Friday, October 30, 2020

1967-2017: five decades of Palestinian non-violent resistance part 1

By Owen Millar - June 07, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features] [Interviews]
Tags: [nonviolent resistance] [Occupation]

This week marks 50 years since the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel captured and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. For the Palestinian people of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, the anniversary serves as a depth marker for the many traumas the ensuing military occupation has precipitated, including the dispossession of land, restrictions on movement and many other freedoms, and the slow subversion of any chance of political autonomy.
The cumulative effect of these traumas has undoubtedly engrained a sense of futility amongst the occupied population of Palestine, but also a certain hardiness. 50 years on, Palestine Monitor takes a look back at each decade of the occupation and the changing face of resistance efforts throughout. We begin, today, by talking with Mazin Qumsiyeh, whose actions as a scientist, activist and author have exposed him to the breadth of Palestinian resistance and set him on his current path of resistance, a path predicated on respect for oneself, all human beings, and the environment in which we live.
“One of the most vicious colonial projects in history is this colonial project,” says Qumsiyeh. “Very sophisticated, highly financed, ruthless, cunning, [it] relied on a lot of lies and distortions… and yet it failed to succeed.” Why did it fail? There are a number of reasons – a number of forms and instances of resistance – however, for Qumsiyeh, there is one that has devastated the colonial project of the Palestinian territories with greater effect than any other: “existence”.
“In a colonial system the natives have no role,” explains Qumsiyeh. “Their role is to be cleared out so that you can create a new society… The Zionists don’t want us here, so any form of existence here is a form of resistance… Any form of staying here, sticking to the land, loving the land, protecting the land, eating, drinking – even when I’m drinking this coffee here I’m engaged in resistance.”
“They did everything they could. They put Bethlehem now in a wall… they took 87 percent of the land of the district of Bethlehem, leaving only 13 percent, but what else can they do? Short of genocide, what else can they do? That’s it.” He laughs at this point, not from a morbid sense of humour, but from the catharsis he draws from decades of successful Palestinian struggle.
While the occupation is far from over, for Qumsiyeh, its eventual endpoint is a foregone conclusion. A true biologist, he invokes the metaphor of an ecosystem to explain his argument: “When an ecosystem is dominated by one species, that’s an unstable ecosystem. It’s an ecosystem that’s about to crash, and it’s not even an ecosystem that’s healthy for the dominant species.”
The “ecosystem” of the occupation is bound to collapse, says Qumsiyeh. With occupation forces holding relatively all the power over the social, political and economic rights of Palestinians, the situation is unsustainable. It is not sustainable for the Palestinian territories because occupation can succeed only so long as the possibility of peace is a real one, and it is not sustainable for Israel, says Qumsiyeh, because “apartheid” and democracy do not match.
At this point, therefore, resistance has become not just about effecting the demise of the occupation, but also looking to the regrowth that must necessarily come after it. This leads Qumsiyeh to his current efforts as director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History. “To build for the future is to build institutions,” he says. The museum is just such an institution for the future.
“So what is our role?” he asks. The answer: “To free our minds – to retain our sanity, to retain our humanity, to retain our hope and will to build. Even under incredible odds we retain our will to build. So, hence, the bottom line: what we are doing here in this museum and in this botanical garden, in this institution – and in the university in general by educating our children – is basically to do that, this motto of the museum, which is 'respect’.”
What, specifically, does this respect entail? “First we can respect ourselves: we can change our own circumstances and we are not going to let the occupiers invade our mind. This is empowerment… It is empowerment for our youth to come here and see that they can protect nature and enjoy nature and change their circumstances and that they could plant something and grow some vegetables. That’s important. That’s self-respect.”
This ideal underpins the museum’s core activities, which include amassing a database of flora, fauna, and ethnographical information, and also reaching out to share that information with other people. The museum houses a number of exhibitions, containing 6000 specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Also, the museum runs an array of educational programs geared towards giving people – and especially young people – an appreciation for biodiversity and environmental conservation. Importantly, it teaches them practical tools they can use to care for and benefit from the land. All of these activities lead towards the empowerment of the individual, says Qumsiyeh, and this empowerment precedes the self-respect required to respect other people and also the environment.
It is important to note that the museum is not solely for the people of Palestine, but also aims to share its knowledge of the Palestinian land and environment with all people from around the world, including Israelis. This is an important aspect of Qumsiyeh’s intention to “build” through resistance. The museum builds common respect for the land and environment, and in doing so it builds respect between individuals.
“This museum is basically working on the human mind. That’s our ultimate thing. I guess this sums it up: we are working on the human mind via these levels of respect, and so hence this museum – and its natural botanical garden and its effort at environmental education and conservation – are all pouring into the same river, which is the river to allow humanity to move in the right direction.”

This is a glimpse at the future of Palestinian resistance. Read the series that follows, looking back at how resistance has developed to this point. 

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