Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Hits Home In Connecticut
The Associated Press
October 21, 2000
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) Thousands of miles from the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, Mazin Qumsiyeh is organizing street protests and Doron Ben-Atar is undergoing a profound transformation. Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian who is an associate professor of genetics at Yale University, is distraught by what he views as Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. His uncle's windows were shot out more than a week ago by soldiers and settlers in a retaliatory attack after an Israeli soldier was killed in the West Bank village where he grew up, he said.
''They are besieged,'' Qumsiyeh said last week. ''The tanks are surrounding the town. I feel real
despair'' Ben-Atar, who is Jewish and has family members living in Israel, is equally angry at what he sees as raw hatred of Jews. His nephew is an Israeli soldier. ''We believe they really hate us and want to kill us. It's been devastating,'' Ben-Atar said.
The upsurge in violence in recent weeks has profoundly shaken Jewish Americans such as Ben-Atar and Palestinian Americans such as Qumsiyeh. Israel and the Palestinians agreed Tuesday to a cease-fire, but violence continued in the immediate aftermath. Ben-Atar, a 43-year-old New Haven resident who teaches American history at Yale University, said he has been a left wing peace activist since he was a teen-ager. But Ben-Atar suddenly sounds militant after the lynching of two Israeli soldiers, the destruction of a sacred religious site and other attacks.
''We were just stupid to think they will ever accept us,'' Ben-Atar said. ''I'd rather live on the sword than die in the gas chamber.''
Ben-Atar said he understands the pain the Palestinians feel. But understanding that pain has led him to the conclusion that the Palestinians hate Jews. ''As far as I'm concerned, I'm giving up in a sense,'' Ben-Atar said. ''I believe that peace is impossible.''
While Ben-Atar loses faith, Qumsiyeh is losing sleep and his appetite. He has helped organize
five protests in New Haven, including a demonstration at the home of U.S. Senator and vice
presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, who is Jewish. Qumsiyeh is planning a large-scale demonstration and vigil in Hartford in the coming weeks.
Qumsiyeh, a 43-year-old Orange resident, said as an American citizen he's paying his taxes to a country that is supplying arms to Israel. Those arms, he said, have been used to kill Palestinians.
''It's very difficult, especially being in this country, which is so pro-Israel,'' Qumsiyeh said. ''Here are the children of the Holocaust abusing another people.''
Qumsiyeh said his relatives can't get to their jobs and their movements have been restricted more since the peace process began. His sister, a nurse, stays overnight at work rather than risk traveling, he said.
''Basically, it's a brutal occupation,'' Qumsiyeh said. ''Every movement is strictly controlled.''
With Palestinians suffering most of the recent casualties, Qumsiyeh said the next protest will call for international protection of Palestinians. Qumsiyeh said he wants to return home, but is afraid of retaliation from Israeli authorities.
''I actually fear for the future for everybody, including the Jews, in the Middle East,'' Qumsiyeh said. ''Powers come and go.''
On that point there may be consensus. Ben-Atar, who plans to visit his mother next month, no
longer views Israel as a safe haven for Jews. ''We thought we built a fortress,'' Ben-Atar said. ''It's really only a temporary shack.''