•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

‘U.S. is where things have to change’

Published May 4, 2005 4:41 PM

The following interview was conducted April 27 by Adrian Garcia of the Los Angeles chapter of Workers World Party with Zahi Damuni, member of Al-Awda’s executive and coordinating committees and director of its San Diego Chapter. Damuni has been at the forefront of the struggle to have the Palestinian resistance recognized in the anti-war movement in San Diego.

Workers World: When and why was Al-Awda established?

Zahi Damuni: Al-Awda was established in April 2000 in response to the Camp David Accords which had ignored the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Palestinians were nervous about the implications of the Camp David Accords and we mobilized. The day after the anniversary of the Deir Yassin Massacre, April 13, 2000, the Trans Arab Research Institute held a conference in Boston. This concerted, coordinated conference was the first major event to focus on the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

WW: Could you describe the significance of the Deir Yassin massacre?

ZD: The Deir Yassin Massacre occurred April 12, 1948, creating the first wave of Palestinian refugees. The massacre was orchestrated by the Irgun, which was headed by Menachim Begin, later Israel’s prime minister. It was also the establishment of the occupation of Palestinian lands.

WW: Some Palestinian critics claimed that Arafat and the Palestinians who negotiated the Camp David Accords were pro mised everything and walked away from it. What is your response to this claim?

ZD: Well, its nonsense. Why would anyone walk away from everything? Israeli Prime Minister Barak laid claim to portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel would also maintain control of Palestinian borders, airspace, ports, post offices and roads. How can a state be considered sovereign when it does not control such important aspects? Worst of all, the right of return for refugees was dismissed altogether.

WW: What is the approximate number of refugees around the world?

ZD: There are between 5 million and 8 million refugees, 3.5 million of which are registered with the United Nations.

WW: What are the legal aspects for the right of return of Palestinian refugees?

ZD: International law guarantees the inalienable, fundamental and legal right of return for refugees. Article 13 of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights specifically addresses the right of refugees to return to their homeland. Resolution 194 of 1948 set a precondition for respecting the right of return for Israel’s acceptance into the UN. It is reaffirmed every year with Israel and the U.S. voting against it.

WW: One of Israel’s reasons for ignoring the right of return issue has been the supposed impossibility of settling the large numbers of refugees without disturbing Israeli Jews. How do you respond to this claim?

ZD: There are demographic studies that refute Israel’s claims and report that the vast majority of the Israeli population lives on 15 percent of the land. The rest is sparsely distributed on land that belongs to refugees. Let’s also consider the countless numbers of immigrants that Israel encourages from around the world to settle on occupied land.

WW: Can you describe the role the United States plays in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians?

ZD: Well, the U.S. is the prime source of funds and weapons to keep the Palestinians subdued. The U.S. is where things have to change. It is important to note that the U.S. has provided $1.5 million a day to Israel since 1967. That money could build a hospital a day, 100 homes a day. Instead the money is used to oppress and rule the Palestinians and to commit ethnic cleansing.

WW: Describe the April 15-17 Al-Awda Conference in Los Angeles.

ZD: There were about 30 community and solidarity organizations present at the conference with hundreds of participants.

WW: Why was Los Angeles chose as the venue for this year’s conference?

ZD: Our goal is to empower communities and Los Angeles has especially large Palestinian and Arab communities. We intend on building strong solidarity in the struggle to recognize the right of return.

WW: What decisions were made or programs proposed at the conference that you believe will strengthen the Palestinian cause?

ZD: The campaign for the right of return of Palestinian refugees continues to be at the forefront. Al-Awda has achieved recognition of the right of return in the major media with at least 3,000 letters and countless articles being published in major publications. We also discussed national and local rallies as a continued effective tool for getting our message out.

Al-Awda also has a charitable aspect. We have raised funds for refugees in Lebanon, Iraq and Haifa. One project specifically addressed was the linking of Palestinian political prisoners with Palestinian refugees. Addameer, a political prisoner organization, has been working to incorporate both issues. We believe the two struggles are one and the same.