Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Please meet Bassem Eid

Erez Tzadok 

He is a Palestinian human rights activist, worked for seven years at B'Tselem, established his own organization, was arrested by Arafat and released after American intervention, and says what he believes the majority wants to say and can not.

I  have known Bassem Eid for two days. I met him yesterday for the first time in Philadelphia. We both came here as part of a lecture tour in universities and Jewish communities in the United States on the subject of BDS, the boycott of Israel and Israeli industry in Judea and Samaria.

I planned to write here about my impressions of university lectures and of course what I have to say on the subject, and I will do that in the next column, but after hearing Bassem Eid speaking at the first event in a Jewish community in Pennsylvania, I told him I wanted to interview him for this column.

I can start with what he has to say, but it seems to me that this is too interesting and important to be brought without a proper background. So let's start from the beginning. Who is Bassem Eid? His story is fascinating in and of itself.

Bassam was born in 1958 in Jerusalem, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The Jewish Quarter was, of course, under Jordanian control and 500 Arab families lived there. Palestinian families, Bassem says. In 1966, the Shuafat refugee camp was established in East Jerusalem, and the Jordanians evacuated all 500 families to the camp. Bassem still does not know the motive of this. The area remained empty until the Six-Day War, when Israeli paratroopers entered the Jewish Quarter and the Old City.

In the old city Bassem's family lived in a rented apartment. The Jordanian soldiers offered his father two rooms in East Jerusalem and 80 square meters of garden, which was an opportunity for a tailor, a mother who did not work and ten children. His the father did not know that from a normal house in the Old City with toilets and running water, they would be moving to a dismal place with toilets and running water at the end of the street, and a yard that they would have to fence for themselves. Bassem came to live in the refugee camp at the age of eight, and lived there for 33 years.

A neighbor of the Eid family dug a cave under his house. During the Six-Day War, the families came to the neighbor's house and all went into hiding in the cave. There was also a police station in the camp. The two policemen at the station came to the house and asked for women's clothes, in order to disguise themselves so their identity would not be revealed.

At the age of 41 Bassem left the refugee camp, married with two children. His two other children were born in his new home in Beit Hanina. In 2004 he moved to Jericho, where he lives to this day. The children study in Jerusalem.

He began his professional career as a journalist for Kol Ha'Ir newspaper in Jerusalem at the age of 28. He worked for Kol Ha'Ir for two or three years, and there he met the Israeli left, connected with Dedi Zucker from 'Ratz' (now Meretz) , Haim (Jumas) Oron and others.

When he read in any newspaper that an Israeli organization was being established to investigate human rights violations committed by Palestinians in the territories - later B'Tselem - he applied and was accepted. For seven and a half years, Bassem worked for B'Tselem. In June 1996, B'Tselem's administration held a lengthy discussion on the question of whether to deal with the violation of Palestinian human rights by the Palestinian Authority or to deal only with the violation of Palestinian human rights by Israel. Once the decision was made to focus only on human rights violations by Israel and to ignore Palestinian rights violations by the Palestinian Authority, Bassem immediately resigned.

His departure from B'Tselem took place two years after Arafat and the Palestinian Authority entered Gaza and the West Bank. Several months after his departure from B'Tselem, he established a human rights organization called "The Palestinian Group for the Protection of Human Rights." The organization's goal is to deal with the violation of Palestinian human rights by the Palestinian Authority. Why specifically by the Authority? I asked him. Why not all violations? Bassem says that the reason is that the violation of Palestinian human rights by the Palestinian Authority are far more damaging than those of Israel, because they come from the Palestinians' own administration.

"These are the people we fought to bring them to Israel," Bassem says, "and they violate our human rights all the time, it's not the PLO that liberated the Palestinians, it's us Palestinians who liberated the PLO from the Arab dictatorship."

He defines the BDS organization, which is trying to encourage a boycott against Israel and specifically against the companies operating in Judea and Samaria as "genocide of the Palestinian economy." A harsh and difficult sentence, but Bassem insists on it.

"A very important question is who appointed the BDS to speak for the Palestinians," he says passionately. "The BDS are in Europe and the United States, and they have no presence in the West Bank, nor in the Gaza Strip or in the Arab countries. These people want to continue their activities on (the backs of) Palestinian suffering, as do the United Nations and UNRWA (UNRWA - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees). They all make a living on our backs and our suffering. All of these people have a political interest that there will be no solution for the Palestinians because it is their livelihood and work. They do not strive for a solution, but manage the conflict in order to stay. "

I asked Bassem what he thought should be done. Here, too, he had a clear and clear answer: "138 UN states recognized the state of Palestine in September 2013. Where is that state? I ask. Let someone show me this state. Those who really want to care for a Palestinian State, should start building the country before it is declared. They should build infrastructure, build institutions, build an economy, and solve the refugee problem. Resolving the refugee problem does not necessarily mean the 'Right of Return'. In general, there are not many Palestinians who believe in the right of return. It has become theoretical or declarative but impractical. What will solve the refugee problem? Budgets, infrastructure, investments and the economy. Before you recognize the state, you start building its economy. "

And what about Rawabi, the new Palestinian city, I asked him. Is that not building a city, building an economy? "No one can understand what Rawabi is," he replies. "You know that Qatar's flag is flying over Rawabi? Not the PA flag. Is it a Qatari city? Every time I go there, I see an empty city. I am told that in two months, 250 families will move in. Every time. The families who bought houses in Rawabi are Arab Israelis or Arab families who live in New York. No refugees have bought there and I doubt there will be refugees allowed to buy there, because refugees will lower the standard of living. As usual, the Palestinians don't like the refugees, although most of them are themselves refugees.

The Europeans Bassem says - if you are going to label products from the settlements, if you do not buy these products, we Palestinians will buy them. According to Bassem, there are quite a number of Palestinians who smuggle the products of the settlements into the Palestinian markets, and everyone knows, including the Palestinian Authority. Not only does the Palestinian Authority know, senior PA officials receive bribes to approve the transfer of Israeli products and Judea and Samaria products into the black market in the Palestinian territories. In fact, the PA has an interest in creating a black market, because it injects the intakes of bribes into it.

I asked Bassem if he was sure I could write this. Sure, he says. At this point I asked him how he was still alive. He says that the Palestinian Authority uses him. When it is claimed that there is no democracy in the PA, they point to Bassem Eid and say,' Here, he speaks against us and lives among us, and nothing happens to him'. I should point out that after he retired from B'Tselem and decided to deal with human rights violations by the PA, Arafat threw him in jail. After 25 hours under arrest, Arafat received an angry phone call from then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Bassem was released. Since then, he has enjoyed American sponsorship, it is invisible, but it is there.

In conclusion, he says, "There is no Palestinian economy, and if there is, it relies on the Israeli economy. When Palestinian workers are fired because of the BDS, it is not only the dismissal of the workers themselves. The problem is that the children of the workers who have been fired are denied the right to health insurance. The Israeli are the only ones doing something about the Palestinian economy. The Arab countries are not trying to improve the situation, neither are  Palestinian businessmen. We are building the settlements and I say this without a problem because we have no other alternative. The Palestinians are a people who wants to live. Before we want self-definition, we want to live. No one cares about our economy and our lives, except for the Israelis. This is the truth, and I say it on behalf of most Palestinians who cannot speak because they will be harmed. I am immune, so I speak on their behalf. If you confiscate settlement products, you harm us, not the factories in the settlements. If you buy, we work; we make a living and we are able to live in dignity. That is what everyone on earth wants".

These are the words of a courageous man who tells a different and unique story, and he claims that he speaks for a lot of Palestinians, for the silent majority that wants to work, to make a living, and asks the world to buy Judea and Samaria products, in order to help them. For the silent majority that wants to live in peace with Israel, that suffers from the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but in the absence of the immunity that Bassem enjoys, refrains from speaking. For the silent majority who says, surprisingly or not, that the only country that cares for the Palestinians and their economy is the State of Israel.