TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 31 Aug 2020
29 Aug 2020 – I returned to Palestine in 2008 (after a quarter of a century in the US) and it is good to reflect on these 12 years. Below this is the message from August 2008 explaining why I came back and what I had planned to do here. Much of course happened in 12 years good and bad (and that is the nature of life). Sadly, I witnessed two Israeli large attacks on Gaza and persistent daily attacks on life of Palestinians. I witnessed wars inspired by the US on Libya, Yemen, and Syria and toppling a dictator in Egypt to be replaced by an elected government which in turn gets toppled by another dictator. I witnessed 60 million Americans electing Trump to be president while the rest learned nothing from democratic establishment propping crooked Hillary “we came [to Libya] we conquered” Clinton. They will still vote for the lesser of two evils.
I witnessed locally home demolitions, ethnic cleansing, and de-development with Western complicity and hypocrisy. I lost 19 friends who were killed by the occupation forces. I myself was harassed and detained/arrested many times. I witnessed and participated in civil disobedience and civil resistance and wrote a book on popular resistance. My students and I research environmental justice issues and wrote many research papers. We helped many needy families. And we are now struggling as pandemic picks up here in besieged Palestine.
I have split my time between working on human rights issues for Palestinians and working for the environment. These are not mutually exclusive as there is significant overlap. There are issues of colonizer assaults on the environment and environmental justice. There are issues of human sustainability and food security (dependent on the environment). Of course where and how we act evolves and changes in time. In those 12 years, I learned that our struggle as indigenous people in Palestine is connected to the struggle of indigenous people everywhere. I also learned that since the wealthy elites have no future for themselves without a healthy planet and a healthy planet depends us indigenous people, the elites must learn to listen to us.
For many years we have been active and I had no problem sleeping despite bad new all around us. Action is the best antidote to despair. Recently my own initiatives and actions seem not enough to keep my sanity even those that have tangible results (like founding and volunteering at the Palestine Institute for biodiversity and sustainability that we now employ 9 people and publish on, educate about, and conserve our environment). We witness Israeli bombing of Gaza and Lebanon, home demolitions, persistent human rights violations in Palestine, Yemen, and Syria (e.g. Turkey occupation forces cutting water to 1.3 million people in Hasaka). We also witness the US descending into a fascist state with people having to choose lesser of two evils as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Here are two other examples of news that keeps me awake:
- At least six COVID-19 cases outside of quarantine confirmed in two days: Al Mezan warns of a potential human catastrophe in Gaza after Israel tightens its closure and bans fuel entry http://www.mezan.org/en/post/23788
- The UAE ruler worked against the interests of his and all people to succumb to US dictates (made by the Israel lobby) and kills people and occupies their lands in Yemen and now turns it over to build the Israeli empire. Israel to have bases in Socotra, Yemen an island of unique habitat that is already under significant pressure fro the UAE’s military occupation: https://southfront.org/uae-israel-plan-to-create-intelligence-bases-on-socotra-island/
- Some 6 million US and 3 million Brazilians infected with Covid-19 while their presidents are merely happy to get richer and serve Zionist masters.
- What the media ignores about the UN report on Biodiversity (the need to empower indigenous communities)
But in the end, I and my wife and the volunteers around us accomplished even more than what was predicted 12 years ago (below), I met hundreds of people who made a difference in my life. Some were martyred, some injured, some died of natural causes (e.g. our friend Qavi who helped so many Palestinians and wanted to die and be buried in Palestine). We gave thousands of talks and built an email list of tens of thousands. We built institutions and we helped hundreds of young people. And indeed we had “joyful participation in the sorrows of this world.”
Leaving the US For Palestine (August 2008)
After such knowledge; what forgiveness?
History has many cunning passages,
And issue, deceives with whispering ambitions
Guides us by vanities.
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, she gives with such supple confusion
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
— T. S. Elliot
I graduated from Jordan University with a Bachelor degree at age 21 and then taught in Palestinian Schools (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho). In those year and a half as a middle and high school teacher (Jan 78-June 79) I worked very hard at two jobs (extra teaching at private school in Jerusalem) so as to save money for higher education. I saved enough for the airline tickets and an extra $1500 for the first few months in America. I came to the US in August 1979 to pursue higher education and ended up making it a home while maintaining a home in Palestine.
Since then I got my doctorate, medical boards in genetics, and served on faculties at the University of Tennessee, Duke, and Yale Universities. I published over 130 scientific papers and three books. Here I also met first my wife, built a family, made thousands of friends, and chose to become a citizen. Thus, my journey in the US was wonderful and highly successful. Much of my activism was driven here by the desire to improve this country (e.g. stop it from committing war crimes and crimes against humanity). I strongly believe that unless all of us work together to change US foreign policy (a policy shaped by Zionist lobbies), we are all doomed. We see that millions of US citizens are also concerned about the way this foreign policy is damaging our economy and reputation around the world. I think it must (and it will) change.
There are many good signs (e.g. the books of Carter and Mearsheimer and Walt became best sellers). Yet, today with the new laws that shred constitutional protections, government intrusion on every sphere of life, the US has been more Israelized. These things, restrictions on students coming from the Arab world, and the war economy in America (that devastated higher education here) makes a repeat of my story much more difficult if not impossible. My own journey has not been easy. Racist Zionists tried to block us at every corner and racism in a society shaped by Hollywood films that vilify Arabs is rampant. Some take their positions at institutions of higher education and at funding agencies (e.g. March of Dimes, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health) as a license to advance their racist ideologies.
This situation continues although I did notice that in the past 12-15 years things have become more opened up. This is a function of a) numbers: Zionist ranks are dwindling and populations of all other people in the US are growing, b) the internet opening up the dialogues and increasing exposure to the truth, and c) more Arab and Muslim Americans taking on their civic responsibilities and asserting their rights and their responsibilities in this society. But perhaps it is always a struggle anyway.
But the difficulties I faced (including a major health issue) are nothing compared to what other Palestinians face under occupation or in exile (e.g. in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria). I consider my challenges/difficulties in life as blessings. I would not want them changed if I had the power to change them. Difficulties in life make us who we are and help us improve. In this I am thankful even to those self-declared enemies and protagonists who sometimes succeeded in what they aimed to do and sometimes failed but always provided me with good lessons. So perhaps a tinge of me wants more difficulties. I look back with nostalgia at my upbringing under Israeli occupation. I look with nostalgia at the time I was teaching in the West Bank.
I talk to my elderly diabetic mother every week and she tells me stories of what is going on on the ground. Her stories include things like people dying because of being prevented from going to health clinics, students denied the right to go to school, lands confiscated, children shot in the back of the head, extra-judicial executions, further acts of ethnic cleansing, and more. I also go to Palestine every year and I see the apartheid system getting worse. Walls surrounding towns and villages, US weapons that killed or maimed friends and colleagues, economic strangulation, and much more. But both mother and I see so much good work being done by good people of all faiths and backgrounds.
Thus, every year when I go visit Palestine, I cannot wait to come back even though life there gets worse (checkpoints, the violence of the occupation, the economic deterioration). My last visit was of July last year. The hate I witnessed from settlers, from occupation soldiers, and yes from some natives was so thick in the air and permeated everything. The racism, the segregation, the apartheid walls… and all the other things I occasionally share with you through this cyberspace. BUT, there is also lots of love. Love is not usually expressed in words in Palestine. Even among family members it is rare to hear the words “I love you”. Love is expressed at a far more meaningful sense in caring, asking how your health is, offering food, hospitality, offering your clothing and what little you have etc. These are acts of love.
In the US, I witness acts of love perhaps two or three times a day in person (I see many more on the emails and other news sources). In Palestine, in my last visit, I witnessed acts of love in the dozens in some days. In one day of a nonviolent demonstration in Bilin and then in the Hospital where Ibrahim Bornat was taken after being shot, I witnessed hundreds of acts of love. They came not just from Palestinians but from Internationals and even Israelis who were with us. In the US, writing a letter to the editor or demonstrating in front of a congressman’s office are acts of resistance (and yes love). In Palestine, teaching a child to read, eating, drinking, breathing living, and everything we do in life there are acts of resistance (and love). This is because that is not what the colonial Zionist movement wants (they want us all out to create a more uniform “Jewish state” that is cleansed “nichsayon”).
Of course without the US support of Israel, Israel can’t survive as a colonial power. That is why work in the US has been and must continue to be a center of focus. We simply must change US policy in the Middle East (if nothing else than to save the US from economic collapse!). Work must be done both in Palestine and outside of Palestine. Indeed that is part of the reason why I have not relocated to Palestine earlier. There is something indeed about fate and destiny.
I also have a home in Connecticut and will maintain that for the time being. It is our destiny as Palestinians to be so conflicted and separated. I have relatives in 40+ countries. I have friends and colleagues in over 100 countries. So I guess, the world is my home. The corner of it that received a lot of oppression deserves a lot of attention/activism.
Activism for human rights is not only a duty but it is one of the most rewarding things to have done myself (marriage, having a son, writing books are others). Activism falls truly under the category of enlightened self interest which is what philosophers and sages of old have encouraged us to practice. So in that sense I am still going to be doing acts similar to here. My focus will shift though. I will be doing somethings:
- Teaching at Bethlehem University (a new masters program in Biotechnology, course in human molecular genetics)
- Working on environmental/conservation issues (see http://www.qumsiyeh.org/nature/ )[we ended up establishing a large institute now employing 10 people and dozens of volunteers- palestinenature.org]
- Building a laboratory for clinical genetics that employs Palestinian graduates
- Doing other activities that create job opportunities (see for example by going to http://www.pcr.ps/ and click on outsourcing Palestine project at right)
- Writing more books (the next one on my agenda to complete is on history, theory, and practice of Palestinian non-violent resistance over the past 128 years)
- Giving help where I can (my dream is to start a “food not bombs” chapter)
- Continue the never-ending work to improve myself and fight the demons within.
- Having fun!
And as our newly departed poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote: “I long for my mother’s bread, and my mother’s coffee, and her touch. Childhood memories grow up in me Day after day. I must be worthy of my life. At the hour of my death, worthy of the tears of my mother.”
I have a home in Beit Sahour, a lovely town despite the colonial occupation. Please look at these two videos of my hometown
It also seemed the right time on the 60th anniversary of the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of Palestine) to focus more on helping in Palestine while still maintaining a base in the US.
With humility and serenity, I will try to be positive, productive and helpful as one of millions struggling under occupation/colonization. My regular email messages may slow down or get way shorter. These emails will also undergo a change away from posting things from secondary sources. Since I will be on the ground more, I will report more of what I observe in Palestine and occasional suggestions for unique and inspiring actions for peace with justice we can all support.
If I slighted any of you, I apologize. I want to thank all of you for your kind support (especially those who took the time to act on action calls). I also want to thank those in Connecticut who helped make the state a great place to live. You all will be in my thoughts always.
PS: Lessons I try to remember about life (most learned from mistakes :-)
Mazin Qumsiyeh, associate professor of genetics and director of cytogenetic services at Yale University School of Medicine, is founder and president of the Holy Land Conservation Foundation and ex-president of the Middle East Genetics Association. He won the Raymond Jallow Activism Award from the national Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1998. He is co-founder and national treasurer of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, and has written extensively about the Middle East. Qumsiyeh is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, author of Sharing the Land of Canaan and Popular Resistance in Palestine, a professor at Bethlehem University and director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History in Bethlehem. http://palestinenature.org
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