Al-Awda (aka Palestine Right to Return Coalition) (AA)

Al-Awda (aka Palestine Right to Return Coalition) (AA)


* Calls for the Palestinian “Right of Return”
* Seeks the dissolution of Israel, which it views as an oppressor state that is guilty of human-rights violations, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide
* Endorses the Hamas slogan, “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea” — an unambiguous call for Israel’s destruction
* Supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel

Co-founded in 2000 by three Arab doctors—Mazin Qumsiyeh, Zahi Damuni (who contends that Zionism is a racist ideology), and Jess Ghannam (a major organizer for the International Solidarity Movement)—Al-Awda (a.k.a. the Palestine Right to Return Coalition)[1] describes itself as “a broad-based, non-partisan, democratic, and charitable organization.” The group began as an online listserve designed to facilitate communication between anti-Israel activists. Over time, it evolved into an international organization that is now registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit. Al-Awda’s mission is to:

  • “raise awareness in our communities concerning the human and legal rights of Palestinian refugees”;
  • “foster relationships with the media to help with the effort of educating the community of the human and legal rights of Palestinian refugees”;
  • “educate elected representatives on the grave implications resulting from the continuing violations of numerous human and legal rights of Palestinians, and how we can effect change”;
  • “develop and coordinate grassroots and student initiatives for action related to Palestinian refugee rights”;
  • “develop and strengthen links and coordinate efforts with human and civil rights organizations in support of the Palestinian struggle for return, freedom and equality”;
  • “empower refugees with projects that nurture their autonomy and determination to exercise their legal rights, first and foremost their natural right to return to their towns and villages, as supported by international law and United Nations’ resolutions”; and
  • “provide humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.”

According to Al-Awda, “Palestinians have been living as refugees in camps since 1948 when they were forced out of their homes by the new Jewish immigrants who just arrived from Europe intending to create the new Jewish-only state of Israel.” Condemning the “Zionist[s’] insatiable need for colonial expansion and the systematic destruction of the indigenous Arab population,” Al-Awda states that “the genocidal Israeli government,” since its inception, “has been murdering, exiling and maiming innocent Palestinians who wished simply to be left to live on their land with dignity and peace.” In the final analysis, Al-Awda views Israel as an illegitimate entity with no right to exist as a sovereign nation.

In an effort to cripple the Israeli economy as punishment for the Jewish state’s alleged transgressions, Al-Awda supports all manner of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaigns against Israel, citing in particular the importance of the Global BDS Movement. Al-Awda’s international conventions invariably feature prominent anti-Israel activists and anti-Semites promoting BDS initiatives.

Al-Awda events (such as conventions, exhibits, film festivals, lectures, and protests) routinely liken Zionism to Nazism; accuse Israel of practicing genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing; depict violent “resistance” against Israel as legitimate; and give evidence of Al-Awda’s support for Islamic terrorism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has chronicled many of the significant events in Al-Awda’s history. For example:

* On September 16, 2000, Al-Awda held its first large-scale rally in Washington, DC, drawing several thousand attendees. Among the event’s 150 endorsing organizations were the Arab American Institute, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Sabeel, and chapters of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the International Action Center, and the Muslim American Society. Organizers of the demonstration included Rania Masri, Mazin Qumsiyeh, and then-ADC communications director Hussein Ibish. Guest speakers at the event included Ali Abunimah, Abdul Alim Musa, Al-Awda co-founder Zahi Damuni, and the Islamic Association for Palestine‘s then-chairman, Sabri Samirah.

* On March 17, 2001, Al-Awda’s listserve featured a communiqué from a coalition that included Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — reaffirming these organizations’ commitment to armed struggle.

* On April 7, 2001, Al-Awda-sponsored a “Right of Return” rally in New York City that drew several thousand people. The event featured speeches by Edward Said, George Habash, Rafeeq Jaber, and Raeed Tayeh. Endorsing groups included the International Action Center, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

* In February 2002, Al-Awda members created Citizens for Fair Legislation, a (now-defunct) lobbying arm that promoted anti-Israel events and exhorted Americans to contact their elected officials on issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

* Al-Awda helped organize the ANSWER Coalition’s April 20, 2002 “National March for Palestine Against War and Racism” in Washington, DC. At this event, the flag of Hezbollah flew from the speakers’ podium.

* In September and October of 2002, Al-Awda held anti-Israel rallies where its members sold t-shirts bearing the famous Hamas slogan: “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.”

* From June 20-22, 2003, Al-Awda held its first annual convention at the University of Toronto.

* The theme of a December 13-14, 2003 Al-Awda conference in Egypt was: “Yes to resistance in Iraq and Palestine, no to capitalist globalization and U.S. hegemony.” Present at this event were representatives from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

* In the spring of 2004, Al-Awda participated in two separate rallies outside the Israeli consulate in New York to protest the recent killings of Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi by Israeli security forces. At the first rally, which was co-sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition and New Jersey Solidarity, guest speakers chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho, Hamas will never go” and “Long live jihad.” The second rally (co-sponsored by New Jersey Solidarity, the International Action Center, and Neturei Karta) featured signs bearing such slogans as “Globalize the Intifada” and “All of Israel is occupied territory.”

* From April 16-18, 2004, Al-Awda held its second annual convention at Hunter College in New York City. One of the speakers, Al-Awda New York co-chair Lamis Deek, referred to Israeli soldiers as “Zionist henchmen” and “Nazis.” At this event, Al-Awda adopted the following “Points of Unity” as the key axioms upon which its mission was founded:

  • “[T]he Palestinian Arab people, regardless of their religious affiliation, are indigenous to Palestine. Therefore, they are entitled to live anywhere in Palestine which encompasses present-day ‘Israel,’ the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Al-Awda regards the ‘Israeli’ definition of Jewish nationals, granting exclusive rights to citizenship and land to any Jew from anywhere in the world, as part of the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionist ideology which underlies the policies and laws of the settler state of ‘Israel.’” [Note that the word ‘Israel’ is enclosed in scare quotes, signifying Al-Awda’s view that the Jewish state is not a legitimate entity.]
  • “Al-Awda unequivocally supports the rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their original towns, villages and lands anywhere in Palestine from which they were expelled. Al-Awda also unequivocally supports the rights of all Palestinian refugees to compensation for damages inflicted on their property and lives, and to restitution of all destroyed and confiscated property.”
  • “Al-Awda will work to educate the public about ‘Israeli’ injustices the U.S. government subsidizes with billions of dollars annually. Until the dismantlement of the exclusionary and racist character of ‘Israel,’ and until all Palestinians are granted the right to return and achieve equality, Al-Awda is united in working for and demanding: an end to all U.S. political, military and economic aid to ‘Israel’; the divestment of all public and private entities from all ‘Israeli’ corporations and American corporations with subsidiaries operating within ‘Israel’; an end to the investment of Labor Union members’ pension funds in ‘Israel’; the boycott of all ‘Israeli’ products; … [and] the formation of an independent, democratic state for all its citizens in all of Palestine.” [Again, note the scare quotes around the word ‘Israel’.]

* On September 2, 2004, Al-Awda co-founder Mazin Qumsiyeh published an article supporting the “Iraqi resistance” against what he described as the pro-Israel “cabal pulling the strings in the White House.”

* In October 2004, Al-Awda Wisconsin organizer Fayyad Sbaihat blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on “a colonialist mentality on the part of Zionists that the natives don’t matter.” Mazin Qumsiyeh, for his part, called Zionism “a disease” and accused Israel of practicing “apartheid.”

* From April 15-17, 2005, Al-Awda held its third annual convention at UCLA. One of the speakers, UCLA English professor Saree Makdisi, accused “the Jews” of “practicing racial superiority”; called Israel “a fantasy”; and described the state of Israel as “the largest planned ethnic cleansing in modern history.”

* From July 14-16, 2006, Al-Awda held its fourth annual convention at San Francisco State University. The event split its focus chiefly between the “political and material isolation of the Genocidal Zionist State of Israel” and the “political and material support of the Palestinian refugee population.” A book by anti-Israel writer Lenni Brenner, titled 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, was made available for purchase at the convention. Guest speaker Eyad Kishawi, an Al-Awda organizer based in San Francisco, likewise spoke of Zionist-Nazi connections and urged listeners to support divestment programs against Israel. Right-of-return activist Salman abu Sitta, echoing Saree Makdisi’s assertions from the previous year, declared that “Zionists, now called Israelis,” were responsible for “the largest planned and foreign-supported ethnic cleaning [sic] in modern history.”

* From July to September 2006, Al-Awda organized and co-sponsored rallies in several U.S. cities to denounce Israel’s military actions in Lebanon and Gaza. Some of these demonstrations featured speakers openly expressing support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah; calling for Israel’s destruction; and asserting that Zionism and Nazism bore many similarities.

* During November 16-19, 2006, former Al-Awda co-chair Samia Halaby served on a delegation at the “Solidarity with the Resistance” conference in Beirut, which was organized by Hezbollah and the Communist Party of Lebanon to express support for Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Iraqi insurgency.

* In March 2007, Al-Awda issued a statement calling for Israel to release the incarcerated Ahmad Saadat, general secretary of the PFLP.

* From May 25-27, 2007, Al-Awda held its fifth annual convention, during which one speaker declared that “we refuse to accept an illegal state [i.e., Israel] built on lies and theft.”

* During the month of July 2007, Al-Awda distributed several communiqués from Islamic terrror organizations via its main listserve, where postings required approval by a group moderator before they could be sent to the designated recipients. The ADL has summarized the contents of the most noteworthy of these communiqués, which were posted by Samia Saleh, a Washington, DC-area contact for Al-Awda events:

  • July 10, 2007: “Al-Awda posted a PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] communiqué in which the Mustafa Brigades claimed responsibility for an ambush against Israeli soldiers stationed near a camp in Nablus. The statement urged continued resistance against Israel: ‘Let the fight continue and let all guns be pointed at the face of the enemy.’”
  • July 13, 2007: “Al-Awda posted a joint communiqué from the Mustafa Brigades and the Izzedeen al-Qassam Brigades taking credit for ‘assaulting and disabling a Zionist Humvee’ at the Hawara checkpoint in the West Bank. The statement included a pledge to continue such attacks and conclude[d] with: ‘Homeland or death! Victory or martyrdom!’”
  • July 13, 2007: “Al-Awda posted a joint communiqué from the Mustafa Brigades and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claiming responsibility for a mortar shell attack near the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel. The statement reaffirmed the need to ‘confront the enemy with all our force and with our unity and determination,’ and concluded by praising the ‘virtuous martyrs,’ the ‘heroic wounded,’ and the ‘courageous prisoners.’”
  • July 16, 2007: “Al-Awda posted a communiqué from the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the PFLP’s ‘military wing,’ denouncing Palestinian media reports that its members had surrendered weapons and rejected amnesty deals for fugitives, claiming that true ‘freedom fighters’ seek no reprieve from the enemy. It also stated that the group would ‘unequivocally refuse to lay down arms so long as there is an occupation squatting on our soil.’”

* In January 2008, Al-Awda participated in a series of “End the Criminal Israeli Siege of Gaza Now!” demonstrations at Israeli embassies, Israeli consulates, and U.S. Federal buildings. The focus of these events was to condemn Israel’s military response to rocket attacks from Gaza. On display were signs that read, “Zionism is Jewish Apartheid”; “Sixty Years of State Terror”; and “WWII Nazism, WWIII Zionism.”

* At a March 18, 2008 Al-Awda protest in New York, speakers accused Israel of engaging in state-sponsored terrorism and conducting a Holocaust against the Palestinian people. Further, they issued calls for Israel’s elimination.

* From May 16-18, 2008, Al-Awda held its sixth annual convention in Southern California, titled “Palestine: 60 Years of Forced Exile, Time for Return.” Speakers again accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, occupation, and genocide.

* On May 16, 2008, Al-Awda held a large rally outside the United Nations Building in New York City to commemorate the 60th anniversary of “Al Nakba”—an Arabic term (meaning “The Catastrophe”) referring to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Among the groups with a presence at the rally were the International Solidarity Movement, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the International Action Center. Demonstrators displayed banners accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing; calling for the destruction of the Jewish state; and likening Zionism to Nazism.

* In November 2008, an Al-Awda listserve posted a list of several recent terrorist attacks against Israelis, with the subject line: “Resistance: More PFLP attacks against the Zionist occupiers.”

* In December 2008, an Al-Awda listserve posted a statement from a PFLP member who opposed the renewal of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

* From December to January 2009, regional Al-Awda chapters in numerous U.S. cities organized angry demonstrations against Israel’s military operations in Gaza. The rallies featured signs equating Israelis and Nazis, portraying Jews as “blood suckers,” and accusing Jews of controlling America’s media and government.

* At a May 17, 2009 Al-Awda rally to protest the 61st anniversary of the “Nakba,” one Neturei Karta representative described Israel as a “heretic state.”

* From May 22-24, 2009, Al-Awda held its seventh annual convention near Anaheim, California. Among the featured speakers were Yvonne Ridley, George Galloway, and William Robinson (a sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara who had compared Israelis to Nazis and had accused the Jewish state of turning Gaza into a “concentration camp, a massive ghetto”).

* At a June 21, 2009 New York protest organized by Al-Awda, demonstrators shouted “Zionist murderer” and “Nazi pig” at a nearby woman who was waving Israeli and American flags. The protesters also waved Palestinian flags and displayed signs that read, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.” Among the organizations represented at the rally were the International Action Center, Code Pink, and the ANSWER Coalition.

On November 21, 2012, Al-Awda held an anti-Israel rally in Cleveland, where protesters chanted such slogans as: “When people are occupied, resistance is justified”; “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; and “Israel is a terrorist state.” Leading the chants was Abbas Hamideh, Al-Awda’s co-coordinator. Two days later, Hamideh tweeted a message that clearly expressed his refusal to negotiate with Israel: “If you’re not for the Palestinian Refugees Right of Return, I have no interest in any ‘dialogue’ with you because it’s useless otherwise.”

Al-Awda is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, and has received funding from the Caipirinha Foundation.

With thousands of individual members worldwide, Al-Awda has numerous local and regional U.S.-based chapters, each setting its own agendas within the context of the parent organization’s mission and objectives. Outside the U.S., Al-Awda chapters are active in Canada and the United Kingdom. In addition, Al-Awda is a member of the Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition, which includes right-of-return organizations based in the Middle East and Europe.

For additional information on Al-Awda, click here.


[1] The refugees on whose behalf Al-Awda agitates were never expelled from their homeland; they voluntarily (for the most part) left their homes during the period just before, and shortly after, the commencement of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. They sought out safe haven during what they anticipated would be a brief war that the Arab allies would undoubtedly win, and fully expected to return to their homes once the fighting had stopped and the Jews had been exterminated. Instead, the Arab armies were defeated.

After the war, Israel passed a law that allowed Arab refugees to resettle in Israel, provided that they agreed to sign a form renouncing violence and swearing allegiance to the state. More than 150,000 Arabs took advantage of this law and resumed productive lives in Israel. The rest have been kept in refugee camps by Arab leadership, to be used as a propaganda weapon against Israel and the West. In 1998, Senior Fatah Central Committee member Sakher Habash explained, during a university lecture, why Arab leaders have refused to help the Palestinian refugees return to normal lives: “To us, the refugee issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state.”

Today Al-Awda places the number of Arabs who are entitled to a “right of return” to Israel at 7.2 million (the original refugees plus their descendants). This is more than 10 times the number of Arabs who actually left the Jewish portions of the British Mandate in 1948; most of those original refugees are now deceased.

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