Sixty Years of the Catastrophe

Exactly one week ago today, Israel marked its 60th anniversary of statehood. For Palestinians, the occasion was no cause for celebration. For them, May 15th is a date with a wholly different historical context for theirs is the history of the vanquished. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was predicated upon the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and land. Last week’s anniversary was a commemoration of the 60th year of Al Nakba or “the catastrophe,” as Palestinians popularly recall the event. Locally in southern California, the Al-Awda: Palestinian Right to Return Coalition held an international convention in Anaheim to mark the occassion. The three day conference, which took place last weekend, featured renowned international speakers, workshops, and film screenings. Nevertheless, sadly no media in Orange County – not the OC Register, not even the OC Weekly – saw the occasion fit for coverage ! Beating them and other local outlets to the punch half a world away was Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly.

The sixth annual international convention of Al-Awda was a tightly organized event! When I arrived for the second day on Saturday, Saree Makdisi was addressing the crowd as part of the morning speakers. Embattled during the question and answer period, he tried to explain that his position on a one state solution did not mean that the one state would be Israeli, or for that matter non-Palestinian and that the pathway of struggle would not be one of protesting for equal and civil rights within a Zionist state; a blatant impossibility. To see Makdisi challenged by the audience really underscores the contentiousness of this political question.

Saree Makdisi’s address was followed by Dr. Ghada Karmi. She spoke eloquently about a one-state solution and branched off from the philosophical question of its rightness to the pragmatic strategies of its implementation. The addresses that followed the lunch break were the most entertaining of the day. Haneen Zoabi spoke of women and Palestinian resistance and the Angry Arab As’ad Abu Khalil gave a stirring speech about his reflections on the 60th year of Al Nakba. All the conventions speakers, in advocating for a secular one state solution, illustrates how the Israeli “swiss cheese” occupation of the West Bank and Gaza have made any notion of a two state solution, however unjust the underlying premise, an impossibility to even philosophically consider anymore.

The weekend convention culminated in a march and rally on Sunday calling for the end of the occupation. A crowd of about 150 demonstrators took to Brookhurst Street in Anaheim’s Little Arabia district in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians struggling in the occupied territories. Caravans arrived from the hotel where the Al-Awda convention was held and speakers rallied for Palestinian liberation and the right to return. The blazing sun deterred no one’s determination to express themselves in what was the only major Southern California event to mark Al Nakba. Unfortunately, this rally, much like the amazing convention before it was not seen as fit to be newsworthy as I saw no major news media outlets nor local ones on site. Nevertheless, the righteousness of the chants of “Free Palestine,” encouraged people passing by to honk their horns in agreement that no people should be living in a state worse than apartheid in the twenty-first century. Onward to the liberation of the Palestinian people! Long live the right of return!

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