Talk at Sarum College on the history and problems of this troubled land
On the 31 July 2019, Prof. Mazim Qumsiyeh (pictured) of the Bethlehem University gave an extremely interesting talk on the history and political situation in Israel and Palestine. This is a tricky subject at the best of times with deep historical wounds and considerable and seemingly irreconcilable hatreds.
His talk – illustrated with copious slides – was built around the medical paradigm that is: start with the history, then the diagnosis, followed by therapy and prognosis. So he started with the history of the area. We now tend to think of it as an area under constant conflict but interestingly, historically, nothing much happened there and there was little conflict. Such as there was came from outside namely the Crusaders and latterly the Zionists. This movement, founded by Theodor Herzl in 1868, introduced the idea of a Jewish homeland. To do this, the local existing population had to go.
We are familiar today with the Balfour Declaration but less so its equivalent in France by Jules Martin Cambor. This led to the creation of the British mandate in the area and the loss of territory by the indigenous people who had lived there for a considerable time. The maps showing the loss of territory are well known.
Prof. Qumsiyeh contrasted the ownership of land in Israel by Palestinians at 8.3% with apartheid in South Africa where ownership by indigenous people was 11%.
Many efforts have been made to resolve the conflict and one such is the two state solution promoted by several western powers and recently the Quartet. He does not support this. A two state solution does not solve the problems he claims, merely creating fresh ones with settlers and others being moved as part of the process. He says quite simply that the colonists and the colonisers should live together. He emphasised the importance of diversity. The history of the area supports this with many different peoples and beliefs existing together over centuries. His own family is an example of various religions and beliefs represented through the generations.
He also believes that fundamental to any solution is the issue of human rights and in particular, the right of refugees to return. He reminded us that one of the early drafts of the UN Declaration of Human Rights was written by a Jew.
Our concept of the area is that of constant violence: Israeli soldiers against civilians or rockets being fired into Israel. Yet resistance for many years has been non violent and consisted of the usual run of sit-ins, protests and civil disobedience.
This was a truly enlightening talk by someone who has been arrested many times by Israeli authorities and also by Palestinian ones as well. It was given without bitterness or rancour. He pointed out that many Israelis are unhappy with the treatment of Palestinian and many come to support sit-down protests in front of bulldozers brought in to demolish townships and olive groves. He was not anti Israel or anti Palestine but pro human rights. He illustrated his talk with pictures of the wall of course and the destruction of Palestinian communities.
No doubt aspect of his talk could be questioned and facts challenged. It was disappointing when the very first question – or rather statement – was from a man who said he was Jewish who simply said it was ‘anti Israel, anti Jewish propaganda with every slide.’ It was a pity he was not asked to explain what he meant by referring to particular slides .
Real peace the professor said will come with ‘mental liberation’ followed by physical. Apathy (he meant in the west) was a major problem.
If you would like to join the group you would be very welcome. Come along to one of our events over the next few months and make yourself known.