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U.S. Palestinian conference spotlights alternative voices

Perspectives often neglected in media coverage of Israel-Palestine peace talks — and concerns about attacks on civil liberties here — will be highlighted at a national conference of Palestinian Americans this weekend in the Chicago area, which is home to the largest Palestinian population in the nation.

Haneen Zoabi

The Second Popular Palestine Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, opens Friday night at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca with a performance by world-renowned oud master and composer Marcel Khalife.

Keynote speakers (Saturday evening) include Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, and Attalah Hanna, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.

Zoabi, the first woman elected to the Knesset on an Arab party list, was on the ship that was was attacked by Israeli forces in May while carrying humanitarian aid and challenging the blockade of Gaza.

(In reports today, Israeli police denied charges that Zoabi was deliberately targeted with rubber bullets during a counterdemonstration against a march by rightwing settlers on the West Bank on Wednesday.)

Journalist Ghassan Ben Jiddo will host a live broadcast of Al Jazeera’s “Hiwar Mufta” (“Open Dialogue”) program from the conference Saturday at 5:45 p.m.

USPCN has called the Palestinian Authority leadership unrepresentative and criticized it for abandoning demands for a “right to return” for Palestinian refugees.

Noting that PA leaders’ electoral terms expired last year, local activist Hatem Abudayyeh said “the Palestinian Authority does not represent us” with a strategy of “negotiating for little, disconnected pieces of the West Bank.”  While the PLO once included a broad range of Palestinian organizations, the PA “now represents a tiny sector of a tiny part of the West Bank,” said Adubayyeh, a national committee member of USPCN.

He said this weekend’s conference will have participation from “all sectors of Palestinian society.”  A 2008 national conference in Chicago by the same group drew 1,000 participants.

A number of workshops and assemblies will address issues of civil liberties and political and personal attacks on Muslims and Arabs – including an FBI raid in September that targeted Abudayyeh and other local solidarity activists.

Local attorneys Jim Fennerty, Ora Schub, and Stan Willis will join local human rights activist Alejando Molina in a workshop on the raids on Saturday afternoon.

Abudayyeh, who is executive director of the Arab American Action Network here, called the raids “a continuation of three decades of a policy of repression against people who do work challenging U.S. policy on Palestine, Iraq, or other issues affecting the Arab and Muslim world.”

The U.S. Attorney withdrew subpoenas against 14 activists after they refused to testify.  Supporters are calling on the Obama administration and the U.S. Attorney to drop the investigation, which has been characterized as an attack on dissent.

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Category: civil liberties, immigrants, international

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