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Foundations for Participation Workshop

 -7 November 2004, Larnaca, Cyprus

The Civitas Project convened a workshop with members from Palestinian refugee and exile communities from all over the world. Those invited were either delegated by their communities, or elected heads of their communities, or grass-roots community activists who had spent many years serving them in various roles. All who attended were interested to facilitate a process whereby the voices of their people, and their rights and needs, are brought to the attention of all the different bodies that serve them: their national representative the PLO, the host countries where they currently reside, the humanitarian agencies that serve them, the refugee communities worldwide and those inside Palestine.

Those attending came from the refugee and exile communities of the Gulf, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Italy, Austria, France, Denmark, Yemen, Norway, the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada. There was also a representative from inside occupied Palestine. Unfortunately a few could not attend for the normal reasons of visas and closure– from Latin America, from Kuwait, Sudan and from Gaza.

The workshop covered the history of the project, and explained how it developed as a direct result of the recommendation contained in the report by the Parliamentary All Party British Commission on Refugees entitled Right of Return. It explored the purposes of the project, and in particular how civic structures and processes could facilitate the involvement of Palestinian refugees and exile communities in the main issues that concern them. The workshops discussed the methods and steps required for an inclusive process where the refugee voices could be accurately recorded according to democratic models of participation and consultation, which would guarantee an articulation of their rights as refugees and as citizens. The pilot projects in Jordan and Lebanon, where debates were held over the summer, was discussed by representatives from Lebanon and Jordan, and the lessons learned from them. As the methodology asks the refugee communities to design their own civic structures, mechanisms, and processes, these debates will be run by the communities through popular meetings and workshops. Accordingly, the majority of the workshop at Cyprus was run and led by the participants themselves, and each contributed with a discussion of the particular conditions of their own community.

Political, geographic and logistical constraints in each of the countries were discussed by the participants,and the follow up plans were made for the next stages of implementation of the project over the coming few months. The participants contributed to the formation of the guidelines for the public debates, for the document handbook that described the project and its aims, as well as the handbook for the roles of the moderators who will facilitate these community debate. Drafts of these documents were written up after the workshop by the Civitas team and sent to all the participants for further clarification, comments and contributions. These handbooks, as well as a summary of the Commission Report, have now been printed in Arabic and English.

Dr Karma Nabulsi is the Project Director of Civitas.

Hoping Foundation Benefit Concert for Refugee Children
“It is often said that the Palestinian issue is so difficult and sensitive that it's better not to get involved. But the truth is, it's not. It's easy. There is no shortage of musicians ready to show their support for the Palestinians at this time in their struggle....
“The truth is that most people can see what is taking place on the ground in the Middle East. And they can see who needs our support. Everyone knows who is under the boot and who's got the mouthful of broken glass. The Palestinians are a prisoner nation, refugees and exiles treated like ghosts. Now we want them to feel our solidarity.
“Of course, it's not just a question of giving them money. One reason we have got involved with the Hoping Foundation is that it supports Palestinian children in the refugee camps. Generation after generation has been there since 1948, scattered all over: Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and in occupied Palestine. From Shatila to Gaza, it is these kids I see when I think of Palestine. They have been ignored and excluded, growing up without any hope. We want to tell them we are with them, that they are not alone....
“The Hoping Foundation is the kind of organisation that asks community groups working with children to tell us what they need, rather than telling them what's good for them. It is a direct relationship and one that respects the people in the camps and their right to have their voices heard.
“When I was growing up in Scotland, my dad, a print workers' union leader, made trips to Nicaragua to support the Sandinistas. He would persuade factory owners to donate paper, and he sent school books, pens and jotters to the children. It was the obvious thing to do then, and it's the same today with Palestine. The way it looks to us, every Palestinian is a political prisoner - and every Palestinian has the right to be free.”
The Hoping Foundation benefit concert took place to a sold out audience at Brixton Academy on 16 October 2004. The concert featured Primal Scream and Spiritualized. The commentary above was written by Bobbie Gillespie, lead singer of Primal Scream. The entire letter was published in The Guardian on 15 October. For more information on the Hoping Foundation, visit their website: