Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Dispatch from the Holy Land

Reconnect with the Inner Child, Bethlehem, and Words of Jesus, Meeting for Volunteers

by Mazin Qumsiyeh -

How can we learn from children dealing with adversity? There were many images that shock us almost daily. The Palestinian child splayed on the beach in Gaza with his tiny body ripped by Israeli bullets. In 2015 it was of a Syrian child with the same pose, face down in the sand having drowned in the Mediterranean.

About the same time, Palestinian children where being killed (two were burned alive) How much pain can people take? How can we think of the dictatorial leaders of countries like the very rich Arab gulf states and Egypt closing their eyes to this suffering which they help perpetuate?

We can reflect on these painful episodes of man's inhumanity to fellow human beings. We can focus on the greed and the corruption and the cruelty that we face daily (five Palestinians killed here during the two days of Christmas). But I really do not want to do that any more. As this year comes to a close and a new year begins, I reflect on value of good deeds and then reflect on other living children.

When Israel demolished a Palestinian home in Nablus recently in an act of collective punishment as they do routinely, good people (most of them poor) donated thousands within 24 hours for rebuilding). "Good Samaritans" are everywhere and I meet them every day. I am so grateful to them for making the lives of people around them better. Those who give of themselves and in so doing enrich themselves. It is hard to describe how motivating it is to see hundreds of good people giving to good causes that try to better the lives of fellow creatures on earth. Some challenge oppression to the point of sacrificing their lives to push for the freedom of others.

Others donate to help suffering people. Some gave up their careers to work with refugees desperately clinging to life. Sometimes we can lose faith in humanity. But as a biologist, I find new adaptations and new life especially hopeful.

Spring is coming earlier today in Palestine (perhaps because of the global warming). A small bird manages to survive a broken wing. A lizard regenerated its tail. A flower blossoms. A new seed sprouts. A new human birth (a miracle). One surviving child in particular gave us so much hope.

Every once in a while we see a video chronicling the progress in recovery of the surviving Dawabsha child (he was severely burned, his mother, father, and younger sibling all perished in the Jewish settler arson attack). We see his grandfather able to solicit the beautiful smile and even laughter and we say: there is hope in humanity. I see a hungry child share his bread with another hungry child with a smile. I remember how one child from Aida refugee camp whose mother was killed by Israeli soldiers once told me and another adult that "Do not worry, Palestine will be free".

I remember and reread the story of "The Little Prince" (Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; I have a collection of it in many languages) and I am reminded when tough times fall (and they do more and more often) that we need to tap the little child inside us. Children still have the idealism, kindness, social connection, and hope that adults seem to lose.

For me personally, many people harmed me or tried to do harm to me in 2015, ranging from Israeli soldiers and settlers to deluded Palestinians. To such all I hope we all say: we do not hate you and we do forgive you. It does not mean we will stop working for justice or challenging oppression and corruption. It is actually our (positive) way of doing so. We call on you to join the ever increasing circle of people who light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. They know that doing good without expecting any return is the most enriching experience in life. Working for a bigger cause than one self is the best and most healthy way to live. It is the essence of true happiness.

In this same spirit, Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michael Sabbah wrote in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz a meaningful message to Israeli leaders:

"Israel’s Christmas gifts to Bethlehem this year serve towards consolidating the separation between Bethlehem and its twin city, Jerusalem; the city where Jesus was born and the city where he was resurrected – the essence of the Christian faith. Aside from the daily violations that the besieged Bethlehem suffers as a result of the occupation, Israel issued a military order last week announcing that it has confiscated 101 dunams of Bethlehem’s northern lands. In the same week, the Israeli government approved the expansion of the illegal settlement of Gilo - built on privately owned lands of Bethlehem - by 891 new housing units...
"Despite Israel’s claim that it is the only country in the Middle East where Christians prosper,  the unspoken message it sends on the ground is that it has no respect whatsoever for their rights as Palestinians and for their existence in their homeland...
"Bethlehem is now either a symbol for peace, or war. I invite the Israeli leaders to make it a symbol for peace and for a new just approach for Palestinians.  Palestinians deserve the full achievement of their inalienable rights...
"But Jesus said, Allow little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

All those volunteers, and anyone interested in reawakening the giving and curious spirit of our inner child: The Palestine Museum of Natural History/Bethlehem University invites you to a meeting of volunteers and supporters to be held at the museum on Monday 28 December 2015 at 3 - 5PM. We will briefly review our accomplishments (some are posted here but focus more on how we can give more and serve more especially the children of Palestine and safeguard their future.

Please send us an email ( or call us (02-2773553) to confirm attendance.

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Professor and Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine

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