Leaving the US for Palestine


Mazin Qumsiyeh -A Palestinian Life

Wheels of Justice

Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian American who helps
coordinate the group Wheels of Justice, speaking at
Andover High School.

After such knowledge; what forgiveness?
Think now
History has many cunning passages,
Contrived corridors
And issue, deceives with wispering ambitions
Guides us by vanities.
Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, she gives with such supple confusion
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
T. S. Elliot

I graduated from Jordan University with a Bachelor degree at age 21 and then taught in Palestinian Schools (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho). In those year and a half as a middle and high school teacher (Jan 78-June 79) I worked very hard at two jobs (extra teaching at private school in Jerusalem) so as to save money for higher education. I saved enough for the airline tickets and an extra $1500 for the first few months in America. I came to the US in August 1979 to pursue higher education and ended up making it a home while maintaining a home in Palestine.

Since then I got my doctorate, medical boards in genetics, and served on faculties at the University of Tennessee, Duke, and Yale Universities. I published over 130 scientific papers and three books. Here I also met first my wife, built a family, made thousands of friends, and chose to become a citizen. Thus, my journey in the US was wonderful and highly successful. Much of my activism was driven here by the desire to improve this country (e.g. stop it from committing war crimes and crimes against humanity). I strongly believe that unless all of us work together to change US foreign policy (a policy shaped by Zionist lobbies), we are all doomed. We see that millions of US citizens are also concerned about the way this foreign policy is damaging our economy and reputation around the world. I think it must (and it will) change. There are many good signs (e.g. the books of Carter and Mearsheimer and Walt became best sellers). Yet, today with the new laws that shred constitutional protections, government intrusion on every sphere of life, the US has been more Israelized. These things, restrictions on students coming from the Arab world, and the war economy in America (that devastated higher education here) makes a repeat of my story much more difficult if not impossible. My own journey has not been easy. Racist Zionists tried to block us at every corner and racism in a society shaped by Hollywood films that villify Arabs is rampant. Some take their positions at institutions of higher education and at funding agencies (e.g. March of Dimes, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health) as a license to advance their racist ideologies. This situation continues although I did notice that in the past 12-15 years things have become more opened up. This is a function of a) numbers: Zionist ranks are dwindling and populations of all other people in the US are growing, b) the internet opening up the dialogues and increasing exposure to the truth, and c) more Arab and Muslim Americans taking on their civic responsibilities and asserting their rights and their responsibilities in this society. But perhaps it is always a struggle anyway.

But the difficulties I faced (including a major health issue) are nothing compared to what other Palestinians face under occupation or in exile (e.g. in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria). I consider my challenges/difficulties in life as blessings. I would not want them changed if I had the power to change them. Difficulties in life make us who we are and help us improve. In this I am thankful even to those self-declared enemies and protagonists who sometimes succeeded in what they aimed to do and sometimes failed but always provided me with good lessons. So perhaps a tinge of me wants more difficulties. I look back with nostalgia at my upbringing under Israeli occupation. I look with nostalgia at the time I was teaching in the West Bank. I talk to my elderly diabetic mother every week and she tells me stories of what is going on on the ground. Her stories include things like people dying because of being prevented from going to health clinics, students denied the right to go to school, lands confiscated, children shot in the back of the head, extra-judicial executions, further acts of ethnic cleansing, and more. I also go to Palestine every year and I see the apartheid system getting worse. Walls surrounding towns and villages, US weapons that killed or maimed friends and colleagues, economic strangulation, and much more. But both mother and I see so much good work being done by good people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Tags: activism, israel, palestinians
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