THIS week, when I return to my village in the occupied West Bank, I face possible arrest by Israel for engaging in nonviolent protests against abusive Israeli policies opposed by our own government.
This prospect is difficult after 29 years of living in the United States, where such activities are fully protected. It was this openness that attracted me to the U.S. I became a proud citizen and pursued work not only in my profession but also as a human rights advocate.
Over the years, I gave hundreds of talks and participated in many vigils and protests, mostly against the war on Iraq and for justice and equality in Israel/Palestine. The activities always involved people of all backgrounds.
When I moved back to Palestine in early 2008, I continued to engage in these activities. I teach and have helped to establish a master’s program in biotechnology at Bethlehem University. I also pursue my passion of educating others on human rights and engaging in civil resistance through protests and vigils.
On March 1, shortly after I left my village near Bethlehem for a visit home to the United States, the Israeli army invaded the neighborhood and surrounded our house at 1:30 a.m. My mother, sister and wife, terrorized for no reason, told the military I was out of the country but would be “happy” to talk to them upon my return.
The soldiers delivered a note demanding my appearance in a military compound five days later — a date I have missed because my ticket was scheduled for a few days later. I thus face the likelihood of arrest, administrative detention or worse when I go back.
My story is just a minor manifestation of a disturbing pattern. As civil resistance against Israel’s West Bank apartheid wall and settlement activities have increased, there has been an escalation of Israeli repression of nonviolent protesters.
Nonviolent resistance to colonization and occupation are consistent with international law and U.S. policies. President Barack Obama has stated that settlement activities in the occupied territories must stop as a prelude to ending the occupation that started in 1967. Yet, Israeli authorities continue settlement activities apace, while intensifying attacks against peaceful vigils and protests against this indefensible behavior.
Obama also gave clear encouragement to nonviolent Palestinian demonstrators in his Cairo speech, yet has remained silent as nonviolent demonstrators have been seized in recent weeks by the Israeli military.
Bethlehem has suffered significantly because of Israeli actions. The district is squeezed now by illegal Israeli settlements and military installations on three sides. Bethlehem’s 130,00 residents have access to only 20 percent of the original land of the district. The settlers, protected by the Israeli military, now want to build a settlement in the only remaining open side of Bethlehem — to the east in an area called Ush Ghrab.
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The people of my village, Beit Sahour, are known for a history of nonviolent resistance, including a tax revolt in 1988 against the Israeli military government. We are a town with limited resources, comprised of 70 percent Christians and 30 percent Muslims, but have a highly educated middle class with more than 300 holders of doctorates among the population of 12,000.
Having lost so much land, and being well-informed and connected to the outside world, we decided to nonviolently resist the additional Israeli encroachment on our town. The Israeli response relied on brute force. Our first prayer vigil was attacked while a Lutheran priest was leading us in prayer.
As a member of the committee that organized the vigil and another peaceful event a week later, I was targeted. An Israeli officer warned me not to participate and threatened me, noting he knew I was planning to come home to the U.S. for a lecture tour.
Given that the Israeli government receives billions in U.S. military aid, my taxes and yours at work, our government should defend those of us who engage in nonviolent protests. I was encouraged last week, therefore, in meeting with the office of U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that his office will pursue my concerns with the State Department and the Israeli government.
While I fear for myself, I am more worried for other activists who do not have the minimal protection of a U.S. passport. And, I am terribly worried for our future as we are squeezed into smaller and smaller apartheid-like Bantustans.
We will not be deterred from nonviolent protest. Despite being let down by numerous governments, we look to the United States and elsewhere in the international community to help defend us from abusive and violent responses to nonviolence.
* Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a tireless activist for Palestinian human rights who returned to his hometown of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and now teaches at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities. He previously served on the faculties of the University of Tennessee, Duke and Yale Universities. He is now president of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People in Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem. The author of Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle.
Ask the U.S, State Department to intervene with Israel to keep Dr, Qumsiyeh safe and out of jail.