Al-Awda’s 10th Annual International Convention

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right To Return Coalition convened its very successful 10th Annual International Convention recently between September 7-9, 2012 with the theme Strategies for the Return.

As one of the founders of this great and genuine organization this is always an exciting time of year for me. After over 6 hours of flying time which included a stop on the way to California I landed at San Diego Airport and was picked up by one of my colleague’s and almost immediately headed to LAX Airport in Los Angeles to pick up international artist and guest of honor Marcel Khalife which was 2 hours of driving distance. The nice part of California is everything seems like a straight shot so it makes long distance driving a bit more bearable. Anyone who organizes Palestinian events knows there’s no time for jet lag during functions like this it’s on the go the entire time catching up on last minute details for the event.

The next day Friday, September 7 Al-Awda’s Convention kicked off at the Al-Awda National Center with a meet and greet of many activists from around the country with a list of exceptional speakers. Zahi Damuni from the host committee Al-Awda San Diego started off with a welcoming speech to everyone in attendance and tied in the importance of supporting Al-Awda which unconditionally supports the right of return of Palestinian refugees from the river to the sea.

Soon after solidarity messages came from the Latino and Philippine community in California amongst others. Professor Daoud Assad from the Washington, DC metro area gave his talk on the water situation in Palestine and the long term affects it has on the Palestinian people with its dangerous contamination. The details involved caught people’s attention as this topic is rarely heard of even amongst pro Palestinian crowds. The opening night to the convention came to a close with the great talk and discussion lead by Al-Awda’s own Jess Ghannam from the San Francisco Bay area. The topic was about the Arab Spring from Tunisia to Syria and how it affects Palestine and its refugees in the Arab region. Intrinsic details about Syria were discussed by Jess and people in attendance which included members of the Syrian community and one notable activist Mazen al Mokoudad a leading member of the Syrian community in California and a very dedicated Al-Awda coordinating committee member and pro Palestine activist.

Day 2 of Al-Awda’s Convention and main Banquet night with Marcel Khalife started off during the day with a student summit spearheaded by Al-Awda San Diego representative Lorain Rihan who also heads San Diego State University (SDSU) Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. Many of the students present in the summit were members of SJP and other orgs in their respective colleges/universities. The discussions were very interesting ranging from pro Palestine groups being harassed by school administrators for their roles in supporting Palestine activism and whether or not to engage dialogues with Zionist organizations on campus. There was a resounding sentiment of not normalizing with proponents of Zionist based groups. It was great seeing the high visibility of students at the convention supporting Al-Awda’s work.

The main day also included a hot debate about the Palestine National Council’s proposed election process which includes Palestinians in the diaspora. The debate consisted of two speakers Dr. Jamal Nassar and Dr. Zahi Damuni both from California which included a discussion with the convention attendees. Jamal Nassar was making an argument for the PNC elections as Zahi Damuni was against. Both speakers were convinced about their views and different opinions were also heard from the crowd. Very good arguments were made on both sides however the voices in the crowd seemed overwhelmingly critical of the PNC leading them to believe that the election process would not work.

Great speakers spoke throughout the evening like Allison Weir Executive Director of ifamericansknew.org who is always a pleasure to listen to due to the hard hitting statistics involved in her presentations which was well received. Other solidarity speakers were present as well like John Parker from the International Action Center and Larry Christian.

Al-Awda’s Amani Barakat headed the Award ceremony for Rachel Corrie’s parents who Skyped us live at the convention directly from Haifa, Palestine. They were eager and enthused about being heard during Al-Awda’s Landmark 10th Annual Convention. After they gave their moving accounts about their daughter the martyr Rachel Corrie’s recent trial they received a standing ovation by the hundreds in attendance at the convention.

After a long and productive day at Al-Awda’s convention it was time for the magnificent international artist and guest of honor Marcel Khalife to perform for the hundreds in attendance at the main Al-Awda Convention Banquet. The emcees and large crowd cheered him on and welcomed him to the stage for his grand performance. Marcel started off with a few heart warming words for his love of the Palestinian Cause and by saying he was “One of the millions around the world who loves Palestine.” He started off by playing the very popular song Oummi which was special requested by the participants in the convention and he played a few Palestinian songs that included 3lal Hodood (At the borders). The mood was very high and energetic throughout his performance. The enthusiastic crowd sang along with the maestro and his wonderful Oud instrument. It was an honor to sing along with the man who pays tribute and carries the words of Palestinian National Poet Mahmoud Darwish. It was a night to remember a night to cherish with the ever humble Marcel Khalife. The night concluded with Palestinian chants requested by activists across the room and echoes of Free Palestine, Long Live Palestine were chanted and repeated numerous times ending the convention Palestinian style a vow to liberate Palestine from the river to the sea!

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