinian losses in 1948 (Atif Kubursi/McMaster University); analysis of Jewish Holocaust compensation demands (Norman Finkelstein/Hunter College, CUNY); demographic research of Israel pointing to the ongoing vacancy of refugee lands (Salman Abu Sitta/researcher, Kuwait); and the experience with right of return initiatives in post-Oslo Palestine (Ingrid Jaradat Gassner/BADIL). Social conditions, needs, and demands of Palestinian refugees living in the camps of the Middle East were summarized by the speakers of panel three, based on their work experience with Palestinian refugee grass-roots organizations (Atty Wadie Said; Nahla Ghandour/Ghassan Kanafani Foundation, Lebanon; Khawla Al-Azraq/Women's Counseling Center, Bethlehem; Lamis Andoni, journalist). Panel four featured speakers of activist organizations in the United States - ADC, Arab-American Network, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation (CPRR), who reported about their initiatives and proposals for the defense of Palestinian refugee rights.
The fact that more than one thousand Palestinian, Arab, and US American activists traveled from all over the United States and Canada in order to attend this Conference proves that the Palestinian right of return is an issue of deep concern not only to Palestinians and their supporters in the Middle East, but also in North America. This broad concern, however, must yet be transformed into sustainable action in the framework of a concerted Right of Return Campaign coordinated by activists in the Middle East, the United States and Europe. A preliminary plan of action to be implemented in the United States and Canada was designed in a follow-up meeting of the Boston Conference. This plan of action includes:
3. Organize small groups of lobbyists throughout the United States to identify congress(wo)men and senators with whom they can meet to impress upon them not only the legal rights of refugees, but also the consequences of an unjust solution to the Palestinian refugee question.
4. Meet with and brief journalists for the same purpose (3 above).
5. Organize public events and media coverage of Palestinian refugee rights and demands on certain historically significant dates (e.g. 15 May/Nakba Day; 11 December/UN Resolution 194) - if possible in coordination with activists in the Middle East and Europe.
6. Assist activist organizations in the Middle East in the organization of a regional activist workshop to be held (most likely) in Cyprus.
7. Organize and contribute to a "Return Fund" to support the work of Palestinian grass-roots organizations and return advocacy groups in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.