Was so happy to see that the Houston Chronicle's
Mike Tolson covered the Ramallah Convention. I attended one at San Francisco's then new Hyatt Regency (with the revolving bar at the top) about forty years ago. For more information about the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine, the largest Arab-American organization in the US, visit its website, http://www.afrp.org/
Thank you for publishing the intriguing story Ramallah not far in hearts of visiting Palestinians: Convention celebrates links to the land some have left behind by By MIKE TOLSON.
Whether living halfway across the world, or only a stone's toss away from our heritage, we can not help but treasure and value what our parents and mentors have, by example, taught us to cherish. Warm family ties and good food trump conquest, cold politics and empty words every time, no matter where in the world you might be.... While I suspect our American newspapers tend to publish more Israeli news and views than Palestinian, I bet the internet plus many a book case & file cupboard are mainly full of millions of personal family pages, photos, pictures, descriptions, recipes, names, documents, books and notes from many Palestinians and their heirs all over the world who have kept Palestine alive in hearts and minds in ways a textbook never could.
And yes- I quite agree with Afif Safieh: "It's the optimists who make history, not the pessimists." !!!
Anne Selden Annab
For many Americans, Ramallah is little more than a name in a newscast, a troubled place where bad things are known to happen. For about 3,000 local conventioneers visiting Houston this week, it is home — literal for some, but for all the birthplace of an identity they are determined to keep alive.
The American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine, comprising more than 30,000 Palestinian expatriates and their children and grandchildren, meets every year to celebrate a history that goes back centuries and cultural traditions that are threatened by increasing integration into their adopted homeland.
"We are facing the same dilemma that the Irish and the Italians faced with new generations," said George Zaibaq, the convention chairman. "We have the advantage of being one large family. Our goal is that (our descendants) will know what their roots and ancestry are. When you know who your family is, it gives you an added sense of belonging and security and accomplishment."
The convention is a great social gathering — they call it the world's biggest family reunion, owing to a common origin in the 1500s — and every annual meeting features centuries-old dances and foods, a "culture camp" for the children and a traditional mock wedding. But the current state of affairs in the ancient West Bank town 10 miles north of Jerusalem is seldom far from anyone's thoughts.
"The connection is still strong," said Jamal Jubran, president of the federation, which has chapters in 14 states. "We left the city because of the bad political and economic situation, but about 60 percent of the land in Ramallah is still owned by the people who left. We help them as much as we can. The people there live under terrible conditions."
Ramallah Mayor Janet Michael, the first female mayor in the Middle East, can attest to that. Employment is spotty and services are hard to provide because of reduced revenue. She is trying to get the federation to donate a street sweeper to the city. For its shortcomings, however, Ramallah still offers many cultural attractions and a higher standard of living than some Palestinian towns.
It is an open, liberal city, and people who come to it are happy," said Michael, who attended the convention in part because she has four brothers living in the U.S. "It's a better place to live. The people there are accepting of those from all over."
Of Ramallah's 57,000 residents, only about 12,000 are Christian, Michael among them. Though the city was once almost exclusively Christian, she said there is seldom friction with Muslim Palestinians over religion. They are united by a common cause: establishment of a Palestinian state.
Afif Safieh, the Palestinian Liberation Organization mission representative to the U.S., encouraged those present to join other Arab-American groups in becoming increasingly vocal in politics.
"We have to prove to American society and American elected officials that being pro-Palestinian is not suicidal," Safieh said. "We are not a marginal minority, we are a mainstream majority."
He praised the Ramallah federation as the best organized of the Arab-American groups, and because it is Christian it is even better poised to communicate the Palestinian cause in American politics.
"We belong to a privileged element of our society," Safieh said. "It's a historically important moment for the Palestinian diaspora communities to shoulder much of the responsibility. We have to become actors in our history and not just subjects of history."
Safieh, who also is Christian, said there is increasing evidence of dissatisfaction within the American Jewish communities over Israeli policies, and the two historically opposed American interest groups are finding more common ground.
"We are passing through a very difficult moment in our history," he said. "The mood of pessimism and defeat is strong. But the degree of that pessimism should not be a measure of one's patriotism. It's the optimists who make history, not the pessimists."