US Palestinians converging to help shape homeland’s future

When activists from across the United States convened in August 2008 for the US Palestinian Community Network’s first Popular Conference, few people knew what to expect. The energy at the conference was palpable as organizations, individuals and families from our communities across the country, as well as solidarity forces allied with our cause, came together to participate in healthy discussions, necessary debates and to study our victories and failures to help strengthen the ongoing movement to realize justice in Palestine.

This weekend in Chicago, the second Popular Conference for Arabs and Palestinians in the US ( promises to continue to push our movement forward. After more than six decades of colonization, forced dispossession, home demolitions, occupation and apartheid, Palestinians remain steadfast in their refutation of the Israeli assertion that “The old will die, and the young will soon forget.” Students, youth, elders, women, men, professionals, artists and workers will convene in order to continue to build strong institutions that represent all Palestinian and Arab social sectors. Through these institutions, the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) continues to develop a representative national body of Palestinians and Arabs capable of and empowered to unify our voice and affirm the right of the Palestinians in exile to participate fully in shaping Palestine’s future.

This conference has dozens of leading Palestinian and Arab grassroots organizers, activists and educators leading workshops and panel discussions. It includes tracks and Palestinian Movement Assemblies (PMAs) for women, civil and national rights, and students and youth, respectively; as well as a focus on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) organizing and the institutionalization of our work. These will culminate in a participatory General Assembly, in which a USPCN plan of action for the next period will be drafted.

In an effort to create an environment that encourages conference participants to explore and celebrate the Arab and Palestinian culture, the conference also features an evening of music and song with the world-renowned Marcel Khalife, poetry from Tahani Salah, hip-hop from Excentrik, a bazaar with merchandise and literature from and about Palestine, and a children’s track with educational activities and a performance by the Olive Tree Circus. We will also hear from Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset and survivor of the vicious Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara, and Ghassan Ben Jiddo will broadcast Al-Jazeera’s Hiwar Maftuh (Open Dialogue) live from the conference.

USPCN realizes that there are elements of our community who desire to separate — politically and physically — Palestinians in the West Bank from those living everywhere else. Such an attempt represents a betrayal of the Palestine liberation movement, the Arab national struggle and the trust of millions of Palestinian refugees anxiously awaiting the opportunity to return to their homeland freely. “Peace” negotiations that exclude not only specific Palestinian political parties, but also the voice of the majority of our people, have always failed, and will continue to fail as long as such talks undermine Palestinian unity by propping up an undemocratic Palestinian Authority that works virtually at the behest of Israel. This year’s slogan — Palestine: One Land. One People. One Destiny — challenges us to recognize that our organizing in the US is essential in achieving the Right of Return for all refugees and their descendants, the end of Israeli occupation and colonization and self-determination and liberty for the Palestinian people.

Andrew Dalack is a graduate of the University of Michigan and is on the coordinating committee of USPCN.