Thanksgiving conference focuses on Middle East peace

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, addressed the audience Saturday night at the American Muslim for Palestine's third annual conference in New Brunswick, NJ.

(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) – About 750 people attended a conference highlighting Middle East peace at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick over Thanksgiving weekend. The conference, titled, “Palestine: The Gate to Global Peace,” brought in world-renowned speakers such as former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck and former Palestinian presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouthi.

This was the third annual conference for the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a national, grassroots organization based in Chicago, whose mission is to educate the American public about issues relating to Palestine.

Organizers considered the conference, which held lectures and workshops on a variety of issues ranging from empowering youth and building interfaith coalitions to dissecting the ongoing peace process and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, to be a success, based upon attendance and guest feedback, said Yousef Shahin, chairman of AMP-New Jersey.

“Though this is AMP’s third annual conference, it is the first time we held it in New Jersey,” said Shahin, of Clifton. “Our main objective is to educate people about Palestine. We want to put a human face on Palestinians for Americans, who don’t really know much about us.”

Rania Mustafa, 18, of Clifton, attended the event to learn more about her heritage and how she could help raise awareness of the occupation and the subsequent human rights abuses Palestinians suffer.

“I am a Palestinian who dearly cares for and loves Palestine, but I believe that this issue is not only for the people, who have a national tie to this cause, like me,” she said after the conference via e-mail. “Since our tax dollars are going to supporting this horrid occupation, I think this issue is very pertinent to any tax-paying American.”

The United States gives nearly $3 billion per year to Israel in unconditional military aid, according to the Congressional Research Services, an organization working exclusively for Congress to provide statistics and analysis on a variety of topics. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. Added to the military aid, Israel also receives an undisclosed sum in loan guarantees, other grants and in free or reduced-cost military weaponry and artillery.

AMP’s main mission is to educate the American public by publishing booklets, fact sheets and brochures as well as holding conferences, workshops and seminars, said its chairman, Dr. Hatem Bazian, who is also a professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “We firmly believe that once Americans know that the U.S. sends the equivalent of about $7 million per day to Israel and that that money supports an illegal military occupation that goes against our dearly held American values of life, liberty and justice, they will pressure their elected officials to change our foreign policy and to hold Israel accountable.”

Dr. Bazian added: “The key to world peace lies in Palestine. The United States’ unconditional support of Israel – both financially and politically – weakens the U.S stance in the Arab and Muslim world, and it also threatens our national security.”

Israel and the Palestinians returned to the peace negotiating table in September, but talks have stalled over Israel’s resumption of settlement construction. President Barack Obama recently offered Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu an incentive package to hold off on building new settlements. The package includes the sale of 20 F-35 fighter jets worth $3 billion, according to published reports.

AMP will participate in the national MAS-ICNA convention that will take place end of December in Chicago. For more information on AMP or to read more about last weekend’s conference, go to www.ampalestine.org.

To see more pictures from the event, click here.

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