‘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
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
WW: Could you describe the significance of the Deir Yassin
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?
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
WW: What are the legal aspects for the right of return of
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
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
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
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
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.
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