'Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition:' The Search for an Organizational Model for Effective, Democratic, and Inclusive Coordination of Palestinian Refugee Community Initiatives

Our 2002 annual meeting was convened while the Palestinian people are facing extremely difficult circumstances in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs) and inside 1948 Palestine/Israel. For some two years, the Israeli occupation has engaged in a campaign aimed at erasing the Palestinian cause in all its components –
national, political, and human. This campaign has threatened both the physical existence of our people and the legitimacy of our political leadership. Moreover, it has succeeded to move international public perception of the struggle for the liberation of the people and the land into the realm of "terrorism." This move would not have succeeded without the international silence and complicity that prepared the ground for the acceptance of daily war crimes committed against the Palestinian people. The affects of these war crimes have been devastating. The resulting needs of our people are overwhelming. In this context, and in order to not lose sight of the strategic objectives of our struggle in the face of hardship caused by the Zionist occupation, it is vital to continue our popular movement for the refugees' right of return. BADIL and its partners convened the third annual meeting of the Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition for this purpose.

Daily hardship and suffering certainly had an impact on our meeting as expressed mainly in the opening speeches. Considerable emphasis was given to the fact that basic Palestinian rights, especially our refugees' right of return, are indivisible. International guest speakers highlighted the importance of the professional and practical relationship between Palestinian right-of-return activists and the solidarity and human rights movement in Europe, in order to encourage integration of the Palestinian-led initiative into the European agenda.

The third annual meeting was distinguished by the fact that organizational questions were central in the debate, a matter that was premature for discussion in the two previous meetings held in 2000 and 2001. Important questions were raised, such as: "Do we need organizational bylaws?" "What are the conditions for membership in the Coalition?" "Should Palestinian exile communities be represented in the Coalition as 'communities' (al-Jaliya) or by means of specialized right-of-return committees?" "What are adequate tools and mechanisms for transforming the Coalition into a successful pressure group in different countries and circumstances?"

Many of these questions remained without definite and detailed answers. This was largely due to the fact that past efforts, since the mid-1990s, had focused on planting the seeds of right-of-return activism. Networking and cooperation were based on informal and decentralized coordination. This approach reflected the understanding that local initiatives need to develop according to their needs, capacities, and specific circumstances. In addition to clarifying concepts and preparing common ground for future cooperation, the first annual meeting in Cyprus (2000) provided an opportunity for a first personal encounter among these decentralized initiatives. It added a human component to right-of-return networking.

Discussion at the second annual meeting (Brussels 2001) about an Arabic-language newsletter to be issued jointly by the collective raised the question – “Who are we?” This question triggered an important debate about the character of the collective. While some insisted that right-of-return mobilization could best be achieved via a centralized, political party-like initiative, the majority held that the initial decentralized form of coordination should be further developed and that centralization would block initiatives and activism.

Palestine Right-of-Return Committee-Denmark, 2003 Annual Meeting

On 16 February 2003, the Right of Return Committee-Denmark successfully convened its third annual meeting in Copenhagen. Representatives and activists from all the main cities and towns in Denmark arrived in Copenhagen, and discussed reports recommendations presented to the conference. Guest speakers were the Danish parliamentarians Kamal Kurashy and Unity Party Secretary Kenneth Haar, Rie Graesborg of the Danish Refuge Council and Terry Rempel, BADIL.

The meeting elected a nine-member Steering Committee for the coming year. A detailed report about topics discussed and proposals adopted will be issued following the first meeting of the newly elected Steering Committee at the end of March.

For more information contact the Palestine Right-of-Return Committee-Denmark, c/o Mahmoud Issa, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

The second annual meeting dispersed without a consensus on this important matter. However, all delegates agreed that a common name had to be found for the loose collective, which already coordinated successful right-of-return activities in the Middle East and beyond. Thus the 'Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition' was born, while decisive organizational aspects remained for clarification at a later stage.

The same questions resurfaced even more strongly at the third annual meeting in Copenhagen in 2002. An additional component was added by the demand for a mechanism that could guarantee the financial sustainability and organizational independence of the Coalition's annual meetings. The Copenhagen meeting succeeded – for the first time – to formulate a joint organizational-administrative plan of action that provides answers to some of the immediate concerns (See final statement in this issue, Documents, page #). However, the Coalition still fell short of defining an appropriate organizational model for efficient, democratic, and inclusive Palestinian community-coordination and mobilization around the globe. Additional and creative input from activists and experts inside and outside the Coalition is needed in order to formulate a comprehensive proposal and to facilitate the successful conclusion of this organizational debate at our fourth annual meeting in 2003.