The conference lasted two days, on the 21-22 March, in the Rothschild Auditorium of the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, on the grounds of the destroyed Palestinian Village al-Sheikh Muwannis, which was conquered by Haganah forces in March 1948, leading to the expulsion of its inhabitants.
About 300 people attended the two days of the conference, mostly Israeli. The conference was held in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and English, with simultaneous translation. Twenty-four speakers took part – Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals.
The lectures dealt with the practical aspects of the Palestinian refugees’ ‘Awda (Return), its spatial implications, means of advancing and accomplishing it, as well as Zionism’s responsibility for the Nakba, for the Refugee problem, and for the Palestinian ‘Awda.
This year’s conference was marked by the significant participation of organizations that have joined Zochrot in developing the notion of practical return, including the Badil Resource Center for Residency and Refugee Rights (Bethlehem), the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Displaced, and the Baladna Association for Arab Youth (Haifa).
The conference included 8 panels and two lectures. The key-note speaker, Prof. Ilan Pappe, offered his vision of the post-Return space, while Maya al-Orzza from the Badil Center presented the results of the recent survey they conducted regarding the dispersal of the Refugees and their situation throughout the world.
On the second day there were presentations of models and interesting ideas of practical return to four Palestinian localities – al-Birwa, al-Majdal-Asqalan, al-Ghabisiyyah, and the village of al-Lajjun. The models, which were delivered by young (descendents of) internally displaced Palestinians, are the products of the ‘Udna project, in which the following organizations participated over the last year: Zochrot, the Baladna Association, the Arab Association for Human Rights, and the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Displaced.
Two panels - on Mizrachim, Nakba and Return, and on cracks in Zionism regarding return - raised difficult but groundbreaking questions, and offered a rare discussion of these subjects.
Our two international guests Selma Porobich (Bosnia) and Justine Mbabaze Rukeba (Rwanda) shared fascinating, rich information with the audience, together with their professional and practical experience of expulsion and return to their countries.
The conference was a great success, both organizationally and in terms of its content. The questions that its framework enabled us to raise are significant, serious, important and pioneering ones, pointing us towards realizing Return as part of the essential processes of justice which are needed in order to build a possible civil future in our region.