And they searched his chest
But could only find his heart
And they searched his heart
And could only find his people
(Palestinian Poet Mahmud Darwish)
Black September Reflections
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
My political awareness started out in September 1970 when I was 13 years old. That is the first time I saw my late father cry. My parents had tried t isolate us from the miseries of the world but in this case he could not help it as he watched how politics results in innocent people massacred. The quarrel between the PLO and the Jordanian monarchy had peaked into a war. Jordanian troops with tanks entered refugee camps killing perhaps thousands (no one knows the number) of Palestinian refugees as they uprooted the PLO armed factions from Jordan. My father still would not talk much politics so I turned to my mother who gave me a brief history lesson much of it personal. For example she told me about her school friend Hayah Balbisi who was murdered with her students in Deir Yassin. The images on TV of flattened shaggy shantytowns over dead bodies still haunts me. I began to educate myself of things they do not teach us in school about our own history: that British invasion of Palestine September 1918 was a direct result of Zionist lobbies that gave the Balfour and the Jules Cambon declarations 1917 and learned of the British imposition of apartheid through the first Zionist ruler here Herbert Samuels.
In September 1982, it was my turn to cry uncontrollably as I saw images of the massacres at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila (Israeli paid proxy militias). By September 2001, I had been living and working at Yale University for 1.5 years and I had been in the US for 22 years. In those 1.5 years in Connecticut, we had held over 20 events for Palestine and I had published dozens of letters and opinion articles on Palestine. We were happy we succeeded in pressuring Yasser Arafat not to sign onto the humiliating agreement offered him at Camp David that abrogated the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and lands (I cofounded a group that managed to collect over 800,000 signatures for refugee rights between 1997 to 1999). We were planning moe actions and more events especially in protest of the ongoing massacres committed by the war criminal Ariel Sharon in the occupied Palestinian territories. That was what some people had called the second Intifada 2000-2005 (my book on Popular resistance actually shows it is number 14 or 15). We planned events, held rallies, organized protest and also cared for the injured. We had already brought a girl who was 8 years old who lost her eye to an Israeli rubber-coated steel bullet and gave her a prosthetic eye (Hiam was one of hundreds of children to lose eyes and limbs in 2000-2003). Another girl Marwa Alsharif was coincidentally with us in September 2001. Marwa Al-Sharif had a bullet in her head which was just removed by neurosurgeon in Hartford and she was recovering (I acted as translater for her and her mother). On 10 September 2001 I was dealing with Zionist back lash and media distortions about the Israeli targeting of these children. On September 4, 2001, the Zionist group CAMERA posted to their members one of our media alerts and added “As you will see, pro-Palestinian activists are very focused and energetic and are using sophisticated and diverse methods to press their case. We can do no less!” An article by Rhonda L Maacarty and me appeared in Q magazine about the growing role of international solidarity in the struggle for freedom in Palestine. The struggle was plodding along but then it came to the USA in a big way on 11 September 2001. My first message after I recovered from the shock of the news was this sent at 11:30 AM on Tuesday 11 September 2001:
Talking points on the catastrophe
Many have already been contacted by the media for commentary on the attacks in NYC and Washington. Here are possible talking points:
1) This is an awful catastrophe.
2) Our first thoughts must be with the victims.
3) We condemn acts of terror in the strongest possible ways.
4) It is important not to jump to conclusions about who or how this was caused and to wait for the situation to be clear.
No need to say anything else.
I checked on my friends in New York (an area only 40 minutes from our home in Orange, CT) and we held vigils for the victims at Yale (hundreds of victims were also Arab and/or Muslim Americans). I was interviewed at least 10 times in the next few hours. That night was sleepless night as we addressed emails and made phone calls etc. Marwa Al-Sharif and her mother were at the Friday prayers called for by all the mosques in the US after this catastrophic event to pray for the victims and pray for peace.