090510-qumsiyeh4Dr 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)


I entered Jerusalem through the apartheid wall yesterday without using the temporary “Israeli permit” that was issued to me (and that expired yesterday). My family had applied for me and many others through our church for the Eastern Christian Holidays. Yet, those who could enter like I did (with or without permits) are a tiny fraction of the Palestinian population. I have not been in Jerusalem in nearly four years due to Israeli restrictions.

On the drive along the Hebron road, we first pass by side roads leading to the colonies built since 1967 on Palestinian lands (illegal per International law): things now called Ramat Rachel, Gilo, and Har Homa. We pass by land that was leased (for 99 years!) from our Greek Orthodox Church by tricks and a corrupt church official to develop Israeli malls and housing. We then enter the “neighborhoods” of Amona and Talpiot that used to be Arab Palestinians before 1948 and see many old Palestinian homes that were taken over by Zionists and their residents. Charming old Arab houses with arched balconies sit lonely amid massive development of European style architecture. I wonder what their Jewish residents think of living in such structures. I wonder if even they know what life is like just three miles south in the refugee camps in Bethlehem.

To the right, we pass by the road leading to Silwan. A Palestinian neighborhood that is increasingly threatened with total eviction to create a “natural park”. I think of the three Palestinian villages (including the biblical Imwas ) that were removed in 1967 to create later “Canada Park”; to honor Canadian Jews and others who donated to plant non-native trees where homes and agricultural land once existed. Many homes have already been demolished in Silwan, Wadi Al Joz and Israeli digging under Silwan is resulting in collapse of homes and infrastructures (and occasionally injuries to residents like when an UNRWA school floor collapsed injuring two students).

Then we moved up the hill to the old city. I remember walking these roads and roaming around the area when I taught in Jerusalem in 1978 and 1979 (at Schmidt Girls College). Nostalgia at seeing familiar structures and buildings (the old YMCA, the schools, the American Consulate, the Churches and mosques) is mixed with apprehension at seeing the scarring that destroyed many other familiar landmarks. The city I think will slowly become totally unrecognizable. It will become like an extension of Tel Aviv (except populated with more religious Jews). Now I realize cities do change in time. But this is different.


Jerusalem was a city that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Many occupiers tried to change its character by force (Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, British, etc) but the people of the city have always clung to traditions and resisted changes. And there were only two periods were there was massive ethnic cleansing: a) when the crusaders came in the middle ages (removing and killing local Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim residents), and b) in 1948 when Western Jerusalem was completely cleared of Palestinian residents (some 23,000 born before Jan 1948 and now the total refugees from that part of the city is 93,000, see data in http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/images/ArticlesPdf/3_Jerusalem%2048.pdf) and concomitantly nearly 2000 Jews removed from Eastern Jerusalem. The old Jewish quarter has always been Muslim Waqf land whose residents before 1948 paid rent to. For data on population changes through historic Palestine, see http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Palestine-Remembered/Story559.html .

At this point, I know some will say that ethnic cleansing was done by the Romans when “the Jews” were expelled following the Bar Kokhba revolt. But historically this is not true. First, there was no such thing as the Jews but residents of Judea who were referred to as Judeans (in Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic variations on Yahudi best translated as Judean not Jew). These Judeans practiced different religions including many pagan traditions. Some religions were shared by other Palestinians (e.g. monotheistic traditions shared between some Samaritans and some Judeans). The revolt by radical Pharisee elements was against the Roman appointed Herod dynasty (Herod, of Idumean background, was considered kind of the Judeans). These radical elements were the ones who were removed from Jerusalem, not the Judean population. Judeans in Jerusalem at the time who continued to live there included many who believed in Baal, YHW/Yahweh, and El/El Elyon (Elohim in Hebrew, Alla in Aramaic, Allah and Arabic), and the nascent Christian tradition (and later of course many adopted Islam). The languages spoken included not only Greek and Latin but various dialects of Aramaic including those that are recognizable Arabic and spoken Hebrew dialects (although the latter was mostly for religious rituals). Many forget that the Arabic alphabet evolved here in the Holy Land from Nebatean Proto Aramaic!

But more modern history is sad because we experience it. Just last year alone 4600 Palestinians lost their right to live in their own city including some of my friends. Some 150 Palestinian homes were demolished. I also talked yesterday with a colleague in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem whose family was evicted and the home taken over by radical settlers. I give a lecture on Mount Scopus; land that partly belonged to the Jerusalemite Khalidi and other families and has been taken over under Israel’s “laws” of “absentee property”. As the Palestinian nature of this old city continues to be under attack, it has been slowly being transformed to a European city with an Ashkenazi Jewish Zionist character. Its eastern charm is now replaced by business, commerce, etc that is to serve the privileged segment of the society.

In the UN partition plan of 1947, Jerusalem was to become an International city open to all. My hope is that with thousands of activists (increasing daily) who engage in the struggle for peace with justice, Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to West Jerusalem and those displaced from East Jerusalem also returned (just like the Jewish quarter was re-populated). That the city then really become an international city with full equality and a truth an reconciliation committee established just like happened in South Africa. Jerusalem would then become a “shiny city on the hill” and its people “a light unto the people” (mistranslated “light unto the nations”).

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home

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