May 15th, 2013 – In an effort to unite the Palestinian community through adherence to fundamental principles predicated on return and liberation, Palestinian activists and their allies in North America convened on unceded Coast Salish territories at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada from May 3 – 5, 2013.
With the firm belief that Palestinians in the Shatat should be actively engaged and invested in advancing the Palestinian cause as we commemorate 65 years of Nakba, participants discussed various issues, including, among others, accurate and accountable representation, defining the relationship of Palestinians in North America with Palestinians inside Palestine and the refugee camps, and finding methods to confront Zionist settler colonialism inside and outside of Palestine.
According to Khaled Barakat, a member of the organizing committee of the conference, “at a time when the right of return is under attack and Palestinian land is under threat from occupation attacks and so-called ‘land swaps’, the voice of Palestinians in shatat must be raised. The conference is a critical step towards addressing these concerns, and a new forum to engender positive changes in the Palestinian national liberation movement.”
The program of the conference included workshops spanning various topics, such as strengthening Palestinian organizing in the Shatat, Palestinian shatat participation and leadership in the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, forging joint struggles with justice movements in North America, gender and queer issues, combating Zionism and normalization, the centrality of the right of return to Palestinian liberation, discourses on national unity and addressing issues regarding representation and the Shatat’s relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The conference, which featured Palestinian freedom fighter Leila Khaled, who greeted conference attendees for a one-hour presentation via Skype in which she called for Palestinian national unity on the basis of resistance and struggle for return and liberation saluted the Palestinian prisoners in their fight for freedom and liberation, and reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the Palestinian national liberation movement.
Conference participants included members of Idle No More, as well as other longtime indigenous activists; conference participants dined on bannock donated by Indigenous chefs and a Wet’suwet’en drum group introduced Khaled. According to Omar Shaban, director of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at UBC, “it is important to recognize, over and again, that this conference was held on unceded indigenous territory, and that the struggle of the Palestinian people in the Shatat is incomplete without recognizing and joining the struggle of the indigenous people of Canada and the United States.”
Throughout the various discussions which spanned various points of views, political perspectives and diverse ideologies, attendees vowed to continue the conversation on forging a united front against Zionist colonization in Palestine. Conference participants formed a follow-up committee, which will be releasing a proposed action plan for Palestinian mobilization in the North American diaspora in the coming weeks.
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The points of unity of the conference and its follow-up committee are as follows:
May 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, and the 65th year of the ongoing struggle for Palestinian refugees’ return and the liberation of Palestine.
1. The Palestinian people are one people and our cause is one cause. Our objective is to revive the Palestinian national liberation movement and build the national institutions of the Palestinian people based on popular participation and direct democracy, in order to achieve the liberation of the land and people of Palestine and the implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return their homes.
2. The conflict with the settler colonialist state of Israel will only be resolved through the dismantling of the racist settler colonial nature of the state, meaning decolonization from Zionism, in all its forms, social, economic and political.
3. The right of return is the first and foremost step to the exercise of our right to self-determination.
4. Based on history, language, culture and geography, Palestine is an integral part of the Arab world and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation.
5. Palestine is part and parcel of international resistance to colonialism, settler colonialism, imperialism and Zionism. The Palestinian people’s struggle is the struggle of an indigenous population directly connected to national liberation movements around the world facing the same powers, including the struggle of Indigenous peoples of North America, where this conference is taking place.
6. This effort is part of the struggle to achieve the basic right of Palestinians to elect our representatives in a democratic manner, and to overcome all obstacles being placed in front of our people in Palestine and in the shatat. As Palestinians in shatat, we have a right to representation and raise the voice of the shatat in our national liberation movement.
7. Palestinians have the right to resist injustice and occupation in order to achieve the liberation of their land and people.
8. The governments of the United States and Canada are directly responsible for apartheid, colonization and occupation in Palestine, through their diplomatic, political, military and economic support for the state of Israel. We recognize the US and Canada to be settler colonies built on indigenous lands.
9. We have the responsibility to confront the role of the US and Canada, hold the governments of the US and Canada accountable, and to build alliances with oppressed peoples and communities in North America.
10. We recognize the leadership and central role of Palestinian women in the national liberation movement, in this initiative, and in political representation.