By CATHERINE PALMER
News & Features Editor
Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid spoke in Charles Commons Salon B on Tuesday about corruption in the Palestinian National Authority, which nominally governs the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The event was hosted by multiple organizations, including Hopkins Hillel.
Eid was born in Jerusalem and lived in the Shuafat Refugee Camp outside of the city for 33 years. In 1988 he started working for B’Tselem, an Israeli nonprofit dedicated to documenting human rights violations.
The 1993 Oslo Accords, which tried to end decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organizaion (PLO), was a turning point for him. Eid watched the televised ceremonial signing of the deal that took place at the White House. Chairman of the PLO Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the State of Israel were the signatories.
“Immediately I realized that my leadership, Palestinian leadership, almost grown out under the Arab dictatorship and violations of human rights and the human rights by itself is not going to be in the top of its own agenda,” he said. “Immediately, I decided to resign from B’Tselem in that time to create the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group… to focus on the violations committed by the Palestinian [Authority].”
Eid discussed the difficulties of serving as a watchdog for government abuses.
“You look to create a human rights organization under the Arab regime, it’s like to commit suicide,” Eid said. “I was slandered and defamed by Arafat. In January ‘96, I was arrested by Arafat security forces — we used to call them the presidential security forces. But I was so lucky that I [was] kept in jail for only 25 hours.”
Warren Christopher, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, petitioned on Eid’s behalf.
“He told Arafat personally that within five minutes I want [it] to be on the news that Bassem [is] released so that probably gave me a kind of impunity, let’s say, in front of the Palestinian Authority,” Eid said. “I remember that a week after my release I met the current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in one of the occasions. And Abbas came to me and he said, ‘When I heard about your arrest, I also called Arafat and I told Arafat it’s a big mistake to arrest to [you].’ So I hope that Abbas is still remembering what he really called Arafat.”
Eid explained his current opinion of Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority.
“In my opinion, Mr. Abbas is only representing his two sons and his wife,” Eid said. “Nobody’s trusting him if he’s really going to benefit the Palestinians one day or not.”
According to Eid, peace agreements are not solving any problem in the Gaza Strip.
“Unfortunately, we the Palestinians became a so divided society. Since the Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, we are unable to create any kind of unity or any kind of reconciliation between the two biggest Palestinian political parties,” Eid said. “Besides that, we have already signed five agreements in order to achieve unity and reconciliation between these parties. But unfortunately while we are signing more agreements, we are moving backward.”
Eid also discussed the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict.
“I wrote an article in the middle of the war, and I said it’s very clear that no doubt that the Hamas is using their own people as human shields. I didn’t wait for the Amnesty International when they put their report one year… I didn’t wait for the human rights lawyers who also published a report after one year… I said it very soon and that’s based on the [information] that my field workers are collecting in the Gaza Strip,” Eid said. “I said that any normal country around the world is using its own missiles and its rockets to protect its people, but the Hamas did exactly the opposite. The Hamas used its own people to protect its missiles and rockets.”
Eid then elaborated on the use of Palestinians as human shields. He explained that at the onset of the war Palestinians began evacuating their homes. The Israeli army, meanwhile, realized it was “impossible” to attack while civilians remained in the area, according to Eid. Hamas, realizing that fact, began forcing Palestinians back into their homes.
Eid said the idea that Palestinians are supporting Hamas is a false notion.
“People don’t want Hamas, but what is their other choice? These people [are] living under dictatorship. These people couldn’t speak out. These people couldn’t function at all,” Eid said. “It is forbidden for people to complain… They have to tell everybody that we are living here in the Gaza Strip.”
Eid elaborated on what he called the oppression of the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian Authority since its establishment in 1994, I don’t think that they [have] even tried to benefit their people,” Eid said. “I don’t remember that there is one university built by them. I don’t remember that there is a kindergarten built by them. I don’t remember that there is a clinic built by the Palestinian Authority.”
Eid also condemned the outbreak of violence against Jews in Jerusalem.
“That will never solve our problems,” Eid said. “That will never bring us any kind of prosperity,” Eid said.
Sophomore Daphne Schlesinger, who helped organize the event, said Eid’s talk was very timely.
“We wanted to offer a more diverse voice to the conversation about issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in light of everything going on with Alan Dershowitz,” Schlesinger said.
She said the talk was beneficial to people who knew about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those seeking to become more informed.
“I got a lot out of it, and it was very informative, but I’m someone who knows a lot about these issues because I’m Israeli, and I’m concerned with these things,” she said. “I think it’s more an effort to educate people who don’t know a lot about it.”
Sophomore Jacob Klein said the talk helped him become more educated about the issue.
“As a Jew, I feel a connection to Israel… but I also try to see humanity in both sides of the conflict,” he said. “I’m not always the most informed about the conflict, so it really helped me learn more about what the core issues that need to be addressed are.”