Take us to your leader®. Then take us to your reader®.
How it works? [Click here]
Who we are
Our Agenda

Latest News
Good & Bad News

101 Palestinian History
Link & Resources
The Valley Galleria
nileMedia Reader

Join US
Contact Us

April 9, 2001
The Right of Return Rally

by Ali Abunimah


The New York right of return rally
April 8, 2001

The April 7 march in New York City for the Palestinian right of return was well-attended and fairly widely covered by the media. By my extremely unscientific estimate at least 5,000 people marched and rallied, and very possibly more.

The sheer diversity of the people attending the march was impressive--they came from every region of the country, every age, many religions, every color. Among the loudest and most joyful was a strong contingent of Puerto Ricans dancing and singing "Puerto Rico, Viva Viva, Palestina, Viva Viva!" They were carrying banners demanding an end to the U.S. bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

When I arrived at the first rallying point (42nd and Second Avenue) at around noon, more than a thousand people were already there. The police had set up barricades providing a section of Second Avenue for the marchers to rally in which was two lanes wide and about four or five blocks long. As buses arrived, the area within the barricades quickly filled. It was great to meet the buses from Chicago and to be able to welcome the bleary-eyed folks who had ridden overnight from Chicago, and who got straight off the buses and began to sing and chant with energy that rivalled and sometimes surpassed the Puerto Ricans.

After rallying and listening to speeches until about 1.45, the massive gathering made its way down Second Avenue, almost thirty blocks to Union Square. The mood throughout the march was joyous, as young and old, chanted, chatted, danced or just walked quietly in procession.

The most amusing and powerful sight was the two women wearing a giant cardboard model of an Israeli tank. The tank reared around menacingly, its turret flaring paper flames, as the two women's helmeted heads stuck through the top of the tank as if they were the commanders. Young people performing a street skit danced around the tank PRETENDING to throw rocks at it (No real rocks were thrown, contrary to what one of the press articles suggests.) Behind the tank a man on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam followed the tank carrying a sign saying "Your Tax Money at Work." In front a giant street puppet of a Palestinian refugee moved gracefully down Second Avenue.

The rally at Union Square was a chance for friends from around the country to sit and chat, buy books and T-shirts, take pictures and of course listen to the speeches, including a powerful and moving address by Edward Said among many others. Once the speeches were over, musicians played. Many stayed to dance, as slowly the crowd began to melt away after a long, exhausting and exhilirating day.

The media coverage of the rally was fairly good. As one of the designated media spokespersons, I gave interviews to Reuters television in English and Arabic, and to numerous local TV and radio stations. Later we saw the rally extensively reported on NY1, New York's 24-hour cable news station, which showed clips of Rania Masri among other speakers and a soundbite of me talking to the camera. Other local TV channels were there, but I did not see the reports myself. Local news radio including WCBS and 1010 WINS also carried reports. Many of us gave interviews to independent and smaller radio stations, filmakers and media who were at the rally in force.

Below are two press reports from The New York Daily News and Newsday. Unfortunately it does not seem that The New York Times covered the march, but that was not an enormous surprise.

From the viewpoint of a person in the crowd, the march organizers did an amazing job logistically setting up and moving sound equipment, keeping things running (very close!) to schedule and marshalling such a large crowd.

New York City is renowned as a bastion of support for Israel, but yesterday for a few hours, the streets belonged to Palestine, and to freedom.

Ali Abunimah

Thousands Protest, Demand Palestinians be given homeland
By Suzanne Rozbeda and Greg Gittrich
Daily News (8 April 2001)

Middle East tensions spilled out on the streets of Manhattan's East Side yesterday as thousands of protesters rallied outside the Israeli Consulate to demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their homes in Israeli-occupied lands.

Waving posters with images of bloodied children and screaming words of protest in English and Arabic, Palestinian New Yorkers and supporters called on the U.S. to stop all funding to Israel and fight for the return of all refugees to their homeland.

"International law stipulates that we have the right to return," said Arjan El-Fassed, co-founder of Al-Awda, the Palestinian coalition that called the protest.

"I don't think U.S. taxpayers want to pay Israel to continue to kill children."

The crowd, unofficially estimated at 5,000, began assembling outside the Israeli Consulate on 42nd St. and Second Ave. in the late morning and soon stretched more than three blocks.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the throng ^ packed with children and teenagers ^ marched to Union Square, where they listened to a passionate speech from Palestinian scholar Edward Said.

"This is a battle against an imperialist colonial power," Said said, winning a roar from the crowd. "This is not Palestinian violence. This is Palestinian resistance."

Many of the protesters, some of whom came from as far away as San Francisco, carried placards with anti-Israeli slogans including "USA: Stop Funding Israeli Terrorism," "Down with Israel" and "Zionism = Racism."

Before reaching Union Square, protesters wearing masks threw stones at a green cardboard representation of an Israeli tank.

Traffic was tied up along the route, but police reported no arrests, despite a few heated arguments between the demonstrators and a handful of Israeli supporters.

"The U.S. is just on the brink of understanding what is going on," said Palestinian refugee Reen Abu Sbaih, 29. "People don't see the human side of Palestinians. We want freedom. We want justice."

The insistence that Palestinian refugees who fled Israel when it was created in 1948 be allowed to return is one of many longstanding issues that persistently stoke violence in the Middle East.

The refugees and their descendants are spread out in camps across the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

The Israeli Consulate was closed for the day, and its officials could not be reached. But Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) blamed Palestinian leaders for the many failed attempts at peace in the Middle East.

Similar pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held yesterday in Canadian, Australian, Spanish and Palestinian cities.

With Michael O. Allen

Arab-Americans Find Focus, Voice in Politics by Carleste Hughes Staff Writer
04/08/2001 - Sunday - Page A 4

Afaf Sulieman had been working contentedly for 10 years as a pharmacist outside of Philadelphia when she abruptly decided to throw her money and her heart into law school at Temple University.

The daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother who came to the United States when she was 4, Sulieman, 38, who now lives in Astoria, never thought of becoming a lawyer until she volunteered at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee chapter in Philadelphia.

There, she learned of a law that allows the U.S. government to hold non-citizen suspects for indefinite amounts of time without making public the evidence-or, in some cases, the charges-against them. The secret evidence law, as it is known, was passed in 1996, and while many legal experts say it violates individual constitutional rights, it has not been overturned or rescinded.

Sulieman was outraged.

"They're arrests without charges," she said. "This is what got my attention, and I was driven that I need to get in the system and work within the system so these sorts of things don't happen." Yesterday, on the first day of the Jewish Passover holiday, Sulieman stood among hundreds of people shouting loudly as they marched from the Israeli mission at 43rd Street and Second Avenue to Union Square at 14th Street, calling for the right-of-return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, a concept the United Nations has supported in numerous resolutions.

Sulieman's transformation from pharmacist to activist and the turnout at yesterday's rally are, respectively, individual and collective examples of the swelling political voice and organization of Arab-Americans in the city.

The rally was organized by Al-Awda, which means "the return" in Arabic, a group composed primarily of young adults and students. Sulieman is an Al-Awda member and also has joined the Palestinian National Alliance, a group of Palestinian New Yorkers that was founded two months ago.

"We've initiated teach-ins," Sulieman said. "We don't only demonstrate;we do a media watch. We do write letters and address the media if we feel the facts are being left out." The groups are lobbying the state's Congressional delegation, "trying to get our voice out in a more organized manner than we have in the past, to let the U.S. congressmen know we are here," Sulieman said.

Arab-Americans are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the country. They play active roles in the politics of such states as Michigan, California and Virginia. But in New York state, with its large Jewish population and pro-Israel sentiment, they face obstacles of substance and image in making themselves heard.

Since the fall, political analysts and activists say, their growing passions have been stirred by ongoing bloodshed and strife in the Gaza Strip and by the October bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and the subsequent anti-Arab backlash that many say reared its head stateside. Also, then-U.S.

Rep. Rick Lazio (R-Brightwaters), in his unsuccessful race against Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate, inaccurately linked American Muslim leaders and groups to violence in the Middle East, sparking outrage from Arab-American shopkeepers in Brooklyn and wealthy, suburban Arabs alike.

Amid such controversy, David Nassar, a national field director for the Arab American Institute based in Washington, D.C., was in charge of trying to get Arab-American delegates elected to the state Democratic and Republican conventions and turning out the vote in the fall presidential election.

"There's a lot more political sophistication in the Arab-American political movement that didn't exist in the early '80s," Nassar said.

In terms of party affiliation, Arab-Americans are not overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican, according to analysts from the Arab American Institute. They vote on the basis of key issues such as racial profiling or the use of secret evidence in federal terrorism trials. And they have no compunction about breaking with party affiliation to support a politician who has shown sympathy for their issues.

In the 2000 election, 48 percent of Arab-Americans voted Republican, 38 percent voted Democratic and 22 percent were independent, the institute's analysis showed. "A large portion of the Arab-American population is still relatively new," Nassar said. "That would explain their Democratic leanings on domestic issues.

But most Arab-Americans believe the Democratic Party has been too lenient toward Israel and this accounts for the large independent vote." While significant numbers of Arab-Americans in the New York area, like others, benefited from the booming economy of recent years, their political influence has not increased proportionally, activists say.

There are an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Arab-Americans in New York State, according to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, based in Washington, D.C.

Yet, as Abdeen Jabara, a Brooklyn lawyer who is a former president of the group, pointed out, Arabs still represent less than 3 percent of all immigrants coming to the United States.

Sulieman, now an attorney with a Manhattan pharmaceutical firm, works in an environment traditionally dominated by Jews and Christians. Even there, she has made her mark as an activist for Arab-American concerns.

The company, whose top partners are Jewish, had a vacation policy that stipulated certain days the business was closed and then gave employees several optional holiday days. Those days fell only on Jewish or Christian religious holidays, Sulieman said, so employees who were Muslim or of another religious faith did not have an equal chance to observe their holidays.

Sulieman complained to her supervisors. As a result, the firm changed its practice and added two or three secular holidays available to everyone. For religious holidays of choice, the company mandates that employees take vacation days.

"They issued a statement to all employees in writing saying the firm does not associate itself with any particular religion. That was, in a sense, indirectly activism," Sulieman said. "I'm very happy about that."