(Translated from Arabic).
Palestinians in the Netherlands marked Land Day on Friday evening with a popular celebration that was held in the municipal theatre of Vlaardingen, a Dutch city located 60 km south of the capital Amsterdam. Organised by the General Union of Palestinian Women-Holland Branch and the Al-Awda Palestine Network, it was attended by more than 500 members of the Palestinian community under the slogan: “Register! I am Palestinian”.
Ibrahim al-Baz, Chair of Al-Awda Palestine Network, stated that this event aimed at “furthering the consciousness of Palestinian living abroad on the importance of their national role, and alerting them to the need for participating in choosing their representatives.” He noted that “they are currently outside the political arena, and we aim to bring them back by means of civic registration for direct elections to the Palestine National Council.” al-Baz highlighted the fact that “this is a matter of national consensus and our people’s interests require that we translate it into reality so as to emphasise the unity of the Palestinian people inside historic Palestine and outside it. This will protect our rights, foremost amongst which is the right of return.”
The event coincides with an international effort that Palestinian communities and committees are preparing to launch for the purpose of registering Palestinians living outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories during the summer of 2012. Community organisers and activists say that this will allow all Palestinians to exercise their right in electing the Palestine National Council, the highest legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Notably, Vlaardingen includes more than 1500 Palestinians out of 6000 that live across the Netherlands. Palestinians came to this city during the 1960s as workers in the Romi corporation. The company previously owned a margarine factory in the vicinity of Nablus, Palestine, recruiting labourers from there to Holland. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 prevented these Palestinians from going back to their homeland. Thus they remained in this industrial town, establishing good relations with the municipality and its officials. In light of these connections and in recognition of local solidarity with the Palestinian community, the celebration was attended by the Deputy Mayor, Arnout Hoekstra, who welcomed attendees in the newly constructed municipal theatre.
Haneen Shehadeh, a PhD student at Erasmus University Rotterdam, opened the event by emphasising the need for Palestinian youth participation in the national arena. This point was also emphasised by activist Dianna Khader, who gave a speech on behalf of Palestinian students. Subsequently, Muhyee al-Din al-Khalayleh, a speaker from the 1948 Occupied Palestinian Territories, presented a talk on the importance of Land Day and its enormous symbolic importance in the context of the Palestinian historic struggle.
The keynote speech was delivered by Karma Nabulsi, Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, right of return campaigner, and a former PLO representative in various countries and international forums in the pre-Oslo period. Dr. Nabulsi gave a detailed analysis of the importance of the Palestine National Council and the central role that Palestinians could play, regardless of their place of residence, in reactivating Palestinian institutions in a democratic and constructive manner. She further noted that this rejuvenation of national structures reflects the Palestinian consensus, reinforces the right of return and all other national rights, and embodies the Palestinian aspiration for retrieving national unity in spite of all the boundaries, obstacles, and external pressures. These pressures, she said, aim at dividing national representation, fragmenting Palestinian political structures, and undermining inalienable rights, especially the right of return.
Dr. Nabulsi’s presentation was followed by a discussion during which participants suggested various steps that could be taken in the Netherlands in tandem with the general Palestinian campaign for registering all Palestinians for free, direct, and transparent elections to the Palestine National Council (PNC). The occasion was concluded with folkloric performances of popular Palestinian Dabkeh dance. These were delivered by al-Asayel traditional dance troupe, especially invited for the occasion from the Galilee region of occupied Palestine.
This article was first published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
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