Mazin, several of our supporters have met you during our study tours to Palestine/Israel or heard you while you while on your international speaking tours. With this interview, I hope we can dig deeper in getting to know you and your perspectives. Let me start by asking you what it was that motivated you to return to Palestine to live under occupation following your years in the United States and the freedoms that you had there?
It was actually moving from one Israeli occupied territory to another. There is racism and discrimination in the US (though small compared to here in Palestine). My journey in the US was wonderful and highly successful. Much of my activism was driven by the desire to improve the US (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. Activism for human rights is not only a duty but it is one of the most rewarding things to have done myself (marriage, having a son, writing books are others). Activism falls truly under the category of enlightened self-interest which is what philosophers and sages of old have encouraged us to practice. So, in that sense activism continued whether in the US or Palestine. I decided to move back home because I could do a few more things in Palestine: teaching and mentoring youth, working on environmental/conservation issues [ended up establishing a large institute now employing 10 people and dozens of volunteers- palestinenature.org], more direct action, making a difference in people's lives who need more help here than in the US, and being close to my elderly mother.
You soon got caught up in active involvement in non-violent resistance to Israel’s confiscation of land in the Bethlehem district, home demolitions and the construction of the Wall. Can you describe what you did and why you felt that demonstrating resistance is necessary?
I have always engaged in popular resistance even when in the US and was harassed by it. I wanted to see how it can be made more efficient and I engaged in researching it on the ground (we scientists like research). For me research is not academic: you learn by actions. So, I participated in dozens of demonstrations and other direct actions and was detained or arrested many times. I also published a book in 2012 on "Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of hope and empowerment". Why did I and millions of Palestinians engage in resistance? Because it is natural and biological to resist oppression.
Were you ever frightened?
I think this is a wrong question to ask. People have no time for these kinds of emotions in these kinds of situations. If you see a child about to fall into a well and you rush to save her, you are not thinking about dangers of falling into the well. If someone raises their hand to strike you and you raise your arms around your face -- it is instinctive/biological no more and no less.
We realize that Israel has been successful in the fragmentation of Palestine. It is hard for Palestinians to travel between regions of the West Bank and impossible to reach Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Israel. So, without that freedom and now with Covid-19 resulting in more closures and increasing poverty, how can Palestinians meet to plan and mobilize your resistance strategy?
How can we all live in a post COVID-19 world? We must find innovative ways to mobilize people but all of us mobilize and innovate and rethink strategy. Mutations/variations in nature provide the substrate for natural selection and adaptive evolution. Similarly, the amazing variation in ideas will be subjected to selection and subsequently evolution of methodologies for action that are most effective.
When did you come to understand that you are not just resisting Israel’s military occupation but that you are the recipient of a settler colonial policy which seeks as much land as possible for Jewish Israelis, primarily imported from other countries, to replace the indigenous Palestinian population?
This happened when I encountered Zionism as a child in Bethlehem in 1967.
We realize that the Palestinian struggle for liberation was put aside when the Oslo Accords were accepted, and the Palestine Authority was formed with the aim of creating a state of Palestine on 22% of historic Palestine. Now that most people have recognized that Oslo has been a complete failure, do you feel that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) can be rebuilt which can be democratic and representative of Palestinians everywhere?
Actually, Oslo was a huge success for what it was designed/intended for: entrenching and subcontracting the occupation. Now about the PLO, yes it can be rebuilt like any institution could be rebuilt. That is a different question on whether it will be rebuilt and obstacles facing that (US imperialism, Zionism, Arab collusion and betrayal, entrenched interests, corruption etc). A book can be written on that... but obviously work must be done on this area.
What is the role that you want to play for the future of Palestine?
"Having joyful participation in the sorrows of this world" as the Buddhists say. My role changes year to year as I experiment and try to do different things to see where I can be most helpful. The trend is to work more with youth.
Knowing how mankind has failed to create a just, fair, and inclusive world, and that it is human history that is destroying biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, is there anything that gives you hope?
Optimism is maybe driven by information but even then as was said by someone else "Pessimism of the Intellect, optimism of the will". That optimism of the will is what we call hope. It is really about how we live our lives and why. We would do what we do regardless of the odds because it is right, and we can look ourselves in the mirror every morning and be comfortable in our own skin. Ultimately that is what is important. Peace is not a destination...peace is the way.
What is it that you want international to do to support your struggle?
See our suggestions at http://qumsiyeh.org/whatyoucando/