BACK IN PALESTINE 12Mar10 March 13, 2010


Dr MAZIN QUMSIYEH is a tireless activist for Palestinian human rights who returned to his hometown of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank last year and now teaches at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities. The author of Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle (2004), Qumsiyeh is both a human rights activist and a scientist who has a lengthy list of publications on genetics to his credit. The Electronic Intifada contributor Ida Audeh met with him in April and discussed advocating the Palestinian cause in the United States and his impressions about the current direction of the Palestinian struggle.

During the 29 years he lived in the United States, Qumsiyeh earned masters and doctoral degrees; taught at several prestigious universities, including Duke and Yale; co-founded activist organizations (Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition and the Wheels of Justice Tour — a traveling tour bus that stops at different communities to educate them about Palestine and Iraq); and was a board member for numerous organizations. Since the mid-1990s, he has maintained email lists that focus on human rights and international law. His weekly postings now reach approximately 50,000 individuals and include reports of events and comments that are informed by a deep understanding of common struggles in other parts of the world. An optimist who advocates “having joyful participation in the sorrows of this world,” he includes in every e-mail at least one action that the reader can take to make a difference. (From an interview with Ida Audeh, The Electronic Intifada , 11 May 2009)

It was hard to say goodbye to my wife and friends in the US.  The last night was very meaningful as we were in New York seeing the performance of Najla Said, daughter of my friend and mentor, the late Professor Edward Said (see here for an earlier statement from Najla).  I cried while she was speaking because her words expressed deep emotions that I often felt but could not adequately express.  I was touched by her openness with her emotions about being, like her father, “out of place” living in New York but somehow connected to Palestine.  The play is simply called ‘Palestine’ and it ends with her saying that Palestine makes her cry! A truly powerful play.

On the flight from New York to Amman, I have time to ponder the past, the future, and the present.  Questions race in my mind and most left unanswered. How did we end-up here?  Did I reach out enough to those few individuals who came to my talk at Rutgers and Northeastern to defend Zionism? How do I show appreciation for those who came to support or who hosted me? What will happen in the next few weeks, to me and to Palestine? My thoughts are interrupted by the Delta pilot announcing that we will enterbrestricted airspace and that everyone is to return to their seat and buckle-up?  The US citizen behind me comments as the stewardess passes that this must be a military base.  She says simply “we are passing over Israel”. I think in my mind “same thing” and want to say it out loud but decide to not say anything.

We land in Amman around 5 PM, and the officer at the passport control asks me how long I will be staying and I say I am leaving directly to Palestine. I chat with the taxi-driver, a Palestinian who never saw Palestine.  He tells me I should stay overnight and feels protective of me.  I arrive at the Jordanian border controls and it is empty and I am quickly processed and I catch the bus smoothly.  As the bus crosses the bridge into the occupied territories my heart beats a little faster.  At the first checkpoint before the passport control, I make a call to the lawyer.  His phone is turned off. 30 minutes later we are about to disembark in front if the building with passport controls and I call again.  No answer.  I begin to sweat.  I call my sister and tell her to try to reach the lawyer.  There are two friendly individuals who happen to be on the same bus.  One of them teaches with me at Bethlehem University.  When I give him my card, he just simply says “do not worry, it will be OK”.  I feel an inner peace that is hard to describe. I smile at him. I smile at the 3 year old child in the seat in front of me.

Half an hour later, my friends passed through and I am at the window being asked questions by a blond Ashkenazi young women who never smiles.  After examining my Palestinian document (issued by the Israeli ministry), and spending a few minutes at her computer, she demands I show her my American passport.  She asks a few more questions.  She consults with the girl next to her, whispers something and points at the screen.  The other girl says something like “kin, aval lo.” yes but no.. I am still calm.  She hands me back my American passport.  Three minutes later, she stamps and hands me back the other document.  My friend who was waiting for me says “see I told you”.  I did not answer.  I am a bit confused.  Questions rush through my head.  What does this mean? Does it confirm the idea that they came to my house after I left so that I would be scared and not come back? Or was this because of the pressure from the letters from the senators office, from three congressmen, from many activists demanding that I be given safe passage? (see below). Or maybe there is yet another game I do not understand.  Maybe the Buddhist charm that a friend gave me for good luck worked and they simply missed me buy accident? Maybe they will come for me later? Emotions of relief are tempered by a deep anger at this whole affair. Whatever game is being played, it is sick and not amusing. I promise myself
that I am not going to let it pass, I will follow my lawyer’s advice and a) still go to see the military officer Sunday or Monday (after the weekend/Sabbath), b) still keep this issue public and publicized. I resolve to do more to support others who are less fortunate than I am. La lucha continua.  I get home at 11:30 PM, tired and drained.  My mother is waiting for me on the street.  I kiss her cheeks and tears come to my face as Najla’s words come to mine “Palestine makes me cry”.

I will keep you informed of what happens next but for now I will call friends here to see where we are with planned activities of popular resistance. I will also prepare my lectures for tomorrow at Birzeit University and take it one day at a time occasionally reporting to you as before on life under occupation.  I am truly grateful for and touched by all the letters of support.  A petition was created and is posted at There is even a facebook page which has now hundreds of members to support m.   This outpouring of love is hard to reciprocate but if there is anything I could ever do for any of you, please do not hesitate to ask. For example, I would love to host you in Palestine and show you around.

For now, I enjoy the simple pleasure of eating green almonds from my yard. And the journey continues of seeking to have “joyful participation in the sorrows of this world”. Life under colonial occupation continues.  Negev human rights activist Nuri el Okbi was brought to the Be’er Sheba Magistrate’s Court on many “charges” because he refuses to leave his land Israel continues to intensify efforts at social engineering in the Negev as elsewhere to remove Palestinians from their land.  Today (Friday), the occupied areas are under full closure with worshippers prevented from
getting to Al-Aqsa mosque to avoid any demonstrations over Israel’s approval of 1600 new housing units for Jews in Arab parts of the city.  The latter represented not just a spit on the face of Abu Mazen but visiting US vice president Joe Biden who wiped it off and called it rain according to Haaretz There is a Zionist man I sometimes exchange views with openly and on numerous occasions he told me in response to incidents like these: the world is based on might/power and state interests, get used to it.  I choose to believe that all good comes from people who disagree with this Machiavellian notion. After all, if we all believed in entrenched power, we would have no civil rights in the US, no end to the war on Vietnam, and Palestine would have become a pure Jewish state by now.

With love to all.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
Popular Committee to Defend Ush Ghrab (PCDUG)
A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home

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