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This is a call to all Palestinian students in the U.S to partake in the Popular National Palestinian Conference (www.palestineconference.org), scheduled to take place in Chicago August 8-10, 2008.
We, Palestinian students presently active in organizing the Popular Conference, urge our fellow Palestinian students to participate in this historic event. The Popular Conference constitutes a major step towards revitalizing mass-based participation in the struggle to free Palestine, and to fully implement the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes, villages and towns.
Students have been at the forefront of the Palestinian national movement since the beginning of the mandate period. Between 1911 and 1913, a group of students in Cairo established the first Palestinian students association. In 1936, the first Palestinian student conference was held in Jaffa, and was attended by representatives of various schools and had as its main theme confronting the Zionist colonial project in Palestine. In 1956, members of the Palestinian Students Union (PSU), which was founded in Egypt in 1944, joined the underground resistance against Israeli and British occupation troops in Gaza and Sinai. Three years later, representatives of Palestinian student organizations from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq met in Cairo and established the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS).
Palestinian students in the U.S. have always been an integral part of the Palestinian and Arab American student movement, particularly after 1967. Whether through their role in the establishment of key Arab American organizations – e.g. Organization of Arab Students (OAS), the Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG), and the U.S. branch of the General Union of Palestinian Students – or through the hundreds of campaigns and events they organized in support of the 1987 Intifada–e.g. demonstrations, strikes, sisterhood programs between American and Palestinian colleges, and the Academic Freedom Network Conference — members of GUPS constituted the backbone of the Palestinian movement in the United States.
Palestinian students in the U.S. were at the forefront of opposition to Oslo and related agreements, and in support of Al-Aqsa Intifada. More than other sectors of our community, students played a decisive role in creating and consolidating the Right of Return movement in North America. Their indefatigable determination was manifested through the launching of the Awda Coalition, Students for Justice in Palestine, the ISM, and the divestment campaigns. In short, the students of Palestine were, and must continue to be the voice of Palestine in the U.S.
Today, in light of the unremitting attempts to liquidate the Palestinian people’s political existence, Palestinian students in the U.S. are called upon to play a leading role in the efforts to revitalize our community’s shattered national institutions. Palestinians in the U.S., including students, need to assert immediate control over the direction of their struggle. In order to do so, we must first define and clarify, for our own benefit, the political meaning and purpose of the Palestinian community in the U.S. We hope that the Popular Conference will probe into this critical and vexing question.
The Popular Conference must also confront heads on the debilitating fragmentation within the Palestinian movement in the U.S. Together with other sectors of the community, Palestinian students must help put an end to the reciprocal hostility, fragmentation, and sullen egoism that characterize many Palestinian and Arab organizations and groups; to free our communities from the cynicism, fear, and alienation. Only then will we be able to advance the cause of Palestine.
We are well aware of the detrimental effects of fragmentation and disunity on our cause and people. We are embarking on a vicious political battle with the Zionist movement in the U.S. and abroad. To succeed, however, we must mobilize all of the tangible and intangible resources we have at our disposal. One such resource is Palestinian national unity; putting an end to intra-Palestinian American bickering and rebuilding Palestinian popular institutions on transparent and democratic bases are pre-requisites for attaining such unity.
Our role as Palestinian students parallels that of the Popular Conference– to make the work that is being done on behalf of Palestine in the U.S. more effective. The Palestinian American community, particularly students, are obliged to become full participants in the struggle for Palestinian national rights. The conference is a manifestation of the determination by a segment of the Palestinian people in exile, particularly the refugees, to regain control over their political destiny by reasserting their role in the Palestinian national struggle for freedom, return and self-determination.
Likewise, it is our duty and right as students to participate in the national democratic institutions of the Palestinian people. Today, we stand together with fellow Palestinian students in Europe and Latin America to bring about the revival of the General Union of Palestinian Students as a national umbrella for all Palestinian students worldwide.
We have many responsibilities as students – from strengthening our relations with students in Palestine, in the refugee camps, and in exile, to assisting new Palestinian students in the U.S., to supporting our brothers and sisters in Palestine and the camps, to building international Palestine-solidarity committees, to standing in solidarity and building alliances with minority students and communities, to championing the progressive student agenda against tuition hikes and budget cuts, and in support of student and workers’ rights.
Palestinian students have been at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle in the United States. They have taken a leading role in the movement to isolate Israel through the divestment movement. Needless to say, college campuses have been a primary target of Zionists efforts to discredit our cause and struggle. Major national Zionist organizations have poured millions of dollars into student Zionist organizations, such as Hillel and the “Israel Action Committees”. Only through unity that is anchored in an uncompromising commitment to the liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian people; to the right of the refugees to return to their original homes, lands, villages, and towns; and to democratic and transparent forms of organizing would we be able to advance Palestinian rights.
Palestinian students are the face of the Palestinian movement on campuses. As such, we, alongside fellow Arab students, are part and parcel of the progressive student movement in the United States. Therefore, we are pleased to invite all of our friends and allies on all US campuses to attend the popular conference. This is an open atmosphere for organizing and building, and the support and solidarity of our friends and supporters are important at this key time. Please join us in Chicago, August 8-10, 2008, to increase and intensify support for the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.
Now is the time for of us to press on rather than retreat. From cultural events and the celebration of Palestinian culture, to student conferences and organizing in the face of fierce Zionist attacks, to isolating Israel, we have accomplished much in the past eight years. Now is the time to reactivate and rebuild the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), unify our ranks, and organize for a new day of struggle – this is the potential and the promise of the Popular Palestinian Conference.