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)

Like in Palestine, a traveler discovers in Italy common characteristics found in all ancient civilizations: hospitability, pride of place, joy of life, a strong sense of history without a need to exaggerate, and a general sense of continuity of past present and future.  Unlike colonial states, there is also a strong sense of provincialism that transcends state nationalism.  The dialect spoken is only a part of this since there is much more to this sense of bonding to place.  People are born, raised, and have extended families in one place.  This is not true in the old colonial states like the United States or in the newer colonial entities like Israel.  People are connected to the land in ways that are hard to describe to those who are not of the place.  In Campania, the district in Italy that includes Napoli, we find villages and towns that are really ancient, built in respect of the local landscape, and not trying to dominate or subdue.  Only abandoned castles of invaders are on top of hills and provide only a reminder of the folly of humanity. Similarly, our Palestinian Arab towns blend seamlessly with the landscape:  Akka, Jaffa, Nazareth, Haifa, Beisan, Beit Sahour, Nahhalin, Nablus, Gaza, or Hebron.  Zionists took over some of these towns but generally their initial activities and later much of their activities have been to build enclaves/colonies in ways that are as predictable as the crusaders.  Tops of hills, strategic locations to dominate and control.  This is expected from foreign invaders who always worry about the day they will be removed.  The land is violated and the countryside dominated.  One is only comforted to note that these unnatural phenomena usually do not last long whether they were Spanish colonies in Italy or Crusader cities and castles in Palestine.  The local people hold no bitterness about any part of the complex history.  In Positano along the Amalfii coast, the local people had the legend of Turkish Pirates establishing a colony here but local festival actually reenacts this episode in fun and many locals joyfully play the parts of the Turkish invaders.  In Palestine, many people joyfully tell of the fact that there are families who trace their ancestry to reminants of the crusaders and many even prefer that blondish look of ‘European’ Palestinians.   Life moves on and people live and let live.  But the situation in Palestine is only heating up.

In the USA, the native people were severely decimated (including by European diseases that they were not resistant to) and were in any case less densely populated and had a much shorter history and civilization than elsewhere.  The remaining native Americans still struggle to maintain their identity and even try to reclaim some of their rights.  Most European Americans have come to realize the injustices committed and some now seek wisdom from the philosophies of ancient tribes.   Israeli colonization in Palestine over the past 62 years came rather late in the history of humanity after most countries abandoned colonialism.  It has all the usual characteristics of colonization but also required the added ‘feature’ of being built on layers of religious and other mythologies.

The Zionist movement convinced enough Jews (and many gullible non-Jews) that Judaism represents not just a religion but a “peoplehood”.  To peddle this bizarre mythology, data from science fields including genetics and archeology were discarded or distorted or even manufactured (see my book on “Sharing the Land of Canaan” for some explanation). Other classes of distortions and genres of mythologies were developed to justify the unjustifiable .

But the bottom line is not so hard to fudge: Palestinians have been dispossessed from most of their lands (7 of 11 million are now refugees or displaced people, the remainder has access to less than 8.3%) and an artificial racist state rules with military might and occasionally lashes out violently at any and all opposition internal or external (e.g. in Lebanon in 2006, Gaza in 2008/9 and against the humanitarian aid ships in International waters). The Zionist state has agents acting on its behalf in many countries around the world and thus feels it can get away with gross violations of International law including committing crimes against humanity. But the irrational behavior of this rogue state has caused its Western sponsors significant problems.  My lectures in the West (including at NATO Defense College) shows that Westerners are increasingly aware of the dangers posed by this rogue state.  After all, if we cannot have International law/humanitarian law  applicable in the case of Israel, then the Arab and Muslim world is right to ask: why have such law if there is only the rule that ‘might makes right’. For what we risk by allowing Israeli exceptionalism to basic norms of decency is not merely sacrificing Palestinians but sacrificing International order.  This conclusion is evident from any rational and even cursory examination of issues like terrorism, the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thus, as I try to explain in my lectures, this issue of Israel/Palestine is critical for all.  If we want our lives to be meaningful, we cannot ignore this issue.  We are fortunate in being able to effect a change in history at this critical junction. I thus want to thank our hosts and other Italian people for the great hospitality, warmth, sympathy, and solidarity that we witnessed here.  It has given us much energy to even work harder.  For all of them and all others on this list around the world, we welcome you to visit us in occupied Palestine and help make history.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

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