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)

The olive young leaves and flower sprouts are denser than ever before.  It promises a great season not only of bountiful agricultural harvest but of bountiful harvest on the activism front. It is true that, as the Palestinian poet stated, if the olive tree knew the suffering of its owner, its oil would turn into tears.  The Israeli apartheid forces have been uprooting olive trees in Beit Jala the last few days. They have also intensified their
repression and attempts at intimidation of activists (with help from Palestinian collaborators). But it is also true that the apartheid system is facing grassroots activists everywhere despite all these tactics. Today we joined the demonstration in Beit Jala as we did not have a competing event at Ush Ghrab.  The lack of an event here in Beit Sahour happened because the popular committee decided collectively (over 15 people) to put the actions before the local forces to decide on how (and if?) to support the popular resistance. Yet, we did go to Ush Ghrab in the morning and an Ashkenazi white man wearing a blue shirt entered as we were meeting and drinking coffee, fiddled with his backpack, for a few minutes, then left.  Later, as we were leaving, we notice the Israeli army on the hill and the same man with the blue shirt “briefing” them.

Soldiers uprooting olive trees were confronted in Beit Jala (see for example videos here and here and later landowners with help of other locals and internationals went back and replanted these trees and rebuilt a bulldozed children’s playground in Beit Jala.  While the uprooting stopped for now because of a legal maneuver, there are weekly Sunday demonstrations. The even today was well organized locally but faced the usual Israeli brutality.  Soldiers tossed concussion grenades and tear gas, Internationals and Palestinians talked to soldiers telling them that what they are doing is wrong. We told them that we are not personally against them but against what they do, that farmers should not be denied access to their lands, that uprooting olive trees is wrong, that the apartheid wall and settlements are wrong etc.  The Israeli military seem to increasingly
put Druze/Arab commanders in such situations intentionally as these folks try to prove their loyalty to the Jewish state by outdoing their Jewish counterparts in hatred of the Palestinian natives. We also commemorated today in this demonstration the murder of our friend Rachel Corrie, who was run over 7 years ago by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah.  Her parents are finally getting their day in an Israeli court; but if history tells us something it tells us that Israeli judges side with the Israeli occupiers because of the nature of the apartheid tribal regime.

On Saturday, a number of demonstrations happened throughout the West Bank. I passed by Qalandia where women demonstrators were faced with assault and battery by the occupation forces.  In a village near Nablus, Israeli settlers joined the soldiers in assaulting villagers.  In Ni’lin on Friday, people commemorated Tristan Anderson, shot in the head by a high velocity canister. A similar demonstration in Bilin Friday was also met with Israeli violence.   Same happened in Al-Ma’sara where two young men were severely beaten and elsewhere.

I think each Palestinian living under occupation for a few years and learning from his experience deserves a higher degree.  There are of course
people who live here and learn little just as there are people who go through four years of college and learn very little.  I think the same applies to Israelis living in this apartheid system. The opportunities for learning to the questioning mind are boundless but there are few takers. This is because it is for most people easier to live in the paradigms they are used to than bother with really challenging questions. That is fine if these people recognize the limits on their knowledge.  But many actually think they know a lot.  Opinions are rather easy to come by here.  Open any
subject among Israelis and Palestinians and you will hear strong convictions.  There are few hesitations, few “I don’t know”, few questioning of the thought process shaped many years ago in unyielding, and unchanging brains.  Even when there are internal contradictions in the thought process, it is accepted as a given.

But we in the activist community must take more time to explain to people (friend and foe) what we believe and why we came to our beliefs.  We must listen and analyze and reason.  It is possible to reach people.  Whether they are cowards, collaborators, congenital liars, conscripted soldiers obeying orders, or congenial friends and relatives not wanting to “get involved.”  It is important to simply talk.  We need to look people in the eyes, ask questions, and converse honestly.  But above all, we must get involved since we can’t be neutral on a moving train and silence is
complicity. Action does make a difference.  Just last week Israel apartheid week actions happened in over 50 cities around the world from Gaza to New York.  Here are a few more actions people have taken:

Video done by Zochrot to stimulate discussion in Israel: On the day Yafa`s refugees return

Video: Event in the Peace Palace at the Hague, the Netherlands when apartheid apologists are confronted by a more popular “reception” outside which also stimulated discussion of the nature of Israeli apartheid

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine
(RTP) was held in Barcelona. The RTP is a peoples’ tribunal focusing not on Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, but on the obligations of the international community of signatory states which sustain and enable Israel’s continuous violations of international law.

Deafening Silence from Corporate Media
(on IDF Dinner Protest) by Alex Kane

Hundreds of US Academics support the boycotts, divestments, and sanctions from apartheid Israel

Launch of New website: Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East?

And we Palestinian Christians will try to enter Jerusalem without permits this Easter,

Stay tuned (but better yet, act on your end :-)

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

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