Friday, January 23, 2015

An Interview with Bassam Eid, Human Rights Activist, Part 1 - Maya Pollak

by Maya Pollak

The first of three installments. An interview with Bassam Eid, who tells of his life as a small boy in Jerusalem before the Six Day War and his experiences as a human rights activist covering the Arab-Israeli conflict. He speaks without distorting the truth about either side and is dedicated to the truth no less than he is to his people.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav

You might think that the things that Bassam Eid says would force him to go underground, or at least would make him constantly glance over his shoulder – but in reality, he seems relaxed as he emerges from the light rail into the center of chilly Jerusalem. Over a cup of espresso in the café where we agreed to meet, he immediately begins with an attack, without any unnecessary preliminary remarks.  “I think that if we prosecute Israel in The Hague for war crimes, we must also prosecute Hamas for war crimes against its own people”, says Eid. “Hamas served up the residents of Gaza on a silver platter for Israeli attack during Operation Protective Edge. They tried harder to defend themselves than to defend the population. And launching rockets into Israel – was done for the purpose of killing citizens, I have no doubt”.

The opinions of Eid, political commentator and human rights activist, are based on methodical research of Palestinians for years, including during the most recent fighting in Gaza. The evidence that he brings takes on a special significance since they are coming from a Palestinian.

“During the military operation, I made contact with several families from the area of Bayt Lahiyah. I heard from them that the IDF sent them SMS messages telling them to leave their houses, but the Hamas people prevented them from leaving and called them collaborators. As if to respond to the Israeli soldiers’ call to leave means that you are a collaborator. Hamas preferred that these people remain in their houses and be killed rather than flee to other places. This is terrible in my eyes.

“A friend of mine from the Gaza Strip sells me that four Hamas people came to him at 12 o’clock at night with a huge missile launcher, knocked on the door and asked him to leave the house because they wanted to use the roof to launch missiles into Israel. He told them that the children and women in the house were sleeping, and could not be turned out at such an hour. The next night the Hamas people returned, more of them this time, and beat him severely until he was forced to send everyone out of the house. They went up to the roof, launched missiles, and the next day the house was destroyed by the IDF. Armed groups are supposed to defend their people with their missiles and weapons, but Hamas defends its weapons using the citizens. And UNRWA closes its eyes to the deeds of Hamas, which hides missiles in the organization’s institutions”.

What is UNRWA’s angle?

“I think that UNRWA’s activism and hatred are a result of the rise of antisemitism in the world. As long as there is antisemitism, especially in Europe, UNRWA gains power as well as money. The rise of antisemitism in the world is no less dangerous than IS”.

Eid called himself “the spokesman of innocent victims” in an interview for the program “London and Kirshenbaum” on Channel 10, during Operation Protective Edge. Meanwhile, the number of those killed in the name of Islam has grown, in our area as well as outside of our area, as happened in France at the end of last week. “I expected an attack against Europe”, says Eid on the series of terror attacks that began with the slaughter of the editorial board at Charlie Hebdo. “For decades, Europe has supported the Arab dictatorships that created this terror. The Europeans will have to do some soul searching, both inwardly and with relation to those people who were oppressed with their monetary support”.

Will this event open the Europeans’ eyes or will nothing change?

“What happened at the editorial board in the newspaper in Paris is simply beyond comprehension, but unfortunately the Europeans will suffer an even longer and more terrible wave of terror. Europe is in the center of the radical Islamist organizations’ fight, and I am not sure that it will be able to deal appropriately with the predictable terror attacks”.

Did the publication of the caricature really insult the Muslims that much?

“It doesn’t seem to me that this was the real reason for the attack. I think that the Islamist terror organizations are trying to find reasons to justify their existence, and the caricature is simply an excuse”.

The future in exchange for rumors

Bassam Eid is a very angry man. He is angry with UNRWA, with Hamas, with the Palestinian Authority, with Israeli Arabs. It is a little bit difficult to contain the entire man with his opinions, especially when they are expressed calmly, in a pleasant Jerusalem café. One must make an effort to bear in mind that the speaker is a Muslim Palestinian who himself grew up in a refugee camp, someone that we would expect to express totally opposite opinions. But Eid is an anthropologist with a social platform who sees the Palestinian narrative as a chronicle of frequent and recurring errors. In the past he served as a researcher for Betselem, but today he does not identify with the organization. He is a consistent spokesman against acts that the Palestinian Authority carries out on its residents and on Israelis that violate human rights. His unconventional opinions have made him a popular interviewee in Israeli media, including the Haredi channels, and a favored guest lecturer in universities and conferences in Israel and abroad.

He is 56 years of age, the father of eight and grandfather of eight; everyone lives with him in the Bayt-Hanina neighborhood in north Jerusalem. In his childhood, his family lived in the area of the ruins of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. They were nine children and he is the fourth. In 1966 the Jordanian government established the Shuafat Refugee Camp in north Jerusalem, next to the place where the French Hill neighborhood was later established. Five hundred Arab families that lived in the old city were evacuated to the new camp, including Eid’s family.

“My father did not hesitate to relocate because they said that UNRWA would give the families two-bedroom apartments and land for free”, he says. "The Jordanian soldiers even arranged to move all of our things. Father worked as a tailor in the old city, and he continued to go to his store in the Jewish Quarter even after we moved to Shuafat.

“Even today I still can’t get an explanation, from either Israeli or Arab experts as to why the Jordanian regime decided to relocate the families from the Jewish Quarter. I know that the houses in the Quarter were Jewish property and the Jews actually were returning to their homes. In the place where our house stood there is a haredi kindergarten today. In contrast, the Palestinians are always missing opportunities by moving to some place and not remaining in their place. In 1948 the Palestinians abandoned their houses because of rumors that the Jews were going to kill them, which was not at all true. We miss out on our future because of rumors".

The Shuafat of his childhood, he says, was different from that of today. “There was no crowding, the UNRWA people did many more positive activities then, and they would supply food to the residents for the entire year”. Eid was only nine when the Six Day War broke out. “On the very day that the war broke out I traveled from the camp to visit my aunt in the old city. Suddenly the war broke out and I stayed in the house for six days without going out. From time to time I heard shooting, for the first time in my life. I asked my aunt what it was, who was shooting whom, and she said that the Arabs were going to kill the Jews. I asked ‘what are Jews’, because I had never heard this word before, and my aunt answered that the Jews are man-eaters. I became even more afraid, and I asked if they would be coming to eat us.

“When the war was over my aunt sent me to bring food supplies, and then I saw for the first time in my life, soldiers with helmets. They spoke excellent Arabic. I went on foot from my aunt’s house to Shuafat, and on the way I saw dead bodies, apparently, mostly Jordanian soldiers. It was very frightening, shocking”.

Part 2: Life under Israeli rule and an invitation to join Betselem

Maya Pollak

Source:Makor Rishon, Issue 910 of the Diokan Section

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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