Monday, January 26, 2015

An Interview with Bassam Eid, human rights activist, Part 2 - Maya Pollack

by Maya Pollack

The second 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.

Read the first installment here.

How was life under Israeli rule?

I felt that our living conditions were improving: Father began working as a janitor at the Hadassah Ein-Kerem Hospital, and apparently the salary there was much better than what he had earned as a tailor. One day I saw workmen come to the house and they connected us to electricity; three months later we suddenly had a television in the house, and later, a refrigerator too”.

He began to sell newspapers in Yaffo Street during summer vacations. “When I went back to school at the end of the vacation I was the best prepared and best dressed, because the Jews always gave me opportunities and did not chase me away with the newspapers. No one told me to move away from the entrance of the café. On the contrary, people preferred to buy a newspaper from a young child. I must keep this in mind.”

Later on, he worked in a haredi restaurant in Jerusalem. “I still remember very well the taste of the gefilte fish”, he says with a smile. In the eighties he became a journalist for the Jerusalem local paper “Kol Ha’Ir”, and when the first intifada broke out he was asked to join the organization of Betselem. “It was Dedi Tsuker, a member of Knesset at the time, who contacted me. He said that they were going to establish a human rights organization that would expose the way the Israeli soldiers behaved toward the Palestinians”.

This is how Eid began to travel throughout Judea and Samaria investigating the Israeli regime’s human rights violations. His work even won for him the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award in 1992, which is awarded by the ACLU. As part of his job he also investigated the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs, which happened on Purim of 1994, when 29 Muslim worshipers were killed and about 125 more were wounded. “I got to Hevron that same day, and I stayed there for a week to investigate this story”, he says. “I remember myself standing near the window on the day of the murder, looking at the Cave of the Patriarchs and seeing the blood and the shoes. Horrifying. When I saw what was done two months ago in the synagogue in Har Nof, it immediately brought me back to that slaughter”.

During his work with Betselem, Eid was also exposed to human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority. The result: a condemnatory 68 page report entitled “No Law and no Judge” and it relates broadly to the activities of the Preventive Security Apparatus, which was then headed by Jibril Rajoub.

In the report, it is written that “from Betselem’s investigation it arose that the Preventive Security Apparatus’ officers committed severe violations of basic human rights while carrying out their activities. Palestinian residents of the West Bank are arrested without a warrant and some of them are taken while being threatened with weapons] (…) during the arrest they are interrogated under torture, including severe beatings, being bound with handcuffs, sleep deprivation, threats and humiliation (…) as far as we know, until today, not one of the people of the Preventive Security Apparatus have been brought to trial for these violations of rights”.

“I was filled with rage”, says Eid. “I remembered the two reports that I wrote in 1992 on torture in Israeli prisons. Less than four years passed, and I found the same failures in the Palestinian Authority. It was very depressing”.

As a result of this report,  people in the unit that reports to Arafat arrested him, but after one day he was released with the intervention of international agents. 

Eid says that Betselem also did not know how to take his report and how to deal with it. They published the document reluctantly. I remember that there was a meeting of the organization’s management at that time and it was decided not to become involved with the PA’s conduct”.

This is what led to his resigning from the organization. “I wanted to track human rights violations by the Palestinians, and I could not do it there. After Betselem decided not to deal with  what was done in the PA, I handed in my resignation”.

How did the Palestinian Authority react to your report?

The problem was that the Palestinian organizations were afraid to open their mouths to the PA. After the report was published, people were afraid to speak with me. In some cases Rajoub arrested people and when he released them he threatened them: If you meet with Bassam Eid, I will put you back in prison”.

Between Blood and Blood

It was the American Gleitsman Foundation that did recognize Eid’s work. In 1999 the Foundation invited him to a festive ceremony in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, where it awarded him a check for 50 thousand dollars. “Mahmoud Abbas, Faisal Husseini, the Jordanian ambassador and Abu Ala took part in this event. I saw myself standing with this bunch and said to myself: ‘Oh boy, what am I doing here?’

In my opinion these people are working against the Palestinian dream for its own state. If the Palestinian people had worked by itself toward a state, it would have had it for some time already, perhaps even in parallel with the peace agreement with Egypt. Because this corrupt leadership got into the picture we are very far from establishing a state. We are not only far from it, we have given up”.

After he left Betselem, Eid established his own human rights organization. Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) was operational for 14 years, until a few months ago, when it closed due to budgetary difficulties. “Today, in order to get donations, especially from Europe, you have to express harsh criticism of Israel. I did not manage to collect donations for my organization, because my policy does not match Europe’s. They say that as long as the Palestinians do not have a state, there is no benefit in expressing criticism of the Authority. They told me ‘first get the state established, later you can criticize it. Betselem was acting in a totally opposite way from the way that I did, and from the point of view of budget, I would say that they are a thriving organization”.

Even today, he still travels around in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, meets people in the street and makes conversation with them about the conflict. “In Gaza, the hatred toward Israel is beyond all bounds”, he says. “There is a feeling of vindictiveness – which is more dangerous than hatred, because it leads to deeds like running over Israelis with cars in Jerusalem. 
These are deeds carried out by individuals, I have no doubt about that. I heard that in the Israeli media they speak about a ‘third intifada’ – but the Palestinians did not think and will not think of going into a third intifada, because they have no energy for an intifada. They think about their economic situation more than their political future”.

In Judea and Samaria it might be possible to talk about a few incidents that are not connected to a round of fighting, but meanwhile, in Gaza, work on building and reconstruction of terror tunnels goes on according to plan.

Hamas is at work, and from their point of view, they are doing an excellent job. Restoring the military capability and bunkers are first priority for them, at the expense of the welfare of the population. In my estimation, Iran will renew the flow of cash to the Strip and will bring more than the Europeans, since the delegation from Hamas had a successful meeting in Teheran”.

Who won in Operation Protective Edge – Israel or the Palestinians?

“In an article that I wrote for a Lebanese newspaper during Operation Protective Edge, I said, among other things, that we Palestinians take every tragedy as a victory. In the war of 1948 we won, in ’67 we won, and in Operation Protective Edge we also won. If our disasters become a victory, how can we understand our defeat? Hamas, until today, still celebrates its supposed victory. 2,203 dead, 11 thousand injured and more than 35 thousand homes totally destroyed – and this they celebrate as a victory?”

In an article that he wrote during the fighting in Gaza, that was published on the i24News television web site, Eid said that the month that the three youths were kidnapped and murdered was the most difficult month of his life. “Then I saw how Jerusalem was divided, something that I had not seen since 1967. Actually, perhaps I did see, but I did not feel it.
“I had a terrible feeling about the kidnapping: we were always arguing, arguing among ourselves, if Hamas was responsible for the despicable murder of the three youths. They were saying all the time that there were no signs that Hamas was involved in it. I personally believed that there was a 99.9 percent chance that Hamas did carry out the murder, because who else would do such a despicable thing? Other Palestinians did not think so, and even after Hamas’ declaration of responsibility, they still denied that it had a hand in all of this business”.

When I ask if the murder of the youth Muhammad Abu khdeir did not raise the level of his ire toward Israel, Eid gives me an unusual answer: “It is no less horrible, it is no less an act of terror, but there is a difference: after the murder of Abu khdeir, buses of Jewish Israelis came to console the family. I did not see that the opposite thing happened: I did not see buses of Arabs coming to console the families of the three youths. Neither did I see respected religious Muslim figures travel to Har Nof after the slaughter in the synagogue, which was a deplorable act. As Muslims, we had an opportunity here that was missed. If Mahmoud Abbas once accused Netanyahu of waging a religious war in the Temple Mount; now, we are also waging a religious war: entering a synagogue and murdering innocent people”.

The terror attacks and shooting of missiles from Gaza caused a wave of Jewish verbal violence towards Arabs, among other places in the social networks. Have you experienced any of this?

“I don’t feel it. Even if they invited me to Hell in order to promote something, I’m ready to go”.

And he indeed is on the way to there. These days Eid is trying to get backing for a visit to the territories of Syria that are in the hands of the IS terror organization, to investigate the human rights violations there. “I am not afraid. I am a Muslim Palestinian; the most that would happen is that I would join them for a few prayers in some mosque”.

What do you think about the comparison that Netanyahu makes between IS and Hamas?

I hope that Hamas will not get to the level of beheading people on live broadcast”.

Does the media focus on IS mean trouble for Hamas?

The whole Israel-Arab conflict has become less important, and this angers the Palestinians. Once we were the story in the world, and now we are cast aside. I think that while these days we are only slightly prominent in the media, with the first step of IS into Jordan, we will be totally wiped off the map”.

Next installment: In the Service of My People

Maya Pollack

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav

Source: Makor Rishon, Issue 910 of the Diokan Section

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

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