The People’s Conference for Palestine: The Movement Beyond the Moment
June 10 2024
blog Series: 

Hundreds gathered in Detroit to attend The People’s Conference for Palestine between May 24 and 26. The inaugural conference was organized by 15 organizations, including the Palestinian Youth Movement and National Students for Justice in Palestine, and endorsed by more than 300 organizations.   

The program included panels, workshops, vendors, and cultural art displays. On Instagram, conference organizers shared that more than 3,000 people attended the conference.  Over $200,000 were raised through registration fees to support Palestinians in Gaza through the Middle East Children’s Alliance. 

The weekend was a moment to synthesize history, get organized, understand the role of the diaspora in dismantling Zionism, and strengthen all sectors of the movement in charting a path forward with Gaza as its compass in the wake of the ongoing genocide. 

Each conference day opened with a plenary meeting, setting the theme for the subsequent workshops and panels. The first day began with opening remarks and a plenary assembly about the War on Palestine, featuring Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Jehad Abusalim and Taher Herzallah. The discussion-oriented audience members towards an analytical and strategic means of thinking by analyzing the current moment in the ongoing Nakba in Palestine and the historical circumstances that led to it.

Mohammed Nabulsi — co-MC of the conference — spoke to the historical tradition within which the convening found its impetus: “This conference is an opportunity for us to consolidate and concretize what our resistance will look like, to develop a shared vision and understanding of what our role must be. Just as our people convened in the Arab Women’s Congress in 1929, or the Youth Conferences in Yaffa in 1932, or Haifa in 1935 — all of which led to the great Peasant Revolution of 1936 — or when our people gathered in Al-Nasra in 1975 at the largest public gathering of Palestinians in Occupied Palestine since the Nakba… we too are here to convene to meet not just in this moment, but in all the moments ahead of us.” 

The second day of the conference was marked by three plenary assemblies with connecting themes: Palestinian Resistance and the Path to Liberation, the Movement for Palestine in North America, and Zionism and US Imperialism. Panelists spoke fervently about Palestinians as agents in their own liberation struggle, whose command of the movement and resolve in the face of Zionism and imperialism must be internalized as a practice by Palestinians in the diaspora. 

Nashwa Bawab — an organizer from the PYM — told Palestine Square that it’s “very important for us to not just react to what's happening on the ground through mobilizations… but also to sit down and learn from each other and reflect and unite towards a strategy that helps to liberate our people.”

“Historically, we’ve seen that there have been a lot of other conferences that have happened that have consolidated the Palestinian movement to launch things like intifadas and different strikes in our people’s history… so it’s important for us to continue this tradition.”

The final day was structured around three plenaries: The Student Intifada: Zionism Off Our Campus; Uncommitted Votes: Fracturing the Two Party System; and Palestine and Internationalism. Attendees were encouraged to take the lessons of the prior two days and put them into continuous action. Speakers and participants reflected on diasporic movement victories on campuses and in the U.S. primary election while also situating themselves in a broader, international struggle for freedom from imperialism. Panelists emphasized that this frame of thinking is essential to realizing the liberation of all oppressed peoples worldwide. 

The conference organizers spoke about the importance of connecting local organizing with international struggles for liberation and aligning the goals of Palestinians on the ground with Palestinians in the diaspora.

Layan Fuleihan — educational director at The People’s Forum — affirmed that“one of the huge crimes of the occupation is that it separates us from our people.” By convening in Detroit — one of the largest hubs of the Arab diaspora in North America — organizers hoped to bridge this severed connection in a locale with its own unique set of circumstances.

The plenary meetings anchored the conference. Attendees could synthesize the skills and knowledge gained from a variety of organizers — Palestinian and non-Palestinian alike—throughout the many workshop offerings. These workshops followed four themes: the student movement, bridging the gap between mobilization and organization, battling ideas within the question of Palestine, and confronting Zionism and imperialism.

Educational sessions were bolstered by encouraging words from Gazans on the ground, including journalists Basil Khalaf and Hind Khoudary. Some of the other notable guests included former political prisoner Wisam Rafeedie and the formidable journalist Sanaa Daqqa, widow of the martyred political prisoner Walid Daqqa

Speakers reiterated messages about continuing the momentum and continuing to escalate for Palestinian liberation, with Gaza as the movement’s compass. It was evident that participants were attending not only to deepen their knowledge and solidify their joint political commitments but also to put that knowledge and commitment into action. Throughout the weekend, attendees were encouraged to join the Wayne State University encampment for Gaza, which was taking place just miles from the conference itself. 

Danaka Katovich — national co-director of CODEPINK and a conference attendee —  told Palestine Square that “the encampments were some of the most widespread escalations for Gaza we’ve seen in the US. Demanding divestment is so necessary and holds actual leverage against Israel, a state so deeply funded by American taxpayers, [donations], and investments. That’s the only reason police and politicians are responding to them so intensely… the students are raising the stakes.”

Every speaker — from the conference MCs to Sanaa Daqqa herself — reiterated the importance of taking action beyond the current moment. “This room needs to become rooms. This action needs to become actions. A university needs to become universities. A voice needs to become voices,” Daqqa said.

This message — of catalyzing knowledge into action to expand the popular cradle for Palestine — manifested in two major announcements from conference speakers. The first announcement came just a few hours before the most recent Israeli invasion of Rafah. Breaking news of the Zionist regime’s massacres were plastered on screens across the main ballroom. 

The then-impending invasion of Rafah was an act of war that Joe Biden had previously called a “red line” that would result in ending military aid to Israel. Organizers challenged Biden’s assertion, calling for a national mobilization on June 8th in the nation’s capital, Washington DC. “We draw the red line,” Co-MC Laura Khoury said while speaking about the march. 

“We will not sit idle while our people are being brutally genocided in a war that is being funded by the U.S., by our institutions, by our college campuses… we are going to get back to the streets after this conference,” said Nidaa Lafi, an organizer with the PYM’s Dallas chapter.

The second announcement, made during the concluding remarks, concerned the upcoming launch of a new campaign by the PYM targeted at Maersk, a shipping company. Nearly 70% of all weapons shipments to Israel are delivered by US shipping companies like Maersk. As of June 3, 2024, the PYM publicly launched the campaign.

Tara Alami, an organizer with the Palestinian Feminist Collective, spoke about how this move specifically aligns with the conference goals to “recognize and understand our role as Palestinians [and] Arabs here in the heart of empire, to move from mass mobilizations to long-term sustainable organizing, to join political organizations… and to understand that we are organizations that not only react to events but think about the future, we strategize. We will not rest until our liberation is achieved.”

Both announcements laid a path forward for Palestinian organizing in the diaspora. The People’s Conference for Palestine has ensured that this path is charted with historical knowledge, political education, sharpened tactics, and—above all else—Gaza as its compass. 

About The Author: 

Noor H. is a Palestinian writer and public health student based in America. She is interested in research related to Arab women's health and health equity through the lens of political economy.

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