WASHINGTON, D.C. Sept. 16--A crowd of some 4,000 turned out for a rally in front of the White House this past Saturday to support the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland.
Clad in bright "Right to Return" t-shirts, participants carried banners and chanted "No return, no peace!" and "Barak, Barak you should go, to Palestine we will go!"
The event, organized by the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition (PRCC), began around 11 a.m. at Freedom Park Plaza near the Capitol. Protesters then marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, and to Lafayette Park in front of the White House.
Over 150 organizations sponsored or endorsed the rally. Similar events were held in London and refugee camps in Palestine.
Organizers said the date marked the deadline set by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for coming to a final agreement and also the anniversary of the 1982 massacre at the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
Palestinians are the largest refugee group, numbering around 800,000. Organizers said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International law and UN Resolution, 194 support a Palestinian right of return.
"Palestinian refugees are staunchly rejecting displacement...the right to return is a matter of life and death, not only for refugees but for all of Palestine," said Palestinian Legislative Councilman Abdul-Jawad Saleh in his speech at the rally.
Several political leaders also shared solidarity with the cause. Congressman David Bonoir (D-MI) sent a statement, in which he said, "Refugees cannot be forgotten. Just as Israeli law allows all Jews to return to Israel, the same should be for Palestine."
Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader sent a message that advocated civilian control of foreign policy. "There will be no justice until there is change in American leadership," read Nader's designee.
Interfaith and human rights leaders also spoke. "There are Jews like me, who are anti-Zionist who don't believe in a religious state. We all suffer, our [Jewish] suffering is not greater than any others'," said Barbara Lubin of the Middle East Children's Alliance.
Representatives from the Muslim community also participated in the event. Imam Abdul Aleem Musa of Masjid Al-Islam in Southeast Washington D.C. spoke about the duty for Muslims to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with everyone as they fight for a common cause.
Nihad Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American Islaimic Relations, urged the crowd to reeducate the media about the Palestinian conflict and take action. "No government, individual or nation has a right to sign away any inch of Palestine," declared Awad.
For many at the rally, it was a time to deliver a neglected message and raise awareness. Laila Al-Arin, a Palestinian-American attending Georgetown University, felt the issue was revitalized. "The American public needs to know the Palestinian point of view of the issue. The right to return isn't mentioned much in the media," Al-Arin said. She added that the rally acts as a means to get sympathy and public outcry for an issue that has been going on longer than 52 years.
(Nafeesa Syeed is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C.)