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Posted: September 11, 2000http://www.dailystar.com.lb/features/07_09_00_c.htm

Daily Star (Beirut)
7 September 2000

US rally to highlight Palestinian right to return

Timothy Homan
Special to The Daily Star

In a bid to bolster international and US support for the right of Palestinian
refugees to return to their homeland, a mass rally is scheduled to take place
in Washington on Sept. 16, three days after the proposed deadline for declaring
Palestinian statehood.

“We’re hoping to have 3,000 people at the rally,” said Maha Ayoub,
a rally organizer and member of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC),
which is organizing the event. The date of the protest recognizes the anniversary
of the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982, when an estimated 2,000 Palestinian
refugees were killed.

The march will begin at the US Capitol building, continue along Pennsylvania
Avenue, and conclude at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House,
where protesters will be addressed by prominent speakers including former South
African President Nelson Mandela and Columbia University Professor Edward Said,
a prominent Palestinian-American intellectual. Musician Marcel Khalife will
also be on hand to perform.

A similar rally will take place in London the following day. Established last
April, the PRRC is an association of grassroots activists and leaders from more
than 50 organizations working for international human rights.

The PRRC platform requests that “ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
cease and that Palestinian refugees expelled from their towns and villages in
1948 and afterward be allowed to return home.”

According to the UN, there are 3.7 million registered Palestinian refugees,
with an estimated 1.3 million unregistered. In promoting the march, flyers distributed
by organizers read “No return =3D No peace!” And while there is an
increasing amount of speculation surrounding the struggle for statehood – with
many predicting violence if a Palestinian
state is not established in the near future – the PRRC believes that “the
refugees from Palestine are not demanding war.”

“PRRC has not taken any stance vis-a-vis negotiations or statehood, except
of course to emphasize the inalienable right of people to return to their homes
and lands,” said Mazin Qumsiyeh, one of the organizers. The coalition demands
that the international community, specifically the US, enforce international
law and act responsibly in the struggle for human rights in Palestine. In addition
to demanding the right to return, the PRRC also insists refugees deserve restitution
for
property “confiscated and destroyed.”

Whether or not refugees – especially those living in the US – will want to
abandon their current residences and return to Palestine is another question.

“How many people choose to exercise the right to return, and the modality
of compensation for those who choose not to do so, is secondary to the main
issue,” said Qumsiyeh. “Only refugees can decide for themselves whether
they return or not once they are allowed to do so.”

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