25 March, 2014
On Saturday 22 March, Palestinians held a day of activities in Syria’s devastated Yarmouk refugee camp. In what has now become a rare occurrence for the besieged camp, concerts took place and music was played, organized by the Damascene School, in cooperation with Yarmouk Youth Group, Sawa’ed Group and the Palestinian Charitable Association.
This was one of a series of events held as a result of a “Call to Action” on the right of return. The call was put out by several national Palestinian coalitions, led by the Palestinian Global Right of Return Coalition, and including the BDS National Committee, the Palestinian Scouts and Guides Federation, the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, and the Coalition for Jerusalem. It was endorsed by over one hundred popular organizations in Palestine and outside it.
["Return Unifies Us" banner at a concert in Yarmouk Camp, Syria. Damascus School.]
The program began from the morning. Children from the three schools gathered in a courtyard and listened to talk by their Principal, Khalil Abu Selma. Abu Selma spoke of the past and present predicament of Palestinian refugees, describing the difficulty of being “denied return to one’s homeland, especially in the midst of the current harrowing circumstances.” He said it was a “special day, as Palestinians the world over were, at that very moment, remembering their land, and their people, and emphasizing that they wish to return to it, no matter what.”
["Palestinians at a screening, part of a set of events in support of Palestinians in Syria and the Right of Return, Baddawi Camp, Lebanon". The Arab Palestinian Cultural Club.]
His speech was followed by a concert for the school children by the Yarmouk Youth group, which played and sang Palestinian songs, and then biscuits were distributed for the first time in many months. Refugee children were then taken to a local park, visibly surrounded by rubble, to play, and a second concert for all the youth in Yarmouk took place, in celebration of what a camp statement referred to as “the culture of return.”
[From the other side of the world, Palestinian in Sydney rally for the Right of Return and Palestinians besieged in Syria. The Australian Palestinian Professionals Association.]
The Yarmouk event coincided with a photographic exhibition and a day for collecting refugee testimonies, organized in a refugee center on the Syrian-Turkish border by Palestinians displaced from the Handarat refugee camp near Aleppo. In a “letter to the world” broadcast on the Quds News Network, the refugees stated: “from here, from the Syrian-Turkish border to which we were forcibly displaced, we send a letter to a world that is silent over our death, dispersal, and suffering”. They further emphasized that “despite all the disasters that have been inflicted upon us by the Zionist occupation and the Arab regimes, we will not accept any alternative to our historic and national right to return to our homes, villages, and cities in Palestine.”
["Gathering on the main roundabout into Ramallah, outside Al Amari Camp". The Committee for the Depopulated Villages of Jerusalem.]
From the shelter on the Syria/Turkey border, Ayman Abu Hashem explained this “culture of return,” and the day’s slogan of “Return Unifies Us”: “There is not a cause around which Palestinians gather more unanimously than the right of return. This is different from the way the political class deals with this right.” Currently the Coordinator of the Network for Supporting Palestinian Camps in the Shatat, Abu Hashem explained the endurance of the Palestinian demands to return: “this right has been engraved in the Palestinian collective consciousness generation after generation and despite all predictions and expectations that the generations born in the refugee camps and in exile would forget their right to return to the land of their ancestors.”
["Organisers across Gaza speak on return". Popular Committees of the Refugee Camps in Gaza.]
Palestinian communities in the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and Australia organized a range of events under the banner “Return Unifies Us,” that began on 22 March, and carried on through the weekend in different locations.
[Palestinians from Handarat Camp at an exhibition convened for the event, in a shelter on the Syrian-Turkish border". The Network for Supporting Palestinian Camps in the Shatat.]
In Balata, the biggest refugee camp in the West Bank, scout troupes marched up the hill to the city of Nablus on the 22nd, holding posters and placards highlighting the plight of their compatriots in Syria under siege. Their drumbeats and bagpipes playing traditional Palestinian songs were heard across the city, and refugees and residents converged on the event.
["Rallying for Return, Palestinian scouts fill the streets of Nablus". Yafa Cultural Centre, Balata Camp.]
“Collectively organized right across the political spectrum, the rally had representatives from major Palestinian parties and civic organizations,” Yafa Centre director Fayez Arafat stated. Tayseer Nasrallah, who coordinated the events in Nablus, said “Return is what unifies us as a people, so we need to raise our demands on it wherever we are.”
[The Australian Palestinian Professionals Association.]
In Gaza, where the majority of the population is comprised of refugees, public meetings were held in more than one area, convened by the popular associations In Beddawi camp in Lebanon, the occasion was marked with a film screening and posters. In Jerusalem, “Return Unifies Us” posters were raised in a youth picket, and the same images were displayed in demonstrations held in Vancouver, Canada and Washington, DC in the USA.
["Posters on the wall in Burj Al Barajneh Camp, Lebanon". Arab Cultural Club.]
The Palestinian Federation of Chile (PFC), representing a 300,000 strong Palestinian community, launched a series of public refugee testimonies in Santiago and discussed the meaning of the right of return. In a statement addressed to the associations participating in the events across the world, especially those in Syria, the President of the PFC Mauricio Abu-Ghosh said: “For us, Palestinians of first, second and third generation of exile born in Chile, the right of return means everything. It is the link with our homeland, the link that unites us with all Palestinians.”
[["Posters on the wall in Shatila Camp, Lebanon". Arab Cultural Club]
“Return,” Abu-Gosh added, “signifies the union of each Palestinian with his homeland, with his nation; it is the feeling through which we are indissolubly attached to our land, for we were part of it and we will continue to be so in the future. Palestine belongs to us, and we belong to Palestine!”
"London: Toot Ard perform at a concert in London organized by War on Want and the SOAS Palestine Society". SOAS Palestine Society.]