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Palestine, We Will Go Home

By Hatem Abudayyeh

Washington, D.C. Chants of “No return, no peace!” filled Lafayette Park, Sep16, as over 4500 demonstrators demanded the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land they were forced from in 1948. As the protesters marched from Freedom Plaza to this park overlooking the White House, organizers marveled at the largest mobilization of Arab demonstrators since the Gulf War.

“It's the basic human right of people to go back to their homeland,” said Palestinian Legislative Council member Abdel Jawad Saleh, who spoke at the rally. “I want to tell them [world leaders] that conceding the right of return will make any future peace agreement a transitional truce.”

Terrorist gangs of Zionists, holding the racist view of a country exclusively for Jews, forced 800,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Many Palestinians who refused to leave were massacred, including thousands from the villages of Deir Yassin and Tantura.

Exiled Palestinians found themselves in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. One of the survivors of the massacre at Deir Yassin, Imad ad-Dean Ahmad, lamented the death of his relatives in a folk song he performed at the rally.

Sponsored by the Palestine Right of Return Coalition, the rally's date coincided with the 18th anniversary of the Israeli-supported massacre at Sabra and Shatilla, two refugee camps near Beirut, Lebanon. More than 2000 Palestinian civilians living in these camps were killed during an Israeli invasion in 1982.

Buses and caravans brought protesters from all over the U.S., including Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New Jersey. Many more traveled by plane from as far as Oregon and California. Joining the rally in solidarity with the Palestinians were hundreds of other Arabs, North American Christians, non-Arab Muslims, and Jews.

A youth delegation of college and high school students joined adults at the demonstration. Fatimah Ismail, a 17 year-old Palestinian-American and a youth organizer with the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network, admitted that she “knew nothing of Palestinian refugees” until she took part in the Arab Youth Leadership Academy this past summer. In this academy, Ismail heard the story a young girl from Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem. This girl, Manar, who also spoke at the rally, thanked supporters, and asked to be allowed to “return to [her] father's home in Palestine.”

Although the status of Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip dominates the negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, participants at the rally insist that a comprehensive peace agreement is impossible without the right of return. “I would go back even if they put me in a cage,” an impassioned elderly man said through an interpreter.

Hatem Abudayyeh is Youth Program Director, Arab American Action Network Chicago, IL

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