Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh explains..
The Valley War Bulletin
Covering U.S. policy and the struggle for justice at home and abroad
Volume 2, Issue 3
Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh explains how media, ideology and policy contribute to the problem of Israel.
By Andrea Burns
“I would be a rich man if I had only focused on my genetics work,” said Mazin Qumsiyeh in an interview at Yale University in early January, where he is a researcher in the Genetics department. “Id be on the golf course” Instead, Mr. Qumsiyeh dedicates the hours left over in his day to sharpen Americans’ awareness of the Palestinian tragedy. He maintains a steady pressure on the news media with about ten letters a week and countless phone calls. He is active with Al-Awda, The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, and will have a book published by Pluto Press in early April called, “Sharing the Land of Canaan.”
In his interview, Mr. Qumsiyeh describes why the conditions in Palestine and Israel have worsened under the current U.S. administration. When the first President Bush, with Secretary of State James Baker, tried to halt the settlements, powerful pro-Israeli lobby groups in this country promised he would be a one-term president if he did. “Bush Jr. learned the lesson of his father,” Qumsiyeh says. This, as well as the influence of neoconservatives, (many of whom are also Zionists) deepens the already asymmetrical policy towards Israel. The neoconservative world- view was nurtured at the University of Chicago by a professor named Leo Strauss. (Paul Wolfowitz,U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense was a student) “These were ideas based on power. The world is always a conflict of interests between states “is genetically ingrained. Talking about
peace is contrary to human nature” Qumsiyeh contends. In a Darwinian world the meanest and biggest will end up with the most chips. And if we in the western world believe we have a good system why not club everyone else over the head with it?
James Baker is a pragmatist, not a neoconservative, he explains. “You get your way by using both the carrot and the stick.” But Paul Wolfowitz and U. S. government adviser Richard Perle have convinced everyone that we don’t need a carrot at all and that it is O.K. to alienate the Arab world, says Qumsiyeh.
Mr. Qumsiyeh’s understanding of the Palestine/Israel conflict can be partially explained through his personal history. He was born in a village next to Bethlehem, near Shepard’s Field and the Church of the Nativity. Only a child when Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, he was pained by the injustice he witnessed everyday. He participated in demonstrations somewhat timidly at first because as he says, “non-violent demonstrations were met very violently.” He wondered if he was as brave as the other young men, but as he grew older he became more outspoken. “I have less and less inhibitions in what I say and do. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror everyday. It’s more important than money and jobs.” Qumsiyeh’s parents were more conservative in their criticism, but his mother would give food and clothes to the refugees (often his father’s clothes), which made more of an impression on him than her words of caution.
Qumsiyeh traveled to the United States in 1979, when he was twenty-two and received a masters at UCONN and a PHD in Texas in Biology. He returns to Palestine often but considers himself to be one of many Palestinians who choose to remain in America, where in many ways the majority of the work needs to be done. “There is a group of people very entrenched in the system that use an arsenal of weapons to silence the message,” he explains. “It’s very difficult to get through because Zionists have very key positions and shield Americans from knowing what the truth is.”
Qumsiyeh is clear that it is racism that allows the injustice to continue. 20,000 Palestinians have become homeless over the last three years and 4,000 homes have been demolished. Israel continues to build an apartheid wall that digs deeply into Palestinian land (the little that has been allotted for them). “Racism is so pervasive it becomes a common language,” he says. “It is fed by a constant mythology of victim consciousness. It is never about individuals or responsibility, but rather about the Jewish people facing the outside world.” Israel is the only country that says it is a country not of its citizens but a country for anyone that is Jewish. “It’s totally illogical,” he says, “because if I convert to Judaism, I can go back and live there but if I was born there, I can’t.” But it is Zionism, not Judaism that fuels this ideology. And while it is commonly believed that a German Jew named Theodore Hertzl in 1897 came up with the idea of European Jews returning to their homeland, according to Qumsiyeh, it was an idea cooked up by the British as early as 1830. “They needed Jews to emigrate to Palestine as a beacon for empire,” he says. “It would create strife and division, and weaken the Ottoman Empire.” The only Jewish member of the British Parliament at that time warned them against it, saying: “If you want to help them bring them back to England. Why do you want to bring them to the back waters of the Ottoman Empire?”
But the British accomplished the division that they sought, created animosities, and the area continues to be divided, says Qumsiyeh. British Petroleum became permanently established in the area and then “they washed their hands of the monster, like Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Jesus.” As the emerging reigning empire, the United States took over where England left off, in 1948. And so it is in this country that any criticism of Israel is often met with the accusation of anti-Semitism. “It is reckless, dangerous and insulting to use the term on people who work diligently with many different groups. It cheapens the use of the word and makes it almost meaningless,” says Qumsiyeh. Within Israel there are forty unrecognized villages without water and electricity. “This is supposedly the most democratic, modern society, but because they are not Jewish they don’t have rights,” says Qumsiyeh. “These are citizens living in Israel, not the West Bank and Gaza.” In fact, 1.3 million Palestinians live in the state of Israel and are called “Present Absentees.” It is because of this, and the fact that there are 400,000 settlers that cannot be uprooted, that Qumsiyeh believes that having Jews and Palestinians share the land is the only solution that would work. “
A two-state solution is a recipe for Apartheid,” he explains. The latest two-state solution, the agreement called the Geneva accord, Qumsiyeh objects to because, “Palestinians would be asked to abrogate the right of return to their homes and lands and to recognize Israel not as a state of its citizens but as a state for the Jewish people.” This is a violation of international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In fact, Israel has violated over 70 UN Security Council resolutions and was protected by 35 others by U.S. veto. “Yet Israel receives billions in tax-funded aid, in direct violations of U.S. law,” says Qumsiyeh. The Palestinian demilitarized mini-state outlined in the accord, “is analogous to South Africa speaking about having mini-states for blacks, which became known as Bantustans or large ghettos.”
Qumsiyeh feels that if we are sincere about wanting democracy in the Middle East, we should “cut off U.S. massive taxpayer subsidy to Israeli apartheid and boycott it until it evolves into a democracy for all – Jews and non-Jews alike – and implements international law. Apartheid and walls can be no more solution here than they were in South Africa.” Though Qumsiyeh acknowledges that there are powerful groups of people who do not want to see that happen, he remains vigilant in his belief in a onestate solution and hopeful that people will recognize its fairness. Where neoconservatives see power as the major human motivation, it is Mazin Qumsiyeh’s work as a biologist that teaches him that, “altruism and caring for others is something that exists and evolves in humans. This is not contrary to the theory of natural selection. Societies where there is caring are societies that succeed.” For more information about Mazin Qumsiyeh, go to: www.qumsiyeh.com. Other related websites: www. al-awda.org and www.stopthewall.org