Mazin Qumsiyeh statement at Riad's memorial

“Riad succeeded beyond even his own imagination”

Archived by permission–gm

Note: The memorial for Riad attended by over 200 people from around the US was MC’d by Rev. Edward Hartwell of St. James Episcopal Church and included comments by Sheikh Mohammed Umar Ismail, Daughter Rita Hamad, lifelong friend Nina Glasgow, brother Omar Hamad, fellow Middle School Teacher Mark Kelly, Jack Prince of the IFCPR (who introduced me), a slide show presentation by son Abdullah Hamad, music performance by Lourdes Perez, and reflections by Diana HajAli Hamad. Reflections and stories of Riad are being collected. Please send yours to

In the past few hours I kept contemplating what to say here. You can see from this sheet that my original talk here is all marked off, edited and changed and will likely be rambling. But I did hope I could preserve a few important things I wanted to say and add others but that has been difficult. Several things cross my mind the rather quickly the first few seconds of meeting Riad over 8 years ago:

  • He talks too much !
  • He is too good to be true
  • and then (and this was mentioned by other speakers) I would like to know more about this guy.

The parking lot outside the Church has several cars with bumper stickers “Free Palestine”. Those are the stickers Riad made and for which I recall that the last time we talked he asked me if I have received the new batch that he sent me through a mutual friend. Like others here and as always, when people leave us, we always wish we had said a few more things to them. We wish we had told them more how we appreciated them. So here goes.

Riad was always on the run. When he did sit for a while like he did when he stayed at our home in CT, the conversations were always very interesting. They ranged from weighty matters like the future of the Arab world to the mundane (like why I am failing at growing the Palestinian faqoos plan in my garden when I could grow everything else).

The famous Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran once said “you give very little when you give of your belongings, it is when you give of your self that you truly give.” Khalil and Riad will be remembered for giving of themselves. When I first met Riad before he started the Palestine Children Welfare Fund, he was most passionate about the deteriorating situation in Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps.

In life there are those who are doers and those who are talkers and Riad was definetly a doer so it did not take him long to figure out where he can personally contribute. His love of children was not just because 60% of Palestinians are under the age of 18. Every other sentence he uttered you would hear from Riad seemed to contain things like “for the Children”, how about the children etc.

Already, the year before he founded PCWF, over 200 Palestinian children were killed and hundreds were injured by the Israeli occupation authorities. But the impact on those not injured or killed was also devastating with unemployment reaching 60% , more than twice what it was in the hight of the great depression in the US. Riad’s solution was direct aid by selling Palestinian products, by collecting donations, and funneling money to those in need.

Some of us have thought he was going too fast and thus putting himself and his projects at risk. But Riad’s imaptience was in a context of a relentless war carried by Israel with the support of the US against the people of Palestine.

Riad always spoke fast and passionately that sometimes it was hard to keep up with him but I think his mind was running even faster, always thinking of new ways to do things. They were always practical things. As an example, when Riad read of my father’s death, he took initiative to ask that a tree be planted in my father’s honor and he sent me a picture of it. That picture had more value than any words of condolensces he could have sent. That was the Riad we knew, always thinking practical things, not mere words.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”

We know Riad followed his conscience and acted because it is rigt not safe and as Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it well in his poem about What is success?

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better, whether
by a healthy child, a garden patch
or redeemed social condition;
To know even one life breathed easier
because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.”

I think Riad succeeded beyond even his own imagination. I think most of us humans are generally more afraid not that we are capable of changing things but afraid that we are capable beyond our imaginations. I think we have to learn to appreciate ourselves and the people around us more. To Riad’s wife Diana, his children, his family.. thank you for giving us Riad/sharing him with us and with Palestine. We know Riad would want us to take care of each other more and to say thank you more to those who give of themselves.

We know he would want us to intensify our work to help the oppressed. We know he cared about Palestine and recognized the centrality of its struggle for freedom. To continue Riad’s work is thus the right thing to do. I am thus grateful for ICPR, Jack and others who organized the events that will follow this service in Austin. Rest in peace my friend Riad. We will continue your work… “for the Children”.

ACTION: Speak out, silence is complicity
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

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