Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 May 2008
Issue No. 897
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Because it is our right

Anayat Durrani outlines plans to mourn 60 years of tragedy

Sixty years on
against the occupiers wishes
We Exist
sons and daughters
of Ramleh, Haifa, Nasira
Jimzu, Imwas, Deir Yassin
We Remember
the villages destroyed
towns stripped of Arab names
manufactured, renamed, disguised
our homes filled with Palestinian memories
painted over with foreign colors
a bridal shop in Ramleh
selling strangers their happy dreams
in my house on our land
the house great grandfather Ali built
We Continue
We will always continue
Because the land longs for us
Because we long for the land
Because home is a Right
Because it is our Right
We Exist
Because We
We will not stop
Until Return.

-- Aida Hasan

Nearly 30 organisations will host the Sixth Annual International Al-Awda Convention to Mark 60 Years of Palestinian Exile and Occupation. "The 60th Year of Nakba [catastrophe] and Struggle to Return" is set to take place 16-18 May in Anaheim, California. The convention will culminate with a mass rally and march in solidarity with Palestinians in the homeland and around the world.

"It's an important weekend of commemoration, education, discussion and organising in this 60th year of our Palestinian Arab Nakba and struggle to return," said Zahi Damuni, a founder of Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) and organiser of the convention.

The highly anticipated convention is scheduled to have several prominent speakers from Palestine and notable guests from England and the United States. Speakers from Palestine include Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, the supreme judge of the Sharia courts in Palestine, head of the highest council of Sharia jurisdiction, and vocal advocate of the Palestinian Right to Return. Also scheduled to appear is Archbishop Theodosios "Atallah" Hanna, Archbishop of Sevastia, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who is an outspoken activist for peace and justice in the Middle East and the Palestinian Right to Return.

The focus of this year's convention, organisers said, would be on "education that leads to strategies and mechanisms for expanding the effectiveness of our advocacy for the return." The convention will have discussions, workshops, exhibits, book signings, film showings, presentations, and activist networking, among other scheduled activities.

"This is the most important Al-Awda convention to date," said Damuni. "It's coming at an especially critical time when Palestinians and their right to return are under severe attack."

Salman Abu Sitta will be a keynote speaker at the convention and will present "Recollections of the Nakba". Abu Sitta serves as general coordinator of the Right of Return Congress, and is founder and president of the Palestine Land Society, London. He is a foremost expert on the plight of the Palestinian refugees and their right of return.

The convention also will hold a special book signing featuring Abu Sitta, author of The Return Journey. Other guest speakers include Saree Makdisi, author of the upcoming Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, Ramzy Baroud, author of The Second Intifada, Ghada Karmi, author of Married to Another Man: Israel's Dilemma in Palestine and In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story, and Ilan Pappe, author of Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Invited guests will give detailed accounts of Palestinian history from the perspective of those who have lived through and continue to suffer from the Nakba. The three-day convention will highlight the importance of implementing the unconditional right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

In 1948 Zionist gangs and Israeli military destroyed villages and towns in Palestine killing hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children in their path. Some 750,000 Palestinians dispersed to neighbouring Arab countries and live as refugees. New Israeli towns were built atop the ruins of Palestinian towns. Palestinians continue to live in forced exile worldwide and as displaced refugees in camps in occupied Palestine.

During the opening of the Al-Awda Convention, organisers plan to show a documentary film The Sons of Eilaboun by Hisham Zreik. The film details the atrocities carried out in the small village of northern Galilee in Palestine in 1948 where Zionists executed their notorious Plan Dalet on the Palestinians. Through the words of the actual survivors the film documents the massacre committed by the Zionists at Eilaboun.

"He choked and his eyes were full of tears, and with a trembling voice he said 'I remember it as if it has just happened' -- this is the way he ended the story, the story of a nine-year-old boy from a small village called Eilaboun, in Palestine 1948, the story of my father, when he was a refugee," explains filmmaker Hisham Zreik.

The film will be followed by a discussion of Zionist policies that have been in place since 1948. The Sons of Eilaboun has been screened in Nazareth, Eilaboun, Akka and Haifa, and will be screened in Ramallah in the Awda Festival where it is expected to receive an award, according to organisers.

On the 60th year of the Nakba, Al-Awda PRRC will be debuting the first ever Video Quilt. The Video Quilt stitches together voices of Palestinians dispersed throughout the world expressing their unending commitment to return to their homeland: "I am a Palestinian. We still hold the key and deed to our home in Lyd. We will return!" The Video Quilt also has submissions from those who sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians, "I am a supporter of human rights and I want to see the Palestinian refugees return home." The Video Quilt will be shown online and at various exhibits and venues following the convention.

Through the years there has been much effort to muffle the voice of Palestinians and their supporters, explained Alia Hasan, who initiated the Video Quilt project. Hasan said the Video Quilt was a way to draw attention to all the support around the world and to the refugees scattered around the world who have remained committed to one day returning home. Palestinian refugees are the largest refugee population in the world today.

"We wanted to do something that anybody could contribute to -- a more collective project -- that was simply about gathering all the voices that are fighting for the return," said Hasan. "When you see just a sample of the variety of people that support this cause from all over the world, the return to Palestine seems near."

The convention will also feature many other events such as a Gallery of Art by Ismail Shammout and Tamam Al-Akhal. There will be the "Waiting to Return Exhibit" from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon by Naim Farhat and organised by Fayeq Oweis. It is a photographic exhibit of 60 years of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The convention will also feature a cultural presentation on "Palestinian Embroidery" by Nisreen Malhis and several film showings.

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