Author:Shahin, Mariam

As Israelis gear up to celebrate 50 years of Independence this month, Mariam Shahin looks at some of the ways Palestinians of the diaspora are commemorating 50 years of oppression.

Palestine 50' is written on T-shirts and placards. A gigantic quilt with 418 square patches is passed from state to state. Embroidered in red, green, white and black are names of Arab villages or communities and a date. The dates are all in 1948. The names are those of the 418 communities destroyed by Zionist forces when they set up their state in Palestine. But the cities and towns where the embroidering is taking place are not Ramallah, Amman or Cairo; they are Boston, Massachusetts, Austin, Texas and Washington DC.

The quilt has gone through the United States, from one city to the next. In each Arab community someone has embroidered one square patch. Thus on the 50th anniversary of the end of what was Palestine, the memory is celebrated in America, of all places.

The quilt is intended to immortalise the names, and thus the memories, of the communities others tried to erase forever 50 years ago this month. The communal embroidery is one of a dozen or more activities organised around the 15 May by the Arab American community.

According to some community leaders, this inter-community effort has also served to raise the consciousness and increase the cohesion in a frequently disheartened community. Lame, docile and often divided, the Arab community in the US has managed to re-invent itself for this special occasion, 50 years after the dissolution of the British Mandate over Palestine. Meetings, poetry recitals and concerts revive memories of a 'beautiful' past, a past of defeats and pain but also of achievement and learning.

There are more than three million Americans of Arab ancestry in America. About 10-15 per cent of Arab-Americans came originally from Palestine. But for the past 50 years, the Arab American societies, be it the Arab American University Graduates Association, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee or any of a selection of others have championed Arab rights in Palestine as one of their primary cause celebres.

Palestinian communities are clustered in New York, California, Chicago, Detroit and Texas. There, and in dozens of other states and cities, communities will mark 15 May with different forms of peaceful protest, reminding their government in Washington that it also has an Arab constituency to think about when playing "middleman" in the now largely defunct Middle East peace process.

For most Arab and Palestinian Americans the prospect of a return to any part of the land they left behind is most unlikely. However, some parts of the community in the Americas (there are an estimated 500,000 Palestinians in South America) have...

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