Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right To Return Convention

Several hundred people attended the Third Annual International Al-Awda Convention at UCLA this weekend. It was a working convention, fleshing out plans for the coming year, and the attendees were hard core organizers from across the US and the world.

Many of course were Palestinian. Some still live there. Others spent years in jail for their organizing. Currently in Israel, if a fifteen year old throws a rock at a tank, he may well get 1-2 years in prison. However, Israel needs no proof or trial to jail someone. It’s called Administrative Detention, and last for six months. You aren’t charged with anything, and at the end of the six months, they can and often do keep you for six more months. Does this sound like a democracy to you?

Right of Return means Palestinians have the right to return to the land and villages that were taken from them and to have damages paid. Jews of course have a complete right of return to Israel. If their mother was Jewish, they can immigrate to Israel and be granted full citizenship. But Palestinians, many of whom have been in refugee camps for years if not decades after being forced off their land are granted nothing.

One lawyer, born in Palestine and now a full US citizen, described how US customs agents recently demanded she turn over information to them or face prison, then said they hoped her health didn’t take a turn for the worse. Sieg Heil.

Opposing the extremist policies of George Bush does not make one anti-Christian. In the same way, opposing Zionism does not make one anti-Semitic. There were quite a few Jews in attendance and at least one “Jews against the Occupation” t-shirt. It’s not about religion. It’s about the imperial policies of the US which need Israel as their foothold in the Middle East. However Palestinians are blocking that. They aren’t going away, and just in the past few years opinion, even in the US, has been shifting their way. Their struggle has been heroic and inspirational.

I podcasted American Indian Movement spokesperson Vernon Bellecourt’s speech to the convention. Don’t miss it. “We Indians know all about biological warfare. They gave us smallpox blankets.”