Persecuting Mazin Qumsiyeh

March 20, 2010

Stanley Heller is chairperson of the Middle East Crisis Committee, a human rights organization based in Connecticut. Here, he reports on the Israeli government's attempts to imprison Palestinian rights activist Mazin Qumsiyeh.

AT 1:30 in the morning on March 2, the military surrounded his house and blocked off all the streets in his neighborhood. Soldiers knocked on the door with the demand that Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh show himself.

When told that he had left the country a few days earlier to go on a U.S. speaking tour, the soldiers demanded that Qumsiyeh return and report to a military office. His family feared he would be put in administrative detention--many months of grueling imprisonment without charges or trial.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, a geneticist formerly on the faculty of Duke, formerly head of the Cytogenetics Department at Yale, author of Sharing the Land of Canaan and a frequent writer for newspapers around the world, was "wanted." The Israeli military operation took place in the Palestinian West Bank town of Beit Sahour, next to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Qumsiyeh, an American citizen who was born in Beit Sahour, is now living there again and is teaching at Bethlehem University. Why are the Israeli authorities after him?

Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh
Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh

He's been an activist for Palestinian human rights for decades, but apparently, they're particularly angry at him because he's a leading member of a committee trying to get a children's hospital built on a hill in Beit Sahour, as opposed to the settlers, who want the land for another Jewish-only settlement.

The land in question is called Ush Ghrab, a hill that was taken by Israelis a few years after they conquered the West Bank in 1967. According to the land seizure order, the land would go back to the Palestinian owners once the army stopped using it. The army used it for a military base until they abandoned it in 2006.

A playground was built at the base of the hill, partially with U.S. government money, but the Israelis have refused to allow the town to take over the hill to build the hospital. Last summer, settlers connected to the Women in Green group announced they would build a Jewish community there.

The Women in Green see themselves in a battle with "radical Islam." The fact that Beit Sahour and Bethlehem are mostly Christian areas doesn't faze them. In January 2010, army bulldozers began working on the land. Supposedly, they are only making a "watchtower" there. What do they need to watch?

What you can do

Find out how to support Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh and how to get involved in the struggle to oppose further Israeli settlements at the Middle East Crisis Committee Web site.

The Palestinian towns of the West Bank are ruled by the forces of Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. His police are funded and trained by the United States. There hasn't been any significant attack by any Palestinian group in years. It's much more likely that the land is being prepared for a new settlement.

TEN YEARS ago, on the outskirts of Beit Sahour, the only wooded hill in the area was denuded of trees and turned into the concrete settlement of Har Homa. Of the original governate of Bethlehem, some 80 percent of the land has been taken from Palestinian hands.

When local residents of Beit Sahour objected to what was going on at Ush Ghrab, they were informed the whole area was now a closed military zone. They started peaceful protests, and Dr. Qumsiyeh was active in them.

Women in Green responded by vandalizing the playground. As they proudly say on their Web site, "They went in and sprayed all of the Arab illegal buildings, inside and out, on the walls, on the doors, and on the floors." They use the Jewish six-point star as their symbol, to strike terror as fascist movements have done in the past. That this use desecrates a Jewish religious symbol does not bother them.

A peaceful protest that was to end with a Christian prayer on the land was broken up by the army, using tear gas and concussion grenades on February 21. A demonstration the week after was ended by even more violent means--rubber coated steel bullets were fired. Qumsiyeh was at all these protests, and now the army wants him.

Qumsiyeh's many friends and fellow human rights activists mounted a campaign of letters and petitions and media work on his behalf, and in opposition to another Jewish-apartheid settlement. Perhaps that's why when he returned to the West Bank on March 11, he was not immediately arrested. Still, he and the other activists on the Popular Committee to Defend the Ush Ghrab are determined to go on, and the army can pounce on him at any time.

President Obama has called for a settlement freeze in the West Bank as a way to get peace talks going again. Yet settlement activity and demolition of Palestinian homes continues apace as shown by the recent announcement that 1,600 new Jewish-only units are to be built in Jerusalem.

Biden and Clinton have criticized these new settlements. Let them also tell the Israelis to keep their hands off Beit Sahour.

First published at

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