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Dec-17-2010 17:17printcomments

Human Rights: Deaths and Rituals for Living

The knowledge of old generations is passed to the young...

Palestinian children feigning death during a protest against internal fighting in Rafah Refugee Camp
Palestinian children feigning death during a protest against internal fighting in Rafah Refugee Camp.
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(BETHLEHEM) - Funeral traditions and rituals are sometimes called death rituals but I believe they are rituals in affirmation and support of the living.

Friends asked why my response to emails or writing slowed down to a trickle in the past week. The reason is that for nearly 10 days now we have been very busy with the terminal disease and subsequent death of my brother-in-law (who also is my cousin).

And now, I will have to work through the mountain of accumulated "to do" things on my desk-top (both the wood one and the electronic one).

I also have to take time to ponder life now that both my sisters lost their (relatively young) husbands this year (my third sister is unmarried).

It is a hard blow on our very close family to use these two fine men who leave behind such great children (and in the case of my older sister's family, several grand-children).

We shuttled around hospitals, doctors, and pharmacists. We then have to go through the traditional three days of mourning with their associated rituals. I am always surprised at how quickly news travel here in a small town of 12,000 people.

I am amazed at how quickly and efficiently arrangements are made for the complex events that follow the notice of death (far too many to list here). Almost like miracles, Volunteers spring up, a casket appears, Priests come, notices appear in newspapers, food is made, calls are made, and flower wreaths appear.

But the people coming in large numbers always amazes us (funerals in the US or Western Europe are small affairs compared to this). And large numbers come regardless of the importance or popularity of the deceased in society (of course many more came for those politically active individuals especially if they have been jailed by the Israelis). But as I stated in the beginning, I view these as rituals that are affirmation of life and not death. I counted that in those three days I shook hands with 2600 people. And it is about those people that these rituals are structured.

People come together regardless of their background and even those with political, family or clan rivalries put those aside to great each other, eat with each other, chat about mundane and weighty things, sometimes solving problems and settling disputes while mourning the dead person.

As we participate and listen to the conversations, we realize more and more how we are all simple common people destined eventually for the grave and we should be less petty. We remember that we Palestinians are really no different at a deeper level than any other people. We all have lots of shortcomings. We all have our moments of weakness and moments of greatness.

We ponder fate and the kindness of those great spirits out there (e.g. my brother-in-law's son came home from eth US just in time to give pleasure to his father who died then less than 24 hours later). We all remember that my late father also "waited" till I arrived from the US to finally let go in 2003.

We talk and chat and tease each other and offer each other food. We fail to live-up to our best ideals or we rise-up to them. We are all tested in hard times and score variably at various times. Sometimes individuals surprise us by how they rise to the challenge.

Some surprise us by how much love they can extend. The young and the restless in these hard-times grow very quickly before our eyes to become responsible caring adults. Many learn to cry for the first time and many learn to remember those times of their youth when they had less ego and more love. Many discover the beauty and grace of giving (and here I am not talking about just material but more importantly giving of one's self by showing love and empathy and care for others).

The knowledge of old generations is passed to the young. The young reciprocate by showing respect and giving joy to the old. An 84 year old hand touches gently the hand of a 5 year-old. A pat on the back, a hug, a kiss on the cheeks give more meaning than a thousand words. Hearts connect. I am also reminded of why I returned to Palestine from my self-created Diaspora (now here for the past 2.5 years) and I also know why those in forced exile so miss this village life in Palestine.

I remember one refugee who told me everything in Palestine was meaningful to him, that he missed everything from his youth in his (now) destroyed village and his words ring in my ears today as he added "we miss even the funerals." I thank all of you who visited, wrote, or kept us in their hearts and minds.

Amnesty International Press Release: Israeli rabbis ban home sale and rental to non-Jews:

Economic Prison Zones:

Flashmob in Tel Aviv asking for boycott:

Flashmob in San Francisco at the AIPAC dinner calling for AIPAC to stop supporting occupation and stop calling for attack on Iran (seven arrested):

Message from Abdullah Abu-Rahma (from inside apartheid's Jails) on Human rights' day:

see also:

Auschwitz Survivor on Palestine:

A Ray of Hope from Israel: Shlomo Sand Visits the Birthplace of Zionism, and His Own: By Anthony Löwstedt:


Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD - Popular Committee to Defend Ush Ghrab (PCDUG) "A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home. Mazin has been an Associate Professor of Genetics; Director, Cytogenetics Laboratory at Yale University School of Medicine since 1999. He previously held a similar position at Duke University. Professor Qumsiyeh has authored over 110 scientific papers in areas of mammalogy, biology, and medicine including mammalian biology and evolution, clinical genetics, and cancer research. He has published over 100 letters to the editor and 30 op-ed pieces in International, national, regional and local papers on issues ranging from politics to environmental issues. His appearances in national media included the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, CNBC, C-Span, and ABC, among others. He is the founder and president of the Holy Land Conservation Foundation and ex-President of the Middle East Genetics Association, and Prof. Qumsiyeh won the Jallow activism award from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1998. Those are just a small list, visit Mazin Qumsiyeh's amazing and informative Website to learn more:

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