Example of opinion columns published.
Palestinians deserve rights including right to go home
BY Mazin Qumsiyeh 1/23/01 Hartford Courant
Recent calls for the Palestinians to abandon their right to go home should not be acceptable to anyone with elemental knowledge of legality and morality. The British "Mandate" to fulfill Lord Balfour's promise of a Jewish homeland in populated Palestine (which had a minority Jewish presence of 7% at the time) was implemented by force without consulting the wishes of the Palestinian inhabitants or their future. Jewish land ownership at the eve of the British-inspired, American-pushed declaration of dividing Palestine to a "Jewish state" (55% of the land) and an "Arab State" (45%) in 1947 was less than 8% of all privately held lands.
From that time forward, Zionists have methodically altered the character of the land and the people. As a result of sometimes ingenious and other times brutal ways of ethnic cleansing, over 95% of Palestinian families (Muslim and Christian) have lost lands and/or homes to Zionists. This is not a Palestinian story but a fact attested to by Israeli historians themselves (Pappe, Morris, Sternhall, Schlaim, Segev etc.) and in the published words and documents of Israeli leaders.
Israel/Palestine now has about 4.5 million Jews and 3.7 million remaining Christians and Muslims. Of the 8 million Palestinians in the world, over 5 million are refugees or "displaced persons." A quarter of Israel's own 1.2 million "gentile" citizens are considered by the Israeli legal system as "present absentees" and their land confiscated. Lands and homes vacated by Christian and Muslim refugees and "absentees" are considered state property and turned over to the Jewish Agency which administers the land and leases it only to Jews. Palestinians are treated much worse than Blacks were treated in South Africa under Apartheid.
Incomplete success of ethnic cleansing led Israeli governments to attempt to isolate Palestinians in Bantustans and to ensure that refugees never return (3000 were killed trying to "infiltrate" back before fences were put up). The 30-year-old Israeli/American solution to the Palestinian "problem" was reinvented at Oslo and re-presented lately by Barak and Clinton as final deals to Palestinians. Modeled after Apartheid South Africa, it envisions no return of refugees and disjointed segments of a demilitarized "Palestine," without control of its natural resources or borders surrounded by Israeli Army and settlements. But even if Arafat agrees to this sham "peace", it cannot last. Palestinian refugees know that their return is an inalienable, individual, human and collective right supported by International law and common morality. Research has also shown return to be feasible and is not a threat to social order. On the contrary, no lasting peace can occur without implementing this right and annulling it would set a precedent in International law.
Israel also needs to evolve from a "Jewish state" to a state of its citizens. It is only logical to expect that the current Palestinian citizens of Israel (and secular Israelis in general) are not "thrilled" to stand in awe at a national anthem that talks about Jewish yearning for a homeland. They are not keen about a state that has no constitution to protect "gentiles" but rather has specific laws to discriminate against them and insure Jewish only settlements continue to flourish while Arab towns and villages are destroyed or strangled. They are not content with an Israeli law of return giving automatic citizenship to any Jew in the world who desires it, while denying return to people born and raised there for generations simply for being gentile (many of them relatives of those Palestinian remaining and have not seen each other in 52 years).
Why does the US government give more money to Israel than it gives to any state in the union? And why do we fund the Israeli military oppression of Palestinian Muslims and Christians (congress is considering a bill for an additional $350 million in military aid to Israel)? Perhaps because, for 52 years, Israeli apologists pressured our elected officials and justified using the language of force, occupation, and disenfranchisement to maintain the unrealistic
dream of separation. They still prefer to talk about everything from geopolitics to religion but not address basic human rights (right to life, refugee rights, etc.) and true co-existence in equality. It is time for US citizens to demand a change.
Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is chair of the media committee of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (al-awda.org)
Published in the Boston Globe January 4, 2001
A season of Mayhem (title inserted by editor, not my original title)
Beit Sahur (where I was born) and Beit Jala (where St. Nicholas was believed to have been born) are suburbs of Bethlehem. The Palestinians there, both Christian and Muslim, have not seen ''peace on earth'' or ''good will'' this Christmas and Ramadan season, but only more blood and mayhem. Recent ''peace overtures'' by President Clinton do not offer a reasonable framework for a just solution.
My mother's side of the family is Lutheran, and my father's side is Greek Orthodox. My hometown was an idyllic place, a place were Christians and Muslims lived and worked side by side for centuries. The main town mosque and church are still in the same block both in Bethlehem and Beit Sahur. Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahur have been relentlessly bombed by Israeli occupation forces, and hundreds of families had to desert their homes. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B'Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization), and the World Council of Churches have called this "excessive use of force" and "collective punishment" (banned by International law).
My parents tell me they feel lucky since the level of atrocities is still small compared to those faced by other places such as Ramallah, Gaza, Rafah, and Husan. A siege on all towns is also in effect, and the United Nations has warned of potential starvation. In some places (e.g. Hebron) curfews are in effect for weeks with no school, no work, and no supplies.
In these times of crisis and renewal, I reflected on the Palestine of Jesus' day. Like today, the picture in the Holy Land was less than idyllic 2,000 years ago. The similarities are astonishing: a brutal military occupation supported both by resources extracted from the natives and by funding and weaponry from the west, rulers using collective punishment against the inhabitants, grinding poverty of the natives, wealthy overlords using self proclaimed divine authority to do what they please, soldiers killing children, selfish collaborators, parents grieving over the loss of their children, attacks on houses of worship, and an organized public relations campaign to justify the atrocities.
Differences exist. Gunship helicopters and tanks are used today to bomb neighborhoods and kill individuals in lieu of Roman crucifixion or feeding them to the lions. And instead of public pronouncements by scribes, we have sophisticated media tools used to show that two undercover soldiers killed by a mob are more precious than the deaths of 150 Palestinian children and injuries to thousands. Blaming the victims for their own killing, the current occupier has produced a new logic. Instead of chariots, spears, and swords, the occupier has 400 nuclear weapons and a modern US-equipped army.
I also reflect on what Jesus recommended to his followers. Better yet, he set the example for them when he went into the temple grounds, turned the tables of the money-changers, and chastised those who have turned the house of the Lord to suit their own personal benefit.
Americans today know very little about what is happening to their co-religionists in the Holy Land other than the distorted snippets seen on TV. Sure, the Catholic bishops issued a statement denouncing the excessive use of force by the Israeli Army, as did the World Council of Churches. They did this on the heels of similar reports from six human rights organizations.
But are words enough while the killing and oppression continue? Are words enough when our own US government gives money to Israel to continue its policies? Policies that include land confiscation, home demolitions, and construction of colonies and settlements? Policies that have resulted in a huge refugee problem? Cynically, Clinton proposes solutions that will set a precedent in implementing a forced peace without return of refugees to their homes. No Palestinian, Israeli, or American leader can sign away human rights, including the rights of refugees.
Words are not enough for a small group of Christians and Jews working in the occupied territories. A group called the Christian Peacemaker Teams sometimes put themselves in front of Israeli bulldozers to prevent the demolishing of Palestinian homes. This Christmas the group was in Beit Jala and Hebron. A group of Jews called the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions is also working hard to protect Palestinians from the brutal Israeli policies.
For these initiatives to succeed, the US government should stop blaming the victims and join with the over 150 other governments calling for justice and implementing international law. We all would do well to remind our government that our tax dollars are better spent here at home rather than supporting Israeli apartheid policies.