Dr. Zahi Damuni spoke in Tampa, Florida to an American audience on October 2. As a Palestinian who lives in California, he focused on a major detail of the peace accords; that of the right of return; but also detailed some of the possible repercussions of statehood.
Most Palestinians enthusiastically applaud the idea of Palestinian statehood; but some have reservations. Publicity regarding the peace accords focuses on a broad picture, that of getting Israel and the Palestinians together for the ultimate goal of peace; but details, often sidelined or unreported, leave people wondering why the two sides canâ€™t work it out. Deadlocked (again), desperate Palestinians appealed to the United Nations. It shook up Israel and the United States; but most Palestinians were elated.
On a lecture tour, Dr. Zahi Damuni spoke in Tampa, Florida to an American audience on October 2. As a Palestinian who lives in California, he spoke about some of the possible repercussions of statehood.
Damuni focused on a major detail of the peace accords; that of the right of return. Palestinians want the same right Jews enjoy; the right to return to the homeland from which they had fled when Israel was created in 1948; and the right of all Palestinian refugees, whether from wars or from land grabs that continue to cause displacement, to return to the lands from which they were evicted.
Damuni spoke about Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC). Al-Awda is the largest network of grassroots activists and students dedicated to Palestinian human rights. Specific emphasis is on the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. Damuni said this basic human right is a major issue in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Born in Kuwait, Dr. Damuni said his family was originally from the village of Damun in Palestine. In 1948, Palestine was partitioned and the Arab village became part of Israel. The Damuni family chose to stay in their village, which then became part of Israel.
As the world rejoiced at the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people, few outsiders were aware of the plight of the indigenous Palestinian people who had lived on the land for centuries. Palestinian villages destroyed, hundreds massacred, three quarter of a million Palestinians fled. With hope of returning soon, they carried only essentials, among them the keys to their houses. Three generations later, those keys have passed on to children and grandchildren. To this day Palestinians and Arabs everywhere commemorate the Nakba (catastrophe). Damuni says there are now 7.2 million Palestinians in forced displacement; 80% in Gaza; and scattered in 80 refugee camps located in neighboring countries. They hold on to the dream of one day returning to the land of their birthright.
Palestinians remain the largest group of people without a country. Rootless, as refugees in the â€œguestâ€ countries to which they fled, they do not enjoy the same rights as citizens. Through peace accords, they ask for the same rights Jews and people in civilized nations everywhere enjoy â€“ the right to return to their homeland.
Dr. Damuni detailed a background of the situation. The roots of Zionism, he stated, believe in pure racism and exclusivity. â€œOnly Jews can live in their biblical homeland, which is Palestine.â€
Damuni outlined three kinds of Palestinian displacement; that of internal displacement, shifting populations within their lands; unrecognized villages, whereby the land is annexed but not the people who are left with no rights; and the removal of a population from an area, such as the present day removal of 30,000 Palestinians from the Negev.
Damuni says that our duty [as Americans] is to get our representatives to stop funding [Israel]. â€œWe are complicit in the abuse of fundamental human rights,â€ he said.
Those with reservations about Palestinian statehood cite these reasons: under occupation by Israel, the state would not actually exist because it has no control of itself. Israeli Arabs who chose to remain in Israel fear that if a Palestinian state is created, they will be told to go to their own homeland in a campaign of â€œethnic cleansing.â€ In addition, the partition into two states prevents reuniting of families who could end up living in different states.
Damuni emphasized that the right of return is the most important consideration of Palestinians. Palestinians ask for the same right as Jews have.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Damuni said that the General Assembly Resolution #194 specifies the right of return for Palestinians. International law and numerous United Nations Resolutions upheld that right over 154 times.
Al-Awda is a non-partisan, grassroots organization coalition committed to educating about the rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands and lands of origin; and to full restitution of confiscated and destroyed property. Under IRS guidelines, donations to PRRC are tax-deductible.