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6 Jul, 2008

US Palestinians Plan Historic Unity Conference

Originally Published: 6 July 2008

Palestinians in the United States are preparing for what they call a historic unity conference in Chicago during the weekend of August 8, 2008, the 60th anniversary of Al-Nakba (the Catastrophe).

“At a moment when the Palestinian community and Palestinian rights are under severe attack, Palestinian community organisers and leaders from around the U.S. have come together to build (this conference),” says the announcement on the website.

It is designed to “empower our community, unify our voice, and affirm the right of Palestinians in the Shatat (exile) to participate fully in shaping our joint destiny.”

It adds, “Grounded in the conviction that Palestinian Americans are morally and politically obliged to be full participants in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and return, the Popular Conference will strive to develop a principled, inclusive, and nonpartisan Palestinian voice in the US.”

The conference will serve as an open arena where individuals and organisations will coordinate and refine strategies, link efforts, plan united actions, and inform one another and the community about their work on behalf of Palestine.

“It will also seek to enhance the effectiveness of Palestine-centered work in the U.S. by exploring ways aimed at reducing the rampant fragmentation which has become synonymous with Palestinian activism in North America.”

The conference has been in the planning stages since June 2006 when a meeting of organisers and activists took place in Detroit. It ended with a general agreement that, despite important successes by U.S.-based activists and groups working on behalf of Palestinian rights, the Palestinians in the U.S. themselves lacked a unified/unifying organising vision and strategy.

The conference is designed primarily to address that.

“We call on our fellow Palestinians and their supporters in the US to join this much-needed effort to unite and maximise the effectiveness of our community,” the organisers say. “It is time for us to transcend the self-destructive fragmentation and inter-organisational animosities that continue to afflict our ranks, taking as our terms of reference the common aspirations of our people, whether in exile or under occupation.”

The response to the conference “has been, for the most part, enthusiastic,” the website says. “Students, youth, workers, housekeepers, artists, and teachers who spearheading this endeavor recognise the imperative of holding a community-wide meeting of Palestinian Americans for the purpose of making our community’s contribution to the Palestinian struggle more effective and united.

“The conference will be an arena for the larger sector of our community to assert its voice for a Free Palestine, and its support of persecuted Palestinians, whether they live in Gaza, Haifa, Nablus, Nazareth, Baghdad, Lebanon, Chicago or Tampa.

“Equally important, the conference will prove wrong those who are urging the Palestinian people to forfeit its legitimate national and human rights due to an unfavorable balance of power.

“Palestinians in the US are doubly obligated to assume a central role in the struggle for a Free Palestine — they constitute one of the most affluent Palestinian communities in the ‘shataat’, and their country of residence, the United States, has been actively engaged in subverting and destroying the Palestinians’ rights, aspirations, and lives.

Palestinian-American organisations, associations, clubs, youth, professionals, workers, artists and writers, as well as individuals residing in the US who support the Palestinian cause plan are being urged to use the conference as a platform “to plant a seed for our future generations to build stronger, more united networks nationally and perhaps internationally that work to bolster our culture, our political goals, and our unity.”

An initial follow-up plan being discussed will involve three facets: 1) creating a website, an organisational structure and initiating a national initiative; 2) developing a process to elect a follow-up coordinating committee; and 3) developing a process to help implement the decisions that organically emerge out of the workshops and caucuses.

Organisers admit that they have a long learning curve ahead of them, and that decisions may have to be reached by consensus rather than by unanimity. But they feel that they can make it work if they “prioritise our unity above all.”

Further details: http://www.palestineconference.org/

In another development, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and other organisations have expressed “concern” about an Associated Press report http://www.abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/wireStory?id=5294541 ) quoting “senior FBI, Justice Department, and U.S. intelligence officials” concerning new Department of Justice guidelines which are slated for implementation later this summer.

The guidelines would allegedly give the FBI authority to “investigate Americans without any evidence of wrongdoing, relying instead on a terrorist profile that could single out Muslims, Arabs or other racial and ethnic groups.”

According to the media reports, race, ethnicity, and “travel to regions of the world known for terrorist activity” are allegedly among the factors to be considered by the FBI when triggering “a national security investigation.”

These tentative guidelines will also allegedly allow “FBI agents to ask open-ended questions about activities of [Muslim-Americans] or Arab-Americans, or investigate them if their jobs and backgrounds match trends that analysts deem suspect.”

Once an investigation is opened, the FBI agents are allegedly “allowed to eavesdrop on phone calls or dig deeply into personal data –such as the content of the phone or e-mail records or bank statements.”

ADC National Executive Director Kareem Shora said, “Our country was founded on solid constitutional principles that protect us from such alleged abuses of power,” said Shora. “While the US Department of Justice and specifically the FBI are working to respond to our concerns, Americans should not tolerate in any way profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. We will continue to address this issue until we can confirm that these new guidelines do not violate our constitutional principles of justice, freedom, due process, and equality under the rule of law.”

AAI President Dr. James Zogby said, “There are millions of Americans who, under the reported new parameters, could become subject to arbitrary and subjective ethnic and religious profiling. This will compromise basic civil liberties and constitutional protections, having an negative impact not only on the affected communities, but on the United States’ overall effort to combat terrorism,” said Zogby.

“We are wary of this administration’s assurances, given their past behavior, and therefore are exploring avenues to ensure that such profiling does not occur. We thank ADC for the leadership that they have demonstrated, and the other organisations in affected communities for their partnership in this matter.”