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)

It was strangely uplifting to spend two nights and three days in the Galilee, North Palestine. We visited good friends, made new friends, saw 3000 year old olive trees, walked in the ruins depopulated villages, and shopped and ate in Palestinian towns which survived 62 years of colonial apartheid.  We crossed from Bethlehem to occupied East Jerusalem with a wave of an Israeli soldier’s hand (who did not bother to check papers of an Israeli car.  A few minutes later we crossed the Green line (borders before 1967) that is neither marked or guarded.  The imaginary green line had long disappeared since Israeli colonies go deep into the occupied West Bank. But in the areas of West Jerusalem, we could still see many signs of the three dozen Palestinian villages depopulated since 1948.  Then taking “route 6″ north.  This highway was built on newly confiscated Palestinian village lands.

Over 530 Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated.  The remaining 130 villages and towns had most of their land taken and now the remaining Palestinians who comprise 20% of the Israeli population live on about 2% of the land while the Jewish population controls the rest (which is mostly Palestinian property). When we take the whole of Palestine (West Bank and Gaza included), we see that Palestinians who remained (some 50% of the population is restricted to less than 10% of historic Palestine. Thus access to land is nearly 9 folds more to the Jewish population (most of it not native) even without the return of refugees.

We visited devastated Palestinian villages like Iqrit (a catholic christian community of which only the church remains), Al-Zeeb (a fishing Muslim community where the mosque and the few remaining buildings are converted for recreation of Israelis), and Al_Bassa (that used to be a thriving mixed town of Christians and Muslims and was filled with Jewish immigrants initially from Bulgaria and is now called Shlomi).

But we also visited still heavily populated (and growing) Palestinian towns like Arrabe, Sakhnin, and Acre. One is tempted to feel sad at the inability of the Zionist Jews to see that they could have lived with the natives instead of at their expense.  I was saddened to see how Jewish settlements throughout the Galillee are built on Palestinian lands instead of on the very many open spaces.  I was saddened to see how these Jewish communities live behind guarded perimeters (gated communities).  Palestinian towns, impoverished but still open to visitors.

Throughout the trip we met a few of the 1.5 million Palestinians who remain steadfast and work to reject the schemes of Judaicizing the Galilee (and the Negev, hopefully my next trip).  These are inspiring people in everything they do. I am humbled by their dedication.  I kept thinking of Tawfiq Ziyad’s poem Unadikum (I call upon you) which was rendered into patriotic songs of love of land and people. It says in part,

I call upon you
I press on your hands
I kiss the land
under your shoes
I gift you the light of my eyes
the beats of my heart
and I sacrifice myself for you
as I share with you our tragedies…

The trip is chronicled in this short video in which I included singing Ziyad’s song:

I returned like I went “unofficially” through the apartheid barriers

For more information see
Abnaa Al-Balad Movement
article just published in Haaretz by Ahmed Tibi on
reality of Palestinians inside the state of Israel
For Al-Bassa and video on Al-Bassa by Uri Zakhem
For Iqrit
For Al-Zeeb and video

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home
Popular Committee to Resist the Apartheid Wall and Settlements-Beit Sahour
Professor, Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities
Chairman of the Board, Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People,

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