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Speaking to NATO Officers in Rome

By Mazin Qumsiyeh, January 11, 2010


I gave a talk at the NATO Defence College in Rome to some 82 officers and civilians from many NATO countries and affiliated or partner countries (including Egypt, UAE, Jordan, etc).  An Israeli colleague who lives in London also presented his point of view and read on things and then we took questions.  We also participated in small group meetings and discussions.  I was pleased with the level of sophistication, excellent questions asked, and hospitality we received. The commanding officers and all others were very kind to us. We will not forget this visit.  While in Rome for three days we got to visit the Vatican including seeing the magnificent Sistine Chapel paintings.  We got to tour the museums and also visit the Roman Forum and the Palatine.  There, I was interested to see for the first time Titus arch which was built after the death of this emperor. On one of its panels it celebrates its victory over the Jewish rebels in Jerusalem. 
Most people today identify with the Jewish rebels and not with the Romans. Even the guidebook to the ruins we were using referred to “destruction of Jerusalem” (actually careful and unbiased historians disagree with such a description since the rebellion was rather small and narrow and its was contained rather quickly with Jerusalem flourishing later except for limited access by the Jewish community which was then still a minority of the population of Palestine). Historians also tell us that Jews continued to live in small communities throughout Palestine (later many of them converting to Christianity or to Islam). Before this rebellion, Jews in Palestine had full autonomy with their own King (e.g. King Herod who condemned Jesus).  The Roman administration was until this armed rebellion rather liberal in its dealings with ethnic and religious minorities.  Before and after the rebellion, Palestine remained a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community despite many efforts of many rulers who failed to change it by military force sometimes succeeding for a few decades )one of the crusader kingdoms lasted 110 years before Palestine was restored to have Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities living side by side).  Let us hope that this is the last failed attempt to create a homogenous Palestine (aka Eretz Yisrael).  I for one can never understand the desire to live in a homogenous state since variety is the spice of life.
Like Jesus who identified with and preached to Jew and gentile, I find myself identifying with both the Romans and the Jews of Palestine of that first century AD as I identify today with all communities in Palestine.  This is first because they were human beings like all of us caught in a set of historical structures and machinations that left them in the situation they faced.  I identified especially with the Jews who resisted Roman occupation non-violently.  Jesus was to become the symbol of such power of such resistance.  That the armed resisters ultimately failed (they ere called saccari because they hid their assassination knives in their cloths) while eventually the philosophy of Jesus spread like wild fire in the Roman Empire should be telling to us.  It was three plus centuries and hundreds of thousands of martyrs before finally the Roman Empire decided itself to adopt Christianity rather than keep fighting it.  Yet unfortunately as the Jewish theologian Marc Ellis articulated effectively, such a Constantinian (transformation of) Christianity in the form of state power would inevitably lead to the atrocities of the Crusades and far more (e.g. use of Christianity to justify colonization).  Ellis further argues that the new Constantinian Judaism in the form of Zionism is equally damaging to Prophetic Judaism. One day I would like to write more on this but for now, the sight of ruins of great empires AND visiting with great people descendent of oppressors and oppressed and getting along in equality always remind me that we all die someday and that great stone edifices, palaces, and statues are all equally ephemeral while people remain and in many cases improve. And as the song goes, “in the end only kindness matters.”
Sure enough, I saw so much kindness, so much human beauty in Italy that trumps all other beauty.  The last 24 hours we spent time in rural Italy among kind and generous farmers who remind me so much of Palestine (in the areas of Offida. San Benedetto, Ascoli). I think to myself that the hundreds of Palestinian villages (including my own of Beit Sahour) would have been just as nice, just as peaceful and tranquil as those villages if it was not for that Constantinian form of Judaism that decided to take on the crazy project of transforming a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society into a Jewish state (maximum geography and minimum demography).   Instead, hundreds of villages, most dating to millennia (2-4 thousand years old) were destroyed and those like mine that remained lost so much land and received so many displaced people that their character is no longer what it used to be or would have been.
While we were here we followed closely the travails of the Gaza Freedom March (finally denied entry to Gaza) and the Viva Palestina Convoy to Gaza (finally allowed entry after detours and clashes).  It is an honor to call many of the people in both groups friends.  Actually we might miss seeing some of our Italian friends who are still in Gaza.  I spoke tonight at San Benedetto to 50 people.  Tomorrow, I speak in Milano, then in Turino on the 9th, possibly Bologna on the 10th then in Roma again on the 11th.  I will then travel to Amman on the 12th. But as always, you are welcome to visit us in Palestine-
PS: Just to be clear, thanks to Israeli restrictions, less than 3% of Palestinians are able to travel like I do and a smaller fraction can actually do it financially or logistically and the numbers in Gaza are closer to 0.001%.
Mazin Qumsiyeh
A Bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
(and now on a nomadic trip in Italy) 


Earlier article:

My wife and I are now in Italy to give a few talks and maybe get a break from the jail of Bethlehem under apartheid.    Every time I visit Europe or other countries I wonder why can't we get to live a normal life in a normal country in Palestine.  Israelis pretend they live in a normal country.  Having removed most of the natives and confined the rest to ghettos and bantustans, the Israeli public by and large goes around pretending that everything is normal; that Israel is like any European country.  It has a parliament albeit it spends time deciding who is a Jew entitled to automatic citizenship and how to strip non-Jews of citizenship), a military, a high tech industry, universities, bars, fancy restaurants, elites and poor people, religious and secular etc. But deep down Israelis know that this is all a mirage and an illusion.  Afterall, here in Europe, there are no walls, no checkpoints, and no two systems of laws for people living in the same country.  As I was leaving the occupied areas through the only crossing allowed to us (into Jordan via King Hussain Bridge), a man on the bus commented as we reached the fifth checkpoint that the reason Israelis are so paranoid with all this security is because they know the country is not theirs.
Ofcourse many Zionist Israelis were brainwashed to think that the reason they are paranoid is because the world is anti-Semitic; they hate us for being Jews not for anything we have been doing to them.  The victimhood pathology started rather early with the myth of the exodus from Egypt (archeologists and historians have long shown that this notion of enslavement in Egypt and redemption is simply not consistent with the facts or the historical record).  People who believed in certain ways indeed were persecuted for their beliefs/who they are but this is not unique for a particular group of people.  Christians were historically persecuted (they were literally hunted down and fed to lions for the first 300 years) and Muslims and Armenians, and Gypsies and all others. 
Perhaps no people on earth have suffered as much as Natives in North and South America.  Estimates of 50-100 million people perished in the 100 years after the European invasion.  What we are being told at schools in the West (under great pressure from Zionist lobby groups) is that Jewish suffering is somehow different than suffering by others (as if we are children of a lesser God or that God does have a chosen ppeople). While each atrocity in the world is unique, it is simply not valid to engage in comparative martyrology let alone determine a priori who has suffered historically the most. Just because someone is Jewish (or Christian or Muslim) today does not mean that they are related to those Jews (or Muslims or Christians) who lived in the Arab world hundreds of years ago let alone have a continuity obligating them to get revenge for the atrocities from people who had nothing to do with it. It is simply not right or decent (or sustainable) to use injustice done hundreds of years ago to justfy doing an injustice to someone else TODAY.
Today 11 million Palestinians live in the most deplorable coonditions.  7 million are
refugees or displaced people, the rest live in isolated ghettos, impoversished and
marginalized.  Israeli authorities come up with scheme after scheme to continue this
process of marginalizing and hurting us.  Using their leverge with great powers, they get puppet regimes in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world to do their bidding.  Egyptian government's lame attempts to justify sealing off 1.5 million people in Gaza (70% of them refugees) from the outside world simply does not hold water. More and more people see the injustice.  Yet Israeli defenders and their puppets still cling to self-delusions.  Histrory will not be kind to them.  But history will not be kind to Arabs also nor to other people who go about their daily life ignoring glaring injustice. Even in dictatorioal regimes, governments do not get away with what they do unless they are able to get the consent and acquiescence of the people.  People can believe the lies and the distortions or not believe them and still acquiesce because they have little self confidence. 
People have more power than their governments want them to have and (more importantly) want them to believe they have. Effecting change first of all requires education.  The first is education to let people know that their governments lie to them all the time.  Thus, when the Israeli government tells its people that building walls and oppressing others is for their security, this should be exposed as lies.  When the Jordanian government uses the slogan "Jordan First" or the Egyptian government uses the slogan "Egypt above all" that these are lies. Egypt security and sovereignity for example is not threatened by the starving Gazans but by the enslavement of its rulers to outside agendas (and two billion in conditional US aid that goes to support the elites). People are first and people of this part of the world would all prosper if all these governments step aside and let people connect to other people.  Direct rail links and direct travel without restrictions without borders would be good for people, for their economy and for their prosperity. Narrow nationalism (especially the fake varieties of it like ethnocentric chauvenistic nationalism exemplified by Zionism) is not good for anyone. Does it make sence that I can travel between France, Germany, Spain and Italy without visas or checkpoints while traveling even with one and among several middle Eastern Countries is
like traveling in Apartheid South Africa while being black? This when the total population of the five countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region does not add up to half the population of Italy or even the population of one city in China.  Ironiaclly, all these "countries" were created and supported by Europeans (who are now abandoning nationalism).
Anyway, those of us who like Arundhati Roy believe "not only is another world possible, on a quiet day I can hear her breathing", those of us who believe in people not governments, will contnue to work to welcome this new world. BTW, If you are in Italy, email us so that we can get together while we are here (through
the 12th).
Action as always is required and is the antidote of despair.  Boycotts, divestments and sanctioons as well as reaching out with education to others.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
A bedouin a cyberspace, a villager at home (and whose tent now is pitched in Rome)






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