Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh
MRG’s Media Intern, Lovemore Luwizhu, interviews Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian Christian who firmly believes in civic engagement to effect positive change in society.
The media regularly exposes us to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, often through the lens of the editorial policy of the news outlet in question. Professor Qumsiyeh, from the town of Beit Sahour in the West Bank, here sheds more light on the situation on the ground for Palestinian Christians.
‘I am first and foremost a member of the human global community. I believe humans do and can affect change in their own circumstances. This is what is called civic engagement. Belief in this can effect positive change in society. I was fortunate to get a higher education in science, giving me tools and resources to digest, create and disseminate information and act on such information for change.’
Besides being a human rights activist, Professor Qumsiyeh is a scientist who earned his masters and doctoral degrees during his stay in the United States and has authored several publications on genetics.
‘I now work with many organisations mostly concerned with human rights and empowerment issues. For example, I am on the board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (PCR) in Beit Sahour and also of Al-Rowwad Center, based at Aida Refugee Camp. Both of these centers focus on empowering youths to see the utility of forms of popular resistance and develop various mechanisms of empowerment and self-expression.’
‘PCR educates young Palestinians for a better future. The Young Advocates Program is a capacity building project aimed at enhancing the skills of young Palestinians to advocate the Palestinian cause and to better serve their community and country.’
‘Al-Rowwad Center is a cultural and theatre training center in the refugee camp of Aida. It helps the children of the camp to overcome and manage the stress and violence imposed on them and encourages self-expression through peaceful means such as in drama and art.’
‘There are various sects of Christianity in the West Bank. Collectively, they make up less than 5% of the population of the West Bank. There are also 500,000 Jewish settlers, representing 10% of the population; the remaining 85% are Muslim. Both the majority Muslim and the minority Christians are subjected to severe forms of human rights violations from the settlers.’
Minority Rights Group’s 2010 State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples reported that Palestinian Muslim and Christian residents of the occupied West Bank were unable to reach places of worship and to practise their religious rites owing to Israel’s strict closure policies.
According to the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, the construction of the separation barrier by the Israeli government, begun in 2002, ‘has severely limited access to holy sites and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations that provide education, healthcare, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians, particularly in and around East Jerusalem’.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an organization monitoring conflict-induced internal displacement worldwide, notes that the construction of the barrier, which was condemned by the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion of 2004, has resulted in the confiscation of property owned by Palestinians and several religious institutions, and the displacement of thousands of Muslim and Christian residents of the West Bank.
On discrimination faced by religious minorities in Beit Sahour and in the West Bank in general Professor Qumsiyeh says, ‘We Palestinian Christians, like our Muslim compatriots, suffer significant discrimination because we live under a repressive apartheid system.’
‘Symptoms of this include land confiscation, home demolitions, ghettoization, ethnic cleansing, and violations of the basic human rights such as right to movement, education, and healthcare.’
Professor Qumsiyeh shows hope for a peaceful co-existence despite challenges Palestinians face in their daily lives. ‘Our collective challenge is always to work together positively to effect change in society. We must continue challenging the ills of racism, bigotry, apathy, greed, and other human weaknesses. We must continue to show the amazing possibilities of the win-win situation of self-respect and respect for others, equality, justice and co-existence.’
‘The Holy Land has enough space to allow the Palestinian refugees to return and accommodate all the Jewish immigrants who want to live here in full equality. I believe that society when it comes, and it is coming, will be prosperous and good for all. That vision is what gives us hope.’
When asked about the risks involved when carrying out his work Professor Qumsiyeh, who has previously been arrested by Israeli security officers, says, ‘When resisting colonial occupation, there is always risks and definitely a price to pay. Each of us judges how far and how much of a price to pay. But it is also a blessing for us to engage in activism in many ways. Life is far more meaningful and full when we engage in it fully and positively instead of passively letting it pass by.’