HAZEM QUMSIYEH, IN MEMORIAM June 29, 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)

After I left the West Bank via Jordan, we heard the devastating news that my brother-in-law Hazem had passed away. I knew Hazem was very sick and had visited him both the day before I left and on the morning I left. But even though expected, it is always a shock to lose a loved one especially one with the stature of this great man.  Many who attended his funeral said it was the largest they have ever seen in Beit Sahour.  Well over 1000 people attended on very short notice from around the West Bank.  Khalil Gibran reminded us that love and pain are inseparable and my late grandfather had always reminded us that life’s secret is that it mixes hardships with love.

Hazem finished high school in Palestine and his bachelor degree in Physics in Iraq where he was an activist for Palestine.  He returned to Palestine to teach and start a family.  My sister fell in love with this politically active young guy and I remember a wedding with great joy and hope. My parents and his mother were thrilled with the young family.  Hazem taught (physics and sciences but also life) and coached (in football/soccer) becoming loved by young people in the area. He also became well known in the community as a gentle spirit with a knack for solving any problem no matter how complicated.  Under occupation, Palestinians had to deal with problems informally and via mediation and Hazem was an expert mediator.  For being influential and simply a good teacher and community organizer, Hazem was arrested and jailed by the Israeli occupation forces including in administrative detention (6 months stints without trial or seeing a lawyer). My sister had to suffer raising the children with the father away.

Laith was the first born male and Hazem became known as Abu Laith and my sister Suhair as Um Laith (a traditional way of honoring parents in our society). In the early 1990s I helped the young family travel to visit us and tour in the US.  The youngest Louay learned to walk in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Laith, Lina, Lama, and Luai had fun with my son and with visiting places like Disney world and the space center in Florida.

Hazem rose in stature and was elected President of the local youth club, president of the teachers’ union (and later its International liason director), and chairman of the board of the Palestine Wildlife Siciety.  Before the Oslo accords, he worked behind the scenes as a Fatah political leader in the Bethlehem district and after the movement came above ground in 1994 was recognized publicly as one of its key members (and the highest ranking one in the Bethlehem district).  He was most recently elected a member of the revolutionary council of Fatah.

I visited with him for long hours when I returned to Palestine every summer and occasionally when he represented Palestine at teachers’ conferences in the US.  After I returned to Palestine on a permanent basis, I spent even more time with my sister’s family and talking to Hazem.  I would ask his opinion and seek his advice on various areas.  Hazem always had very insightful things to say about life, about politics, about dealing with people etc. He was a partisan Fatah member and leader and was very outspoken in defense of policies of his party.  Yet, I did hear him criticize even his idol Yasser Arafat for some policies (e.g. his support of both negotiations and armed struggle).  He never shied from being brutally honest even about the state of our own people. He told me and others on more than one occasion that Fatah was the largest Palestinian faction and as such it gathered large numbers of Palestinians, the best and the worst of our people. He recognized there was corruption in Palestine but stated that this was far worse in Israel and also in other parties than in Fatah (and that the only reason it is more visible with Fatah is its sheer size). Hazem, like others who paid a heavy price for challenging Israel, believed that different times and geopolitical structures demand different responses.  As an independent, I occasionally disagreed with his analysis of the status of the world geopolitics or of local issues.  But I always respected his insights driven by over 35 years of experience in Palestinian affairs and did find far more things we agree on than disagree on.

On a personal level, I always felt that Hazem was the ideal father, husband, friend, mentor, teacher, and more.  Being around him and his lovely family always inspired me for how loving and kind he was.  He had no pretentions.  He was truly a person comfortable in his own skin and in his role and mission in life.  He fought his last battle with a terminal form of esophageal cancer with courage and poise.  While the cancer conquered his body, it never conquered his spirit. His spirit will always be among us. We will dearly miss him.  Not an eye was left dry at his funeral.  To my sister, my nieces and nephews, and their large and extended lovely family, my sincerest condolences.  Rest in peace my friend Abu Laith, you will never be forgotten.

PS, Here are brief write ups on Hazem in Arabic news outlets (in Arabic).
(this one has a better photo)

PSS, Today as I was giving talks and engaging in conversations at NATO defense college in Rome, I was feeling very homesick not only for being away from my family in this difficult period but away from my friends and fellow activists in the demonstrations held every Friday in numerous locations throughout Palestine (and that have become for us a weekly routine hard to miss).  In Ni’lin, large tracks of olive grove fields were burnt as Israeli forces fired tear gas and stun grenades that set the fields ablaze.  In Bilin near Ramallah, Wad Rahhal and Al-Ma’sara near Bethlehem, and other places, demonstrators demanded Israel end its occupation practices including the most recent Israeli government decisions to demolish more homes in Jerusalem and to expel Palestinians from the city.  Also yesterday, Israeli occupation forces beat  a 12 year Old boy (Ubeidiya Amer) in Jerusalem and broke both his arms. Alas, La Lucha Continua

PSSS My schedule for the remainder of the visit in Europe is updated at
http://www.qumsiyeh.org/schedule/

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
http://qumsiyeh.org


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