Posted by Kristin McCarthy on October 30, 2015 in Blog
As part of the #Yalla2016 National Leadership Conference, AAI hosted a discussion on the status of movement building in America on issues of justice, human rights, dignity, and freedom for Palestinians. Palestine is a foundational issue for the Arab American community, one that helped form the community’s  identity in the 1960s and continues to give purpose and urgency now. And while movement building has been lead by Arab Americans like AAI President Jim Zogby for nearly 40 years, the challenges and opportunities we face today provide a new urgency around our work.
 
Palestine_Dinner_Flyer.jpgIn conversation with AAI Executive Director Maya Berry, Ahmad Abuznaid (Dream Defenders), Suhad Babaa (Just Vision), Omar Baddar (political analyst), and Nadia Ben-Youseff (Adalah) shared their work and unique perspectives on the many different movements happening around Palestine across the United States.
 
Much of the discussion focused on how movements can build grass roots support and ultimately be effective politically, and how these two complementary strategies can and should coordinate with one another. For example, Ahmad Abuznaid of the Dream Defenders spoke about his work that connects the Black Lives Matter movement with the struggle for justice in Palestine. Both movements are standing up to oppression, and Ahmad has seen first hand how effectively each group can lift up each other’s stories and struggles. Ahmad spoke about how the idea of  liberation is a goal that unites both movements and how these issues need both political and grass roots organizing in order for us to bring about change.
 
The discussion also covered how we can begin to change the prevailing narrative around Israelis, Palestinians, and the conflict in the American media, which characteristically is more sympathetic to Israeli perspectives. Organizations like Just Vision have been producing short films, digital media, and documentaries to disrupt that narrative with stories that complicate peoples' understanding of the issues and individuals working to end the occupation. The stories that are being told are important to how people engage the issue – as an issue of violence and negativity or as an issue of hope and liberation. Omar Baddar, asserted the politically strategic value of good communications. Because the conditions on the ground are worse than they have ever been, grassroots organizing cannot ignore political objectives and the necessary relationships that can bring about real change. Omar broke down how to effectively capitalize on the important work happening at the grassroots level by creating dynamic, viral video content that impacts the national discourse of this issue. Digital content is a medium that has proven effect in mobilizing mass movements and in directly effecting policy change, which is an important two-part goal for every movement to have.
 
Good messaging, political engagement, and grassroots organizing needs to be coordinated in order to have the greatest impact. Throughout the discussion, panel speakers and audience members zeroed in on a concerted, strategic effort to use the language of civil rights, equality, freedom, and justice to discuss Israel and Palestine. This framework challenges the old Oslo-framework that focused exclusively on ending the occupation. Nadia Ben-Youseff of Adalah shared how that explicitly leaves out the issues of discrimination and disenfranchisement that face Palestinian citizens of Israel. Adalah’s work is both grass roots and political, and Nadia works to bring imagination and possibility from her grass roots efforts to policy discussions and goals.
 
At a time when there is little reason for hope, the discussion provided a refreshing take on how to better educate and engage American audiences in advance of justice for Palestinians.  
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