Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ramallah Federation and the Political Realm

            I am a proud member of the Christian Ramallah family.  I am proud that my family has been organized since 1958 as the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine (AFRP) in the United States.  I am proud that for over 50 years my family has helped pay for the education of thousands of Palestinian students, Christians and Muslims alike.  I am proud that the fabric of our family has been retained for all these decades in a land where we live so far apart because of the geographical makeup of the United States.  I am proud that my family has donated tremendously to the health and wellbeing of our hometown, Ramallah, Palestine.

            As the oldest and largest Palestinian-American organization in the US the AFRP can wield so much power.  In 1979, it was the only Arab-American organization to be invited to the White House State Dinner for Pope John Paul II.  Yet in its 50 plus years of existence, this invitation is the pinnacle of its glory.  While it has 2 seats on the Palestinian National Council, which were assigned by the PLO about 30 years ago, its influence within the PLO is negligible and inconsequential. 

            Taunting the excuse that it is has a 501 (c) (3)[1] status granted to its Education Trust Fund, it does not speak out in support of Palestinian human rights with any meaningful or powerful manner.   This restriction to act politically only applies to the Educational Trust which is separate and apart from the main organizational body of the AFRP. Thus the AFRP can and should speak forcefully on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

            To its credit, AFRP has over the years met with State Department officials and were part of briefings at the White House but again not with any dignity to represent its 40,000 Ramallah-American membership base. 

            AFRP also silently claims that because the AFRP is mainly concerned with keeping the fabric of the Ramallah family together, it cannot be involved politically.  Most of the Ramallah elders who are in their senior years are politically apathetic mainly caused by centuries of being subjected to occupying powers in our homeland. This apathy has been handed down to their children and grandchildren.  I have been to many Palestinian political events in the Chicago area where I was not only the only person from Ramallah but the only Christian.  There are only a handful of Palestinian Christians who participate in any meaningful way in Chicago are politics—several of which are so old that they do not participate anymore.  The same is true with national Palestinian organizations.

            This is tragic.  The apathy of AFRP in the political realm is disturbing as in the final analysis it will also only be seen as acquiescence to the apartheid practices of the Israeli regime.  I know that this last statement is a severe criticism of the AFRP but one that I am prepared to defend.

            The Ramallah people are highly successful.  They are living the American dream in an atmosphere which does not seem to reflect any concrete concern for the plight of the Palestinian people.  Many Ramallah members will on an individual basis condemn the actions of apartheid Israel but they do so to their cousins and friends.  They are not encouraged to speak out publicly.     Very few Ramallah people dare to speak up in any public fashion.  

            To its credit, in the minutes to its annual convention, the AFRP did sponsor a Palestinian Youth Cultural Tour this past summer and has been supportive of Project Loving Care.  In July, 2011 AFRP members held a White House briefing about Middle East peace efforts and then held a luncheon at Capitol Hill to meet members of Congress but this only happened because the annual convention was held in Washington, D.C.

            With an organization that represents 40,000 Palestinian Americans, one would think that they would have an annual pilgrimage to Washington D.C to lobby members of Congress.  The Annual Mid-Year Meeting should be held in Washington, D.C. with the aim to have a White House briefing and follow up meetings with the State Department and Members of Congress. Additionally, delegations of members can lobby their members of Congress at the district offices but the AFRP is not geared up to this kind of political work.  It should. 

            I believe that the AFRP members would welcome leadership in this direction. The fear is that involvement in the political realm would alienate one segment of its members, the elders, at the expense of dismantling the Ramallah Family.  I do not see this at all.

At the 50th anniversary of the AFRP in Dearborn, Michigan in July, 2008, I witnessed the youth of Cleveland, Ohio who sang and danced in the lobby of the hotel to the cheering Ramallah onlookers.  I wrote the poem Our So Secure Future  in which I wrote the following words:

On Friday night, a show was put on by the shabab of Cleveland
In the lobby of the Dearborn Hyatt they kicked up the band
The tubla and the flute did set the tone
The music filled the atmosphere so passionately known
Ramallahites listened and praised them with merit
As these children of Ramallah did exalt the spirit
That is what brings us to our Ramallah Conventions
That is what rejuvenates our spirits for our traditions
To see teenagers singing
As our musical instruments they are playing
Fills us with pride and joy all around
Making us happy that our future is so sound
Sound in our elders’ mind
Secured in that our traditions do bind

            I am not as worried about our future as do some of the elders of my family.  I am sure that the AFRP will be around for many years to come and I will always continue to be proud of being a member of the Ramallah family.  The issue is whether the AFRP future will be strictly as social organization or as a political force or both.  I would think that it can be both. 

The AFRP needs to speak up.  It needs to get involved in the political realm.

(  © Copyright, Fadi Zanayed.  Publication or distribution of this material is allowed provided its content is not altered and the source and its author are cited.) 

[1] 501 (c) (3) status is a designation by the US Treasury Department which allows donors of non-for-profit organization to deduct donations from their individual and corporate tax returns. One restriction on these organizations is that they cannot politically influence governmental agencies. 

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