Palestinians in N. America: Shatat Conference Stresses Return, Liberation

Return and Liberation: Conference of the Palestinian Shatat (Photo: Nathaniel Cy)

By Noura Khouri

“They old will die and the young will forget.” declared, David Ben Gurion, the ideological father of the European colonial/settler project, Zionism. Few quotes so succinctly sum up the stated goal/vision, idealism and the delusional nature of Zionism – which can only reside in the realm of cognitive dissonance. Meanwhile, nothing more accurately reflects the collective consciousness of Palestinians, than the shared memory of what began 65 years ago today, during the Nakba, or catastrophe and forced exile of 750,000 people from their land, and the universally recognized right to return home. Today 6 million Palestinians, remain forcibly displaced from their homes, often many times over-as is now the case with Palestinian refugees within Syria, Palestine and throughout the world. Currently these two narratives are most summarily what are at work politically – and it is this competing history, that paves the crossroads for which we find ourselves as Palestinians.

Last weekend, Palestinians in North America came together for a conference in Vancouver, of the ‘shatat’ – for the purpose of remembering this history and reaffirming our commitment of the universally recognized right to return, and struggle for liberation. The word ‘shatat’ refers to Diaspora, and literally translated, means pieces – shattered and scattered. The definition is fitting, as since the onset of Zionism – our people, like our homeland – have been continuously divided and subjugated with the ultimate goal of being erased from history books, which as we know are written by the powerful.

The power of the conference that took place at the University of British Columbia – was reflected in the diversity of participants and the organizing committee – that represented the coming together of the “old” and the “young”, which were given equal value and voice. The students, in partnership with community groups from all ages and parts of North America highlighted the work of and the importance of learning from the previous generations memories and experiences-who must then step aside and make room for the new generation to be empowered.

Today there are approximately 6 million Palestinian shatat living outside the homeland (4 million living within historic Palestine) and while our land has been almost completely colonized – thankfully our memories have not.

One of the main themes consistently repeated by many of the presenters, was that the Palestinian struggle is part and parcel of a greater global resistance to colonialism, imperialism and Zionism. Strong connections were made between the struggle of indigenous people of North America to resist land and resource exploitation, and the roles of the US and Canadian governments and their complicity in the continuation of these policies. We were reminded by indigenous people here to pay respect to the land of North America, and the conference opened with and was involved throughout with native people who shared cultural traditions and welcomed us onto their land. We drew parallel lessons from the experiences of indigenous rights activists, who reminded us that we are building on the work and legacy of our past and current political prisoners, ancestors and martyrs-without which, we would never be where we are today.

We also had an interesting discussion that I co-facilitated, about the role of movements in the U.S. and drew inspiration from the people risking their lives, and defying dictatorships in the Arab world. We brainstormed ways in which to most effectively connect as anti-militarism/anti-war, civil liberties, prison/justice, immigration activists etc. Participants had many questions and shared their experiences and challenges with regards to organizing in such a hostile climate in the US and Canada, especially on university campus’.

When those with power, insist on doing all they can to ignore, silence and/or crush our history, this demonstrates the vital importance of sharing stories, and documenting our history and experiences-not just as passive observers. That is why in 2012 – the Israeli Knesset passed a ‘Nakba Law’ “to punish public institutions for any reference to the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948 as a catastrophe or ‘Nakba’”- a feeble attempt at silencing history, and the truth about the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homeland.

Their were also ongoing and heated discussions and debates about the issue of representation, and strategies of how to reclaim our historic rights and claim the right of the Diaspora, to be a part of state building and the decision making process. Perhaps the only thing everyone in the conference did agree on, is trying to find ways to get rid of the current corrupt “leadership”.

When the dispossession of a people from their homeland is minimized, blurred and even erased what is needed is the equally important task of calling on an active memory that can provide direction for future steps, lessons and those who remember, despite the odds and erasure of history-is fundamentally an expression of power. When we defy the obstacles beginning-by simply recording and asserting our presence, we will be victorious.

My Palestinian mother grew up in the old city of Jerusalem. Before 1948 Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews all lived together in Jerusalem in relative peace and mutual respect. Recalling that past provides a vision for an alternative future–one involving rights and tolerance, rather than the domination of one ethno-religious group over others.

Zionist colonialism was predicated on the hope that Palestinians who lived the Nakba would die and the new Palestinian generation would forget. Yet despite 65 years of sheer force, domination and military and media control, we are proving that not only have we remembered – every day we are growing stronger, more organized and united to reclaim our land and our rights. Soon the conference will issue recommendations for ways in which to build beyond our shared memories – and engage with our Diaspora in finding ways of exercising the right of all of our 6 million refugees, to return back home.

– Noura Khouri is a Palestinian shatat, currently residing in the Bay Area having recently returned from living in Egypt for the past year and a half, during which time she spent time in the Sinai and Gaza. She has worked for the past decade as a campaign strategist and community organizer and lived and worked in occupied Palestine from 2005-2007. She contributed this article to Her twitter handle is: @road2tahrir. Contact her at:

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