The first seven years – Mazin Qumsiyeh

On 31 May 2014 we signed a contract to start the Palestine Museum of
Natural History/Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability
(see my speech below in Arabic and English). I was reflecting this morning
with colleagues on the achievements in those seven years: dozens of
research papers, environmental education and awareness to thousands of
visitors and workshop participants, conservation efforts, helping farmers
with permaculture, animal rehabilitation, community garden, exhibits, and
many more. We successfully implemented over 30 projects (funded by groups
ranging from Rotary International to National Geographic to the EU to the
British Council and the Royal Society). We (staff, friends, volunteers and
allies) are now working on many other projects including developing our
biodiversity center, herbarium, molecular labs and  with the Environment
Quality Authority and others on the national report for the convention on
biological diversity and for the national strategy for biodiversity.  We
accomplished a lot (see annual report 2020 here ) but the
future looks even brighter with your continued support as we are becoming a
regional and global center for environmental research, education, and

So we humbly say thank you ALL and pledge to work even harder
Team of

Launch of Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH)
1 June 2014
Yesterday I signed a memorandum of understanding with Bethlehem University
to institutionalize the Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH). PMNH in
an unofficial capacity accomplished a lot in the past few years but now
will quickly become the premier institution in the Arab world with high
caliber research, education, and service relating to biodiversity and
environmental conservation. In the agreement on my end, my family donates
$250,000 for interim operational costs and we also bring in collections and
our free work (over 10 volunteers). The University provides space and
infrastructure support (up to $45,000) for the interim period (5 years).
Together, we will work to build it. Some 30 key people (including some of
our volunteers) attended the signing ceremony. This was a historic day but
the work is just beginning. Below is my short speech at the event on behalf
of the volunteers. Please read it as we WILL NEED YOUR SUPPORT. You do not
have to have biology or nature background to join and/or help; merely
interest. First, you may join us in a separate electronic group that will
deal with environmental and biodiversity issues in Palestine: email me to
indicate you would like to join this nature list. Joining the list is not a
commitment to help but a commitment to be informed and get involved. We
also welcome donations through the Bethlehem University Foundation in the
US or directly to BU (please indicate on your donation it is for the PMNH
and let me know that you sent it).

For a video of a small part of our work don

Talk by Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh at signing ceremony for the Palestine Museum
of Natural History 30 May 2014:

“This day is of historical significance. I want to start on behalf of
current museum volunteers and researchers by thanking all of you,
university administrators, Brother Peter, Brother Stephen, Dr. Irene,
Chris, volunteers, coworkers, my family, and all others who made this day
possible. To my wife Jessie and son Dany, without you, none of this would
be possible. We started with a vision by my uncle Sana Atallah 50 years ago
and now moved to a collective vision by many people. On his summer visits
to Palestine he would take me and other children to the field. I was
impressed as a child by his dedication and love of nature. When he died at
age 27, I promised to finish the work he planned to do. One of those was to
research mammals in the Arab world and I thus published two books and over
70 papers on mammals (there are still more coming; we are now working on
new data for bats). But the other dream was a museum to serve Palestine.

While we had opportunities with NGOs or a new NGO it was clear to all
concerned that this needs to be integrated with teaching and research at
the University which intends to dramatically improve education, research
and service over the next few years incorporating this project and other
projects. Two example areas that will revolutionize biology and related
areas are biodiversity and biotechnology (including human genetic health
etc.). We are fortunate to have experience in both and in many ways we can
also integrate them together for example using DNA for systematics and
taxonomy of animals and plants. Bethlehem University cytogenetics lab was
the first lab to publish peer review work on genotoxic effects of Israeli
industrial settlements, the first to publish data on causes of male
infertility in Palestine, the first to study chromosomes of Palestinian
scorpions (2 papers with undergraduates), the first to survey amphibians in
the West Bank and more. We have an excellent study of the fauna of Wadi
Al-Quf, the first Palestinian administered natural park and we showed
surprising and new records. We have started strong and none of our previous
achievements could have been done without your support. But it was clear
that we could do more when we create a museum of natural history by world

Palestine faces many challenges such as overpopulation, colonization,
global warming, and environmental degradation. We collectively plan to
create a significant research, service, teaching, and development museum
for Palestine and beyond to address some of these challenges.  We have
plans for over 10 sections of this museum by the end of our 5 year
development phase. They include sections for museum administration
(including accounting and development), sections for entomology,
arachnology, herpetology, ornithology, mammalogy, malacology (theses all
focus on different groups of animals), plant systematics, paleontology,
geology, public exhibits (including complete ecosystem demonstrations) and
more. The $250,000 that my wife and I donated is a drop in the bucket
compared to what is really needed to achieve this. But as Khalil Gibran
said “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you
give of yourself that you truly give.  For what are your possessions but
things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And
tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones
in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what
is fear of need but need itself?” So, we will give much more in time and
effort than anything else, of ourselves. I am sure with your help and with
the help of volunteers and co-researchers as we publish more papers and
demonstrate our capabilities, we will get the needed support to achieve the
mission of the museum to research our natural world and use this knowledge
to promote responsible human interactions with our environment.

We hope to move in the next two weeks to the location in Mar Andreas (and
ahead of time I thank Dr. Mousa and ICP for their cooperation and we will
collaborate as this is a community project).  If we have on average 10
volunteers and researchers working with us the first year, 15 the second,
then I am sure we will publish >10 papers and we will expand the collection
in an accelerated rate, and we will get the needed infrastructure and other
support to succeed much more in the third year. An independent board will
oversee this work so this will be a team effort; it is not my project but
each of you is needed to be a partner to make this succeed. To do this, we
will have a weekly gathering every Wednesday at 5 PM at the museum in Mar
Andreas starting July 2. These gatherings will involve an educational
workshop (e.g. on an environmental issue or on butterflies of Palestine
etc.) and then followed by meeting for practical planning for actions and
growth. Participants will be issued certificates that will bear the logo of
the Palestine Museum of Natural History and Bethlehem University.  But I
also promise you we will have collaborations with several institutions as
we already did with ARIJ, with three other Palestinian universities, with
EEC, with universities and institutions outside of Palestine and more. We
are talking to others in over 20 countries about collaboration and support.
More collaboration will be coming and this will be a priority to meet with
key individuals (you and others) to work out the details. Again we thank
you for all you have done so far but I will be meeting and asking for more
help to make this a success for Palestine that we all will be proud of.

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Director (pro bono), Palestine Museum of Natural History