Ramallah, Palestine– The 5th Annual Palestinian Diaspora Conference in Ramallah, Palestine brought together diaspora dignitaries from around the world representing a wide array of sectors and institutions. Sir Rateb Rabie, President and CEO of theHoly Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) addressed the attendees in his opening remarks, referring to the Diaspora as a “sleeping giant” signifying the importance of the conference theme: “We are all one nation. We are all Palestinian”. The theme of unity between Palestinians in the diaspora with Palestinians in the homeland resounded throughout the two-day conference, with all esteemed speakers and panelists committed to building the State of Palestine as one people.
Dr. Siman Khoury, General Manager of Industrias Kabinchy and founder of the Palestinian Salvadorian Association, spoke about the role of the diaspora in Latin America, and how it must serve and lead by example. Ms. Lindsey Durand-Vibert, an Economic Development Team Leader at DFID Jerusalem, called on all present to further support diaspora backed economic initiatives: “Do not underestimate the role of the diaspora and private sectors for the success of this country. You are the ones who drive the innovation and hope for Palestine.”
The first conference panel consisted of Palestinians working in media, as well as Mr. Khaled Shahwan from the United Nations Development Programme. Entitled “Palestinians in a World of Globalized Communications”, it examined how improved communications through social media, traditional media, and reciprocal visitation can maximize the potential for Diaspora networks to work together and create positive change in Palestine.Ms. Nour Odeh, CEO of Connect Strategic Communications Consultancy, and Ms. Jennine Abdul Khalik, a diaspora Palestinian journalist who writes for The Australian in Sydney, spoke about how diaspora communications could be developed and deepened, citing the successes that they have had as media professionals working for the Palestinian cause. “There’s a lot of great Palestinian talent, art, culture, and creativity,” Ms. Abdul Khalik said. “I think we need to bring those stories to the forefront rather than just the negative. We are very much capable of helping ourselves by focusing on the positives through social media.”
The second panel featured Mr. Jamal Haddad, the General Manager of Palestine for Development, Ms. Raya Sbitany, Head of Business Development at Bank of Palestine, Mr. Bassem Khoury, CEO of Dar Al-Shifa’a Pharmaceuticals, and Dr. Walid Zayed, a successful Palestinian-Panamanian lawyer, businessman, and scholar. The panel focused on the ways in which better connections with the Palestinian diaspora can better assist economic development and poverty reduction in Palestine. Through investment, initiatives to increase tourism, and joint business projects, the discussion demonstrated possibilities for uniting Palestinians. Ms. Sbitany, commented “There is actually a Palestinian exchange! With 49 companies on the market, it is fully regulated and aligned with international standards. But, the diaspora just doesn’t know about it. We have a very energetic young population here who want to help, but it truly helps to get experience from abroad.”
Sir Rateb Rabie moderated a roundtable discussion on how different segments of the Diaspora can work together to support Palestine’s growth and development. Dr. Assad Abdulrahman,Executive Chairman of the Palestine International Insititute, Mr. Mohammad Attoun, Trade & Investment Leader at the Palestinian Market Development Program, Ms. Manal Farhan from the Ministry of Economy, and Dr. Walid Zayed all joined the discussion, offering their professional opinions and experience throughout the discussion, as well as answering questions. They were joined by two Know Thy Heritage diaspora delegates, Hadeel Ibrahim, an Australian medical professional, and Annette Kafie, an Honduran international human rights student in Italy, who in the future hopes to use her educational background in Palestine. Both spoke as Diaspora members about different ways in which the homeland and Diaspora can better interact, and together with the other panelists, analyzed strategies for moving forward the economy, healthcare, a human rights agenda.
The final panel hosted three guests from the Latin American diaspora: Roberto Kettlun, Mr. Siman Khoury, and Alex Cattan, who reflected upon how their inspiring personal journeys can be used as a blueprint for Palestinians seeking to make a difference. Touching upon the value of their Palestinian heritage and reconnecting with ones’ roots, they spoke of how they as individuals have found innovative, different ways of better engaging with Palestine. Mr. Khoury, who has had a highly successful business career in El Salvador, spoke of his experience in the diaspora, providing a model for Palestinians outside of the homeland hoping to give back and reconnect with Palestine. Mr. Cattan, a highly successful businessman and President of the Arab Center in Concepción, Chile, spoke about how the lessons he has learned over his many years in the corporate world can be taken and used to develop leadership skills, both in the homeland and diaspora. Mr. Kettlun, a professional Palestinian-Chilean footballer who currently plays in the West Bank Premier League and has appeared numerous times for the Palestinian national team, spoke about how he used his passion for football to better serve the Palestinian cause. “My father and grandfather always told me I would never be able to return to Palestine,” remarked Mr. Kettlun, “But through my love for football, I was able to return to my homeland and struggle for its cause. I encourage all of you to find your passion and use it as best you can to assist the Palestinian cause.”
The conference culminated in a key note speech by Her Excellency Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who spoke about the political situation in Palestine, the challenges facing their homeland, and the ways in which the diaspora can ameliorate the situation. The conference attendees were absolutely thrilled to hear her speak, and relished the opportunity to meet with her at the end of the conference. In the words of Dr. Hanan Ashrawi herself, “You diaspora Palestinians give us hope. Palestinian exiles and immigrants are still part of the Palestinian reality. We want you to engage in the future of Palestine. You can be our light and our voice throughout the world!”
In the spirit of Dr. Ashrawi’s words, The 5th Annual Palestinian Diaspora Conference served as an inspiration to all Palestinians in the diaspora that there is hope in cooperation with their brothers and sisters in the homeland.