This is the fourth year American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) held its Palestine Advocacy Day and Training program in Washington DC. This effort started with a small number of attendees and supporters, however over the past four years the number of participants has increased significantly. The goal of the conference is to prepare the next generation of leaders, activists, and advocates for Palestine providing them the basic tools for civic engagement with elected officials in different branches of government.
We were 250 participants of all backgrounds and faiths representing 25 states. In total, we met with the offices of over 100 members of Congress from March 16 to March 19.
Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, the National Policy Director of AMP, said he feels that the role of Palestinian Americans in the diaspora is to advocate for Palestinian rights and create relationships to present the Palestinian narratives by sharing our perspectives and stories. This complements the work of Palestinians in Palestine. The support of the international community and individuals throughout the world is more important today than ever before.
Many members of delegation attended a special meeting with Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). They thanked her sponsorship of H.R.4391, a historic bill that supports Palestinian human rights.
According to a report published by Defense for Children International Palestine earlier this year, 2017 saw the “worst abuses against Palestinian children.” The report cited the number of minors detained and arrested, and the number of children who died awaiting transfers from the occupied Palestinian territory to Israel for medical care.
Brad Parker, a staff attorney and International Advocacy officer from Defense for Children International Palestine focused on the goals of convincing members of Congress to support AMP’s legislative agenda, build local political power in mosques, create spaces to talk about Palestinian rights, and partner with other organizations. He covered statistics of Palestinian children who have been detained by the Israeli military which is a violation of international law.
The three key issues presented to lawmakers were:
- Supporting H.R. 4391: The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.
- Opposing S.720: The Israel Anti-Boycott Act which unconstitutionally punishes free speech.
- Supporting the funding of UNRWA, for which the Trump Administration drastically reduced funding this year, and which is certain to have a devastating effect on the lives of Palestinian refugees, especially the half a million children who attend UNRWA schools.
Attendees met with their state representatives at various times. Each member of the state group was trained and everyone had a role in the meeting with the government officials.
Ahmed Bedier, the president of United Voices for America shared that Muslims need to prioritize civic engagement in order to get the message out regarding Palestinian human rights, their right to life, and an end to the occupation.
A panel during the workshop trained attendees to raise awareness about these issues. Speakers offered their thoughts during the panel which included the importance of becoming leaders in America who lobby for Palestine. Due to the intimate relationship between Israel and United States, pro-Palestine activists and Palestinian Americans living in diaspora are working together to raise their voices that ask for justice and a free Palestine.
Leena Al Arian, one of the organizers and speakers, encouraged Palestinian Americans to establish more non-Muslim allies and create partnerships with other organizations that support Palestinian civil rights.
Neveen Ayesh, a Palestinian American who attends law school was one of the participants representing the state of Missouri. She spoke about her personal experience as a Palestinian immigrant in the United States. To Neveen, what is most important is to share the stories we have experienced as Palestinians when we fight for human rights and freedom of speech.
Palestinians have resisted occupation in all forms of popular resistance, despite all the attempts to erase their identity. Documenting the history of Palestine before the catastrophe of 1948 and after was to reassure that Palestine is the land for Palestinians. Stephen Bennett of the Institute for Palestine Studies, said during the training that his approach is to support the Palestinian cause by documenting and collecting information about violations of human rights against Palestinians.
Jenan Shbat, the events and outreach manager of CAIR in DC, informed the attendees that great work always comes from partnerships between organizations. She agreed that allies will support and raise more awareness. As a CAIR representative she also volunteered to offer her resources to AMP.
At a time when the president of the United States attempts to ban Muslims from entering the country and changed the status of Jerusalem, which has instigated many Muslims throughout the world, this experience left me encouraged that Muslims are still active and are optimistic.