Oct 12, 2016

Wings of change

This last week we were ecstatic to launch two significant environmental awareness and activism projects with Bethlehem area schools. The two projects have different angles and are funded by two different groups (Canadian and US consulates). In one project we focus more on composting and recycling centers and it involves a different set f schools.  In one we develop modules of environmental education. The recycling and upcycling of solid waste is a key component. It was so rewarding to see the spark in students’ eyes grow stronger. Environmental clubs are being set-up at several marginalized schools and in the one school which already had an experience in forming such a club, we helped them reactivate it and guide it it in a productive direction. We work in partnership with the ministry of education and with UNRWA schools and with the Environmental Quality Authority. University students and other volunteers use the experience of helping in this project to empower themselves. Below is a story from one of our volunteers (Doris is 82 years old) about one of the workshops. Thank you Doris, Elias Handal, Mohammad Najajreh, Khawla Abualia, Reena Daeed, Dalal Assi, Mohammad Abusarhan, Jessie Chang, Revien Binas, and many others for great teamwork on this project. I also just gave a talk in Jordan on use of botanical gardens and museums in valuing ecosystem services. Visitors continue to come to the museum from around the world to use the facilities and change behaviors. Tomorrow students from Dar Al-Kalima college will come to learn about fauna and flora.

Journey of Discovery at the Palestine Museum of Natural History  
By Doris Norrito

Students visiting the Palestine Museum of Natural History were rewarded with an excitingly different approach to learning, one that involved not only discovery but taking the lead in action to take charge of their future.
Traditionally, a lecture approach was considered the pathway to learning, tedious drills driving facts and figures into young minds. Museums were collections of artifacts from the past with little relevance given to the present and less to the future of our planet.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor and director of PMNH believes in an action approach that takes young people on a path of discovery by learning from the past and present, asking what they want their world to be like then having them take action and develop plans to make the change in the world they want to see.

On Saturday, 8th of October, Museum staff welcomed 9th and 10th grade girls and their teachers from Nahaleen School and 7th, 8th and 9th grade girls from Beit Jala School. Discovery began in a lecture room on the lower level of the Mar Andreas building, which houses the Museum on the second floor.

Students were each given a bag containing a T-shirt, cap, notebook, pen and ID tag. Professor Qumsiyeh explained how to write data. An introductory film showing field work done at the Museum and research techniques followed. A cartoon representing the “progress” of man in his journey to make “His” life easier graphically showed the negligent impact and lack of concern and living without respect for the environment created. Man’s pursuit of conquering the environment leads to his inevitable demise. The young people “get it” – setting the stage for a will to make change.

Encouraged to question and seek their own answers, enthusiasm blisters the room as questions, discussion and responses expand thinking within an environment at odds with outside forces working to restrict creativity. “Change demands collective work,” Qumsiyeh says.

A tour of the Museum and outdoor grounds begins with half the group taken to the exhibition room on the second floor of the Museum where Elias, a research scientist, explains laboratory work, while Mohammad leads the other half on a tour of the outside grounds. Olive, fruit and nut trees surround the area; a pond, bee hives and a greenhouse that includes three large fish tanks and hydroponic plants that receive recycled fish water.   
After lunch, students are given direction by Mubarak, Reena, and Khawla in how to set up an environmental club in their schools that includes an election of officials for their club.  The duties of officials were outlined. Minutes of meetings were to be written and reports given at another meeting to be held at the Museum in a few weeks.

Students were encouraged to ask questions that stimulate discussion and raise issues leading to solutions. One such question was raised about the future use of electric cars as being a solution to fossil fuel pollution. Yes or no: give reasons for your answer. Can there be solutions and what are they?

Another posed the question of how to promote awareness of the environment and who cares more, the younger or older generations. A second group under a different project arrived on Sunday. There were four schools represented – girls from 5th, 6th and 7th grade girls from Virgin Mary School, 6th and 7th grade boys from Beit Sahour (Al-Ta’akhi) School, 10th and 11th grade from Bethlehem Secondary School for girls and 11th grade from Bethlehem Secondary School for boys.

In spite of age differences, the groups interacted well showing mutual understanding of environmental issues and coming up with thoughtful solutions. One discussion was about having students cleaning school restrooms. Though hired personnel clean, signs could be made to discourage litter, water waste and care for plumbing.

Students said as they looked around the Museum grounds, they got ideas about what they could do in their own schools to control waste and preserve the environment. For example, staking two or three old warn tires, making a seat and painting them colorfully make decorative chairs. Using spent tear gas canisters as holders to germinate seeds or to grow young sapling plants.

Qumsiyeh incorporates peace, empowerment, and environment as non-violent resistance to the harsh conditions under occupation. “If we liberate the mind we can liberate our bodies,” he tells the students in introductory discussions about the Fertile Crescent and how important it is to care for this Palestinian landscape treasure.  
More than depicting just the still life of the past, the Palestine Museum of Natural History is a living entity of the present and the promise of a future placed in the hands of young people equipped with the wings of change.
The role of museums and botanical gardens in demonstrating cultural ecosystem services: Case study and outlook
By: Mazin Qumsiyeh, Professor and Director, Palestine Museum of Natural History, Bethlehem University
Abstract Presented at conference organized by GIZ and the Jordanian Government on ecosystem services, Crown Plaza Dead Sea region 10-11 October 2016

The global environment is facing unprecedented challenges due to human activities ranging from climate change to large scale extinctions to destruction of forests. The threats are diagnosed at accelerating pace and alarm bells are ringing widely about a point of no return that we either crossed or about to cross. More research on diagnosing what ails ecosystem services than on effectiveness of various remedies. Behavioral changes among individuals via environmental awareness and education is considered a crucial component. Here we examine the role of well-structured free-choice institutions of museums and botanical gardens in societal change leading to valuing and preserving cultural and natural ecosystem services. We discuss a case study of a nascent Palestine Museum of Natural History and its botanical gardens now well established as part of an Institute of biodiversity and sustainability. The mission of PMNH is to research, educate about, and conserve our natural world, culture and heritage and use knowledge to promote responsible human interactions with our environment. Much was accomplished so far (see palestinenature.org). For example we explain how school students are using the museum facilities not only to enhance critical thinking and science skills but to develop practical knowledge and create programs that value and protect the rich heritage in nature (and associated cultural folklore of nature). We also engaged in a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of PMNH and discuss potential spread of this successful model throughout the region. We conclude that valuing ecosystem services in the MENA region (Arab World) would benefit significantly from expansion of this model in other cities band countries and propose a mechanism to do this via a network of institutions concerned with education for ecosystem services.

Sep 2, 2016

Colonial settlers

I just attended a demonstration by Israelis and Palestinians that fell under the rubric of demonstration for “peace based on two states for two people.” I won’t get into the issue of the two state “delusion” since I wrote a whole book on the subject which you can read here  [1]. But I do want to reflect on what I observed and show you some illustrative pictures of how such events are used in the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) campaigns. The Israelis were a mix of good intentioned individuals who knew nothing of the reality of settler colonialism that is the state of Israel or really knowledgeable Zionists who wanted to prove to Palestinians (us) that they are not as bad as they really are (and in the process say “look Israel is a democracy that allows opinions to be expressed).  A good example of the latter category is this guy who is a good friend of a settler security official.

"Friendly demonstrator" with settler police officer

The slogan “two states for two people” is also racist and only corroborates colonialism.
Settler colonial entities like Israel [2] ace one of three possible outcomes and never get resolved via a two state scenario. The three models historically known are: 1) the Algeria model, 2) The Australia/New Zealand model, and 3) (most common) the Latin America/South Africa model. The third model is the most common outcome of colonialism and the one that the vast majority of native people always support whether in South Africa or Palestine.
Says "freedom" but verbally they call for two states
crossing streets but not allowed to staywhile this settler allowed on street

Many of the Israelis attending the demonstration as I said are good intentioned “left wing” who did not study their own history well. They have this delusion that the problems for Israel and Zionism started in 1967 with the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. But the main problem started much earlier in the late 19th century with the notion of transforming a multi-religious and multi-cultural society called Palestine (at the time 97% not Jewish) to a “Jewish state of Israel.” This idea called Zionism by necessity entailed ethnic cleansing, massacres, home demolitions, 1967 occupation and other symptoms. We should not confuse one of the symptoms (e.g. 1967 occupation) with the underlying etiology of this disease.  Unfortunately many Palestinians (like Chief Buthalesi in South Africa during apartheid) adopted the Zionist language. So some of the Palestinian demonstrators today wanted freedom for Palestine “from Hebron to Jenin”!!! But even these soft demands for 1/5th of the Palestinian land stolen got booed by passing settler cars who honked and gave us fingers.  The demonstration was mainly drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinian political prisoners, many of them where on hunger strike hoping to end their detentions without trial for months (also called “administrative detention).
Just in case we get ideas! Me next to masked soldiers
more for "just in case"

Meanwhile, the Palestinian public is numbed by economic need, accumulated debts, mental occupation, lack of water (our museum guest apartment had no water for two weeks now), and much more. The self-declared leadership is not concerned with people’s lives but is merely concerned with their own selfish interests. The idea of holding municipal elections under occupation used to be a challenge to the occupation when held in 1976. Today it is a distraction and a chess game between various factions. The real significant events happen elsewhere with little media coverage.

It has been almost 100 years from the time of the British Balfour declaration and French Jules Cambon declaration in support of Zionism issues in 1917 partially as a quid pro quo to get Zionists to lobby for the US entrance into World War 1.  Much mayhem has happened since then. Some more important events than others. There was the formation and Zionists take-over and of the “Federal Reserve Bank” in the US that ensures printing money backed only by US military power to become the world “reserve” currency (a sham system of debt and credit that enriched thousands by that impoverished billions). There was the financing of both sides of wars from WW2 to the Iran-Iraq war. There was Vietnam and Cambodia where millions were massacred. The war on Iraq that cost three trillion dollars and the lives of about a million Iraqis was a war for Israel (see [3]).  The Zionist elite are enjoying major political successes: normalization with many Arab governments, PLO now exists only in name and only to help be a subcontractor for the occupation. But they are suffering from some setbacks: 1) strengthening of the Iran-Syria-Hizbollah-Russia-China alliance, 2) growth of the boycotts, divestments, and sanctions movement [4], 3) population growth of non-Jews under the apartheid Israeli rule (now and for the first time since the 1948 ethnic cleansing, there are less than 50% Jewish), 4) the dream of creating sectarian states in the Middle East by the intelligence services of Israel and the US is evaporating (this was supposed to normalize sectarian Israel).

Many gave us the finger, I gave the V sign

at least we bought good grapes

Much has been happening that causes rational people to question the future of the Zionist project known as the Jewish state of Israel. The last pregnant Palestinian young women shot by an occupation army was Sara Haddoush Trayra.  It is too soon to declare that she will be the last victim. Israel also released the body of Bahaa Ulayan, a bright young man who helped form a reading ring around the old city f Jerusalem and promoted reading among many young people in schools and universities throughout the occupied areas. Israel had murdered him and held his body for 11 months. Israeli colonial settlers continue their theft of Palestinian lands, their destruction of Palestinian homes and their promotion of racism as law of the land [5]. These and millions of other examples are the signs of a moral bankruptcy that is acceleration t is too soon to declare the Zionist empire failing but many signs point to an arrogance of power that is only seen in dying empires that stretch themselves too thin. Yes, Israel get $4 billion of US taxpayer money (more federal aid to Israel than any state of the United States).

The explosion yesterday that destroyed an Israeli satellite two days before it was to launch is causing many in the circles of elite power to ponder the changing landscape. The Israeli company Spacecom was to be sold for $285 million to a Chinese company. The deal, announced only last week was pending the successful launch of the satellite (dubbed Amos-6) but now the deal is off. Whether accident or divine intervention or something else, this is worrying Israeli elite apartheid rulers. The wind, as the Arabic proverb goes, does not always  g the way the ships want to go.

There is a concerted Zionist campaign to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labor party in the UK with much money and extortion and propaganda being spent (but may ultimately fail as evidence by the large crowd attending any Corbyn appearance). Corbyn dares to put British and human public interests front and center. Zionists want a puppet like they had in Clinton I (the philanderer corrupt) or the upcoming Clinton II (the war criminal corrupt). As public opinion shifts in the US as it did in Britain and Europe, inevitably it will trickle to the government. As Jill Stein has little chance  Trump and Hillary might accelerate the demise of the US empire and thus be the last of the “lesser of two-evils” charade. Meanwhile, we the people must change our approach and stop playing the game using the rules placed on us by the bankers.

[2]  Israel the last of the Settler Colonies
[5] See the list of over 50 laws that discriminate against non-Jews in the “Jewish state” https://www.adalah.org/en/law/index (ofcourse for those of us in the West Bank there are hundreds of other discriminatory “laws” being the military orders)
[6] Confessions of an Economic Hit Man 

Aug 16, 2016

Eight Years

It has been 8 years since I moved back from the USA to occupied Palestine and it may be worth a brief reflection. I accomplished much since then (of course I am surrounded by good people starting with my wife and immediate family members to students and volunteers who believed in what we were doing and to hundreds of supporters around the world). Briefly, under difficult circumstances in 2008-2016, I (with support)

1- Published many scientific research articles including critical ones on environment and genetics

2- Wrote books (one published in 2012 on Popular Resistance in Palestine and two on the way)

3- Founded and directed a clinical cytogenetics laboratory

4- Mentored dozens of graduate and undergraduate students

5- Taught over 8 different courses ranging from molecular biology to anthropology to biodiversity at four colleges and universities

6- Founded and directed the Palestine Museum (PMNH) of Natural History and Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS) including its nascent botanical garden. http://www.palestinenature.org

7- Traveled throughout occupied Palestine and collected over 8000 specimens and over 10,000 photos that are a basis of current and future research

8- Traveled and represented Palestine in over 20 countries

9- Wrote over 200 articles on issues ranging from popular resistance to the one state solution to BDS.

10- Spoke to over 5000 visiting internationals about the situation

11- Spoke to thousands of locals on issues ranging from environment to human rights

12- Created jobs and helped some students manage their financial burden with some scholarships and work-study programs

13- Organized dozens of workshops that built human capacity

14- Built working relationships with dozens of local and international groups

15- Performed a number of consultancies to local and international agencies that made a direct impact on course of human development and the environment

16- Read over 500 books and hundreds of articles that helped me change and grow as an individual

17- Built friendships with hundreds (and met thousands)

18- Challenged oppression wherever it was found (via demonstrations, media work, etc) and got arrested a few times and questioned by intelligence services of three countries ;-)

All of this was done while struggling against not just Israeli occupation with its repression (e.g. inability to import things normally, lack of freedom of movement) but some Palestinian societal backward culture including nepotism, patriarchy, bureaucracy, and corruption. We were learning as we go how to deal with people (including the “mental occupation”). We gave chances to some who abused them and some who benefited from the chances to improve themselves and serve Palestine. But what sustained me/us was good honest people who I met and worked with everywhere. Hundreds of individuals like you on this list who helped us in so many ways by donations, volunteerism, actions, and other kinds of support. Of course what we have done is miniscule compared to what needs to be done. And there are many millions of candles in this darkness. We are humble enough to realize that we can only continue to achieve with collective work towards a peaceful., just, and SUSTAINABLE world.

Staying in the US would have been much less demanding on my physical and psychological health (and with a six figure income would have been financially “logical”). And there was lots of activities we were doing in the US for Palestine, for global peace, and for the environment. Much remains to be done within the US as it continues to be the country that is in the words of Martin Luther King Jr "the biggest purveyor of violence". It certainly is the most enabling and the major sponsor of apartheid Israel and the endless wars in neighboring countries (conflicts thought to serve Israeli interests). Without the US support “Israel” would fold in two weeks and would have to become a democratic country for all its people and allow the Palestinian refugees to return. However and having said all of that, the decision to return to Palestine was the best decision I made in my life and this feeling grows stronger every day. The most important accomplishment I feel will last generations is my mentoring of young people. I would like to spend more time with young people (this is part of the reason we built PMNH/PIBS) and work harder at helping people help themselves. As I look forward with optimism to the next eight years here (If I live that long), I want to sincerely thank all of you who contributed and continue to contribute your time and energy.

END OF REFLECTION. Now for other good news

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted overwhelmingly in the annual convention to set up a screen and not invest in any company that profits from Israel's occupation. They also called to end US unconditioonal aid to Israel. The Green party of the US developed a great latform on the question of Palestine (see below) that is based on human rights and justice. Social media are abuzz after the disastrous choice of Clinton and Trump to be nominees of the "democratic" and "republican" parties. Many argue that this continuing deterioration was a predictable outcome of the permission of lobbies (like the Zionist lobby to shape elections) and/or an expected outcome of several elections where people vote for the lesser of two evils rather than vote their conscience.

Following the diminishing water supply to Palestinians in the West Bank and the severe water shortage and pollution in the Gaza Strip, a light installation was held simultaneously in eight locations: Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Boston, New York, Houston, Johannesburg, Melbourne and Perth, Australia. In an illuminating display of lights reflected in water, activists from four continents stood near lakes and beaches creating the message “WATER IS A RIGHT” in various languages.

Green Party Statement on The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Our Green values oblige us to support popular movements for peace and demilitarization in Israel-Palestine, especially those that reach across the lines of conflict to engage both Palestinians and Israelis of good will.

We reaffirm the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis, which precludes the self-determination of one at the expense of the other. We recognize the historical and contemporary cultural diversity of Israeli-Palestinian society, including the religious heritage of Jews, Christians, Muslims and others. This is a significant part of the rich cultural legacy of all these peoples and it must be respected. To ensure this, we support equality before international law rather than appeals to religious faith as the fair basis on which claims to the land of Palestine-Israel are resolved.

We recognize that Jewish insecurity and fear of non-Jews is understandable in light of Jewish history of horrific oppression in Europe. However, we oppose as both discriminatory and ultimately self-defeating the position that Jews would be fundamentally threatened by the implementation of full rights to Palestinian-Israelis and Palestinian refugees who wish to return to their homes. As U.S. Greens, we refuse to impose our views on the people of the region. Still, we would turn the U.S. government towards a new policy, which itself recognizes the equality, humanity, and civil rights of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and all others who live in the region, and which seeks to build confidence in prospects for secular democracy.

We reaffirm the right and feasibility of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in Israel. We acknowledge the significant challenges of equity and restitution this policy would encounter and call on the U.S. government to make resolution of these challenges a central goal of our diplomacy in the region.

We reject U.S. unbalanced financial and military support of Israel while Israel occupies Palestinian lands and maintains an apartheid-like system in both the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel toward its non-Jewish citizens. Therefore, we call on the U.S. President and Congress to suspend all military and foreign aid, including loans and grants, to Israel until Israel withdraws from the Occupied Territories, dismantles the separation wall in the Occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, ends its siege of Gaza and its apartheid-like system both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel toward its non-Jewish citizens.

We also reject U.S. political support for Israel and demand that the U.S. government end its veto of Security Council resolutions pertaining to Israel. We urge our government to join with the U.N. to secure Israel's complete withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries and its compliance with international law.

We support a much stronger and supportive U.S. position with respect to all United Nations, European Union, and Arab League initiatives that seek a negotiated peace. We call for an immediate U.N.-sponsored, multinational peacekeeping and protection force in the Palestinian territories with the mandate to initiate a conflict-resolution commission.

We call on the foreign and military affairs committees of the U.S. House and Senate to conduct full hearings on the status of human rights and war crimes in Palestine-Israel, especially violations committed during Israel's 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza ("Operation Cast Lead") as documented in the 2009 "UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict"("The Goldstone Report") authorized by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

We recognize that despite decades of continuous diplomatic attempts by the international community, it has failed to bring about Israel's compliance with international law or respect for basic Palestinian human rights; and that, despite abundant condemnation of Israel's policies by the UN, International Court of Justice, and all relevant international conventions, the international community of nations has failed to stop Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights in Israel and the OPT, while Israeli crimes continue with impunity. We recall that ending institutionalized racism (apartheid) in South Africa demanded an unusual, cooperative action by the entire international community in the form of a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against apartheid South Africa, and that BDS can become the most effective nonviolent means for achieving justice and genuine peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and for the region, through concerted international pressure as applied to apartheid South Africa; and that Palestinian resistance to ongoing dispossession has mainly been nonviolent, including its most basic form—remaining in their homes, on their land; and that while Palestinian armed resistance is legitimate under international law when directed at non-civilian targets, we believe that only nonviolent resistance will maintain the humanity of Palestinian society, elicit the greatest solidarity from others, and maximize the chance for future reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. However, we also recognize that our appeal to Palestinians to continue to resist nonviolently in the face of ongoing existential threats from Israel is hypocritical unless accompanied by substantial acts of international support. We recall that in 2005, Palestinian Civil Society appealed to the international community to support a BDS campaign against Israel, and that in response the Green Party of the US endorsed this BDS campaign in 2005. Therefore, we support the implementation of boycott and divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era, which includes pressuring our government to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel; and we support maintaining these nonviolent punitive measures until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by

-Ending its occupation and colonization of all Palestinian lands and dismantling the Wall in the West Bank
-Recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
-Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

We recognize that international opinion has been committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, we view the two-state solution as neither democratic nor viable in the face of international law, material conditions and "facts on the ground" that now exist in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Given this reality, we support a U.S. foreign policy that promotes the creation of one secular, democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis on the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan as the national home of both peoples, with Jerusalem as its capital. We encourage a new U.S. diplomatic initiative to begin the long process of negotiation, laying the groundwork for such a single-state constitution.

We recognize that such a state might take many forms and that the eventual model chosen must be decided by the peoples themselves. We also acknowledge the enormous hostilities that now exist between the two peoples, but history tells us that these are not insurmountable among people genuinely seeking peace.

As an integral part of peace negotiations and the transition to peaceful democracy, we call for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose inaugurating action would be mutual acknowledgement by Israelis and Palestinians that they have the same basic rights, including the right to exist in the same, secure place.

Jul 21, 2016


Abdullah Issa (photo left) was a Palestinian child living in Syria (family of refugees after the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by Israel). He was captured and accused of helping the Syrian government. He had injuries and was thought to be also treated for thallasemia. Pictures show the bandaged boy of perhaps 10 or 11 years old with a catheter in his arm. His captives had him in the back of a pick-up truck (perhaps having taken him from his hospital bed). As he pleaded with them they ignored him and directed their message to the camera against Syrian government then slit the throat of this child. The killer militia shouted Allahu Akbar as the boy was mercilessly murdered. This group is funded and/or supported by the governments of the US, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. They were considered by those four governments as “moderate rebels”.

On the same day that Abdullah was beheaded, a Palestinian boy roughly the same age (Mohyee Sedki Tbakhi, photo left) was shot by the Israeli occupation forces. I could not help note the similarity between the two as they looked like twins. As happens, only by intensifying our efforts are we able to cope with such tragedies. Coincidentally I accepted an invitation by the US Consulate in Jerusalem for Independence Day celebration (the event was held July 20th rather than July 4th here). Such trips to Jerusalem (without an Israeli permit) are always painful for me but the contradictions and conflicting emotions here were high. The area is in West Jerusalem long since transformed to a “Jewish city” the only real remnant of Palestinian next to the consulate is a cemetery (Mamilla or Maman Allah). But development is even eating away at that space and what is left of it is treated as a garden park. (photo: Me at the cemetery- a Palestinian visiting remaining Palestinians)
Perhaps two or three hundred people were at the consulate including many high level Palestinian officials and some Israeli officials (including many with blood on their hands). Many attendees were there for varied reasons. They dutifully listened to Consul General Blum give a good political speech highlighting need for peace and coexistence. Palestinian and Israeli beers were served (Dancing Camel beer!). Palestinian Knaffeh was served by Palestinians ut Shawerma sandwitches were served as “Israeli” food from the Waldorf Estoria! Equalizing occupier with occupied and colonize with colonized serves a clear agenda that has no space for liberation but encourages “coexistence” (status quo). But the consular staff are kind hearted and good intentioned. Many even told me privately they disagree with the policies but they are only doing what they were told to do.

Coincidentally this event was also held in parallel with the republican national convention, an event with much news coverage (for good or bad). I could not help but reflect on the state of the US in 2016 and to do so by taking time away from very important work I am doing (like analyzing the state of the Palestinian environment). Like analyzing any project, perhaps someone ought to sit down and do a proper and detail SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) to this human venture called the USA. Like all human organizational structures (including religions and political institutions everywhere), it starts with an idea that is then adapted to human needs at various intervals.

The original 13 European colonies in what became known as “America” shed their allegiance to Britain and with the help of France declared their independence in 1776. Despite a constitution that says “all men are created equal” voting in the new democracy was restricted to white male land owners a. Nearly a hundred years later, slavery was abandoned and much later women got the right to vote. Civil rights were allowed to blacks only in the 1960s. The US is now a nation of hundreds of millions (6%) of the world population but consuming nearly a quarter of the glob’s natural resources. It is a country of contradictions and has always been so. Advanced science and medicine went in parallel with committing war crimes in Vietnam. Art, music and culture that spread around the world together with death and destruction. High charity among a largely devout, simple and kind population but also domestic iolence, highest incarceration rate in the world and racist discrimination and murder of blacks. Movements like Black lives matter and challenging Islamophobia are growing but face daunting challenges. The biggest challenge is that I is a society driven by money and special interests. So islamophobia will continue to be promoted by a media under much influence from the Zionist movement.  The circus like atmosphere of the upcoming democratic convention will only be slightly better than the Republican convention.  That is because these is a system of elite interests that want it so.  But ultimately I believe changes happen in the US when enough people stop believing politicians and act to push policies through. That is how the US public pushed for civil rights, women right to vote, ending the war in Vietnam (genocidal war), ending support for apartheid South Africa, and getting 40 hour work week.  That pressure (and it is not a matter of voting another politician in or out) is what changes society. That pressure must also now increase to end US support for apartheid Israel, end US support for the Saud Royal family, end US attacks on Arab countries, end the escalation against Russia that could lead to war, really tackle climate change (and not via the weak step taken in Paris), tax the rich people fairly and take care of education for the young people and much more.

I do love fellow Americans (as I do all human beings even Israelis). I do not have to agree with US foreign policy and in fact my dislike of that AIPAC-led foreign policy that is bankrupting the US is born out of my love for fellow US citizens especially people who challenged or challenge the system. There are people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. There are thousands of good Americans just on my own email list. I consider them the best hope for evolving the US out of this craziness.

Now on this “binarity”: have you noticed that the media and politicians repeatedly tell us that the world is binary? President Bush once said after 11 Sept. 2001: you are either with the terrorists or with us (I told them sorry I am with neither of you). Two million civilians killed since then and the same politicians and terrorists (both are killers) give us the same choice). They try to convince us that we have one of two choices (third choices or more are discounted). I must vote either for racist madman Trump of egotistical war monger Hilary Clinton who both lick the boots of Zionists and will kill more civilians. There are other choices!. Why can’t I choose to reject both Turkish Ordogan and the plotters of the military coup against him? Edward Said once told us we do not have to choose between a secular corrupt dictatorship and rule by Muslim Brotherhood. I do not have to support Zionism to be for Jewish rights. I do not have to support the Assad regime to be against the Saudi/US/Israel supported “rebel” groups who are nothing more than mercenary terrorists. We have many choices. It is time we exercise them.

Jul 16, 2016

ups and downs

Life in Palestine moves along with its ups and downs, like the tides of the sea. Some days we feel depressed, some days more optimistic. Some of us even feel like manic depressives for the fact that we go through these cycles. The triggers are varied. We get depressed when we heard of the murders of 84 people in Nice by a deranged lunatic. We get uplifted when we hear of how victims’ families, friends, and concerned citizens (of all religions and backgrounds) came together in solidarity. We get depressed for the bombings in Baghdad that killed over 250 innocent civilians (again by deranged lunatics) or of the innocents in Yemen and Syria. We get uplifted watching good citizens rush to help the injured and then take to the streets to demand an end to end the mayhem created by the US, Saudi, and Israeli governments (the real axis of evil here).

We get depressed to hear from friends in Gaza of the continuing hardships and almost impossible life they live under Israeli siege. That siege does not seem to end as the Turkish government “normalized” its relationship with Israel (i.e. went back to being a partner in crime). We get uplifted by the indomitable spirit of resistance of the young people who don’t give up. We hear Bernie Sanders abandon his principles and support Hillary Clinton for President (she is a Zionist war monger and will not be much better than the lunatic Donald Trump). We get uplifted to see many citizens including many of the disgruntled supporters of Sanders move towards voting for the Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The Green Party is the only political party in the US which remains consistently anti-war, anti-exploitation, and for peace and justice around the world (including in Palestine with their support of the right of return). But even within the democratic and republican parties voices of reason are raised occasionally against special interests (including of the powerful Israel lobby that has hijacked US foreign policy).

We get depressed when I heard the right wing Israeli government approved a bill that targets human rights activists and appointed a racist to be chief rabbi of the Israeli army. But then we get uplifted seeing more young people refusing to serve/be conscripted in that immoral army.  All of us discover that a person we trusted and helped went on to try to hurt us. But many of us can recall unexpected kindness from strangers. All this can be confusing! Some days I am personally at the brink of despair due to the difficulties we face in trying to build a museum and a botanical garden under a very difficult situation and without support, to recruit volunteers, and to find donors. Working 15-17 hours a day, seven days a week to accomplish what in any other civilized country could be accomplished in half the time can be frustrating. But on these same days or in days before them or after them we feel elated by what is happening. A wave of positive energy seems to descend out of nowhere on some days. Just this week we had groups of visitors and volunteers daily and we had one day in which some 25 students came during their summer camp for an environmental day at the museum. Here they learned some new skills and ideas as they volunteered to work in our botanical garden. One day I learned that one grant was rejected and the next day I learned that one of our research papers was accepted and I learned of two other grant possibilities.

This back and forth continues and it could be just as natural as the cycle of the ocean tides or the rotation of the planets. Maybe expecting life to be good is like expecting the sun up 24 hours! So am are we optimists or pessimists or pessoptimist or realist? Tragedies around us continue. We could choose to isolate ourselves from them for example by going to live in a country with less troubles but in an increasingly globalized world that might be difficult. Even if possible, that life leads to a selfish disconnect from others and a life of pain and guilty conscience. The alternative is what the Buddhists call “joyful participation in the sorrows of this world.” The trick to being content is not to fight the rising tide nor to push against the falling tide but to learn to roll with that tide while also doing your best to stay true to yourself.

See our volunteer video:  https://youtu.be/APxvAZh8qrQ

Jun 26, 2016


I wrote several articles over the past 20 years suggesting for the sake of Europe’s future to develop a more independent foreign policy and end US led NATO’s adventurism whether in Libya or the Ukraine. But looking at the British poll to exit Europe, we cannot just say “we told you so”. We cannot feel happy seeing Europe collapse even though we here in Palestine suffered and continue to suffer from European colonization (yes Zionism that created Israel is European colonization).

This vote was focused mainly on fear of immigration (not economy as many expected) and this epidemic of fear of the brown people is afflicting the US and Europe and is stoked by Zionist xenophobes. It was not surprising that all of Rupert Murdoch’s vast media empire peddled for Brexit (British exit). The stock markets collapsed, gold prices surged, and there is a general panic as the rich bankers who control/issue the money do not know what to do. The US Federal Reserve is panicking because interest rates are already so low and can’t be lowered so much further to “simulate the economy.” The economy is bad in Europe and the US because it is a war economy. For example, some three trillions were spend on the Iraq war (for Israel).  These wars to fragment the Arab world even further than what Sykes-Picot created in 1916 (100 years ago) are backfiring and are the real cause of the calamity in Europe (epitomized by what they call a refugee crisis and economic stress). Perhaps the chickens are coming home to roost? In the US a similar pop culture promoted by Hollywood and other media peddled xenophobic islamophobia to serve Israel, peddled endless wars (divide and conquer), and peddled a diversionary silly culture to draw attention away from the major challenges to a livable world (especially climate change). These Zionists challenged the principled BDS campaign hypocritically crying “anti-semitism” while peddling Islamophobia. The witch hunts in 2016 are reminiscent of the 1950s McCarthy communist scare.  We were thus not surprised that this same Zionist controlled media repackaged the Florida shooter as a “Muslim terrorist” but Madeen was clearly a lunatic gay guy who drank heavily and frequented gay bars regularly and was psychotically depressed for rejection. Without understanding this massive media campaign we cannot explain the popularity in oppressive societies of people like Avigdor Lieberman (“Israel”), Donald Trump (USA), and Boris Johnson (England). The fact that they all support Zionism should give us a hint.

What is clear is that people need to worry about the future of the so called “Western Civilization” as it is clearly in decline. When asked about Western Civilization, Mahatma Gandhi was reputed to have said “I think it would be a good idea”! Many people especially the majority of the globe that is not “white” are worried about this civilization. Wring in the Guardian, Lola Okolosie said “ The paradox of this referendum has been that those who have experienced the highest levels of migration turned out to be the least concerned about it. Fear of the unknown often underlines bigotry and xenophobia. We know that.” Her article makes more interesting points and is worth reading

Europe went through the Middle Ages for ten centuries (medieval period), a period not much different from the disarray and religious fervor gripping the Arab world today. Europe paid a heavy price for the transition from these dark ages to the renaissance and then they had the set-backs of colonialism and nationalism (including WW1 and WW2). I am hopeful that Europe will not slip back and its people learned from the past.  Now the focus is on the Arab world to finally rise out of the disarray and weakness into an era of science and technology and knowledge based decision making (our own renaissance) and this is inevitable. But then in 100 years (if climate change has not killed us all), we hope we will not be back into the colonial or nationalist mentality whether here or in Europe. Zionist colonialism like all other colonialism is already struggling to stay alive in a sea of native rejection in the 21st century. There is so much we can learn from history of Europe and we must all consider it our human history. Humanity is evolving and we must work together to make sure it evolves in a good sustainable direction.

Good news according to a friend (Mai): "Two years ago, Presbyterians passed divestment by a razor thin margin of just 7 votes. This year, they moved boldly forward with huge majority votes on further strong measures. Meanwhile, the Unitarians achieved a majority on their first attempt at divestment (remember, the Presbyterians took 10 years!)...In addition, Re/Max issued a statement to the Presbyterians prior to their Re/Max vote (which passed) that they will no longer profit from Israel's illegal settlements properties- see links below”

Jun 22, 2016


On a lengthy trip (due to checkpoints and alternate roads under occupation) to Ramallah, we had a chance to think and discuss issues like human condition and motivations. Three of us from the Palestine Museum of Natural History were on the way to meet with an official of the UN Development Program and with leadership of an active NGO working on agriculture and the environment. Having a very busy life working 16 hours a day seven days a week basically leaves us little time for reflection.  Back in Bethlehem, I decided to take a bit more time last evening to do more reflection and share some thoughts especially on the state of our world and our role in it. I am sure all of us considered these same issues. There is unprecedented connectivity and access to information and we have richness of nature and enough resources to give everyone on this planet a comfortable life. Yet, we have over 1 billion people living in poverty. Hundreds of millions go hungry. There are murders, terrorism, war, and all other human cruelty to other humans (and to animals and to nature). There is a deterioration of quality of politicians and proportional increase in governmental lies. The global environment is at the breaking point (climate change etc.).  The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. In this man made mayhem, it is not too difficult to understand why cynical right wing politicians can rally people based on “safety/security” concerns (the most powerful human emotion of fear). A friend of mine from a developed country noted that “ We'd better figure out ways to spread some equity around if we want to go on living in a society that is at least semifunctional. .” But the devil is in the detail. We should take the time to think of what world we want and how do we get there.

I am sure that all people like me somehow dream of a better world. If I was a child and drew it, I would draw it as a natural world, beaches, streams, beautiful trees,colorful animals running around, children playing and living in harmony with this “natural ecosystem”. Envisioning such a world of harmony, bliss and happiness is not a utopian silly dream. But not achievting it soon should not be an impediment to (re)thinking our own role in this. First we do need to understand human needs and motivations. The US psychologist Abraham Maslow  proposed that there is a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation". We can think of this is a pyramid with these needs from bottom to top of pyramid: physiological needs (food, drink, sex etc), safety, love/belonging, esteem/recognition, and finally self-actualization. Today most people especially in underdeveloped and developing countries are actually at that bottom rung in the pyramid. We in Palestine do not have too many answers since most of our people are still at that subsistence level. It is irritating to see the elites (including Palestinian and Israelis) who have their basic needs met refuse to rise to higher levels and get motivated to do something different to make this a better world. At least they should/could follow Howard Zinn’s advise and get off the train (His book “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” ). By not being part of the problem, humans at least open the possibility of being part of the solution. The next step is of course “trouble-making”: stirring the stagnant waters so to speak.  One of the inspiring groups I know that does this is CodePink whose members put themselves in places challenging political elites and  challenging hypocrisy. The third stage of this process is to envision the alternative and build it. Many people do a great job at separating them-selves from the oppressive and apathetic hords and challenging the oppression. But few go to that third level of building and thus self-actualizing. I ended my book “Sharing the Land of Canaan” (published 2004) with this:

Breaking through the conundrums humans have created is not easy.  It will require transcending a part of our selves that may seem familiar and reassuring.  Learning to live together, while initially uncomfortable, can lead to a new way of thinking.  Joseph Campbell wrote in 1968:  "Today, the walls and towers of the culture-world that then were in the building are dissolving ... But of course, on the other hand, for those who can still contrive to live within the fold of a traditional mythology of some kind, protection is still afforded against the dangers of an individual life; and for many the possibility of adhering in this way to established formulas is a birthright they rightly cherish, since it will contribute meaning and nobility to their unadventured lives, ... and to those for whom such protection seems a prospect worthy of all sacrifice, and orthodox mythology will afford both the patterns and the sentiments of a lifetime of good repute. However, by those to whom such living would be not life, but anticipated death, the circumvallating mountains that to others appear to be of stone are recognized as of the mist of dream, and precisely between their God and Devil, heaven and hell, white and black, the man of heart walks through.  Out beyond those walls, in the uncharted forest night, where the terrible wind of God blows directly on the questing undefended soul, tangled ways may lead to madness. They may also lead, however, as one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages tells, to 'all those things that go to make heaven and earth.' "(Campbell, Joseph.  1968. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. Viking Penguin Inc., New York, p. 37.)

It is indeed a journey of awakening at the individual level that is not only spiritual, but also require concrete action to bring true peace and justice to fruition. We Canaanites, who invented the alphabet, domesticated animals and developed agriculture, and made this arid land into a land of milk and honey, surely can do this. An Arab poet wrote "Itha Asha3bu yawman Arad al-7ayata fala budda an Yastijeeb al-qadar. Wala budda lillayal an Yanjaili wala budda li-thulm an yankasir." Roughly translated, it means: If the people one day strive for life, then ultimately destiny will respond and the night will give way and the injustice will be broken. The path to peace is not served by the creation of more states or unjust "fixes" to perceived demographic "problems."  It has to do with justice and implementation of human rights and international law. It requires grass root action to accelerate its arrival but it is the only solution possible in the long term.  We can either remain locked in our old mythological and tribal ways or we can envision a better future and work for it.  The choice is obvious.

But much more needs to be thought of and said and acted upon in these areas. It is after all this search for a meaning of live and our role in it that is at the heart of what makes us human. Let us all resolve to take less time on things like facebook and more time to really look and act deeper. I for one hope to spend more time with intelligent thoughtful people thinking more collectively of these things and acting on them.

A Museum and Institute of Sustainability and Biodiversity at Bethlehem University