JCRC Roundtable Event Features Palestinian Human Rights Activist

Ron Halber and Bassem Eid sit together at the roundtable. Photo Credit: Suzanne Pollak

Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid spent 33 years living in a United Nations Refugee Works Agency camp. As he grew older, he could not stop wondering why so many of his fellow Palestinians were still in the same refugee camps when they should have moved on generations ago.

He couldn’t understand what was happening to his people when Israelis had moved and built their country. When he asked questions, he was always told that the Israelis won’t let us.

Then it dawned on him that his rulers were keeping their own people down, not the Israelis, he explained during a roundtable Jan. 23 with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

“Once I understood the facts on the ground, I began to see Israel is not the problem.”
“Why don’t Arabs let the refugees leave? They just keep talking about the right of return,” he said. “This is the tragedy of the Palestinians.”

Eid believes UNWRA needs to keep the Palestinians down and “are not interested” in ending the refugee crisis. If they did, 30,000 UNWRA employees would be jobless, he explained.

“I started realizing the tragedy of the Palestinians is not the Israelis,” he said. Instead, he lays the responsibility directly on the shoulders of Hamas and other Arab groups.

His beliefs only grew stronger during the leadership of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, whose corruption and actions during the Oslo Peace Accords only made things worse, he said.

The Palestinian human rights activist became active in B’Tselem, a human rights group on the Israeli left.

He began monitoring violations of human rights by the Palestinian Authority against the Palestinian people. In 1996, he founded the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

He is aware that his views are not shared by many Arabs, but Eid sees plenty of good signs that this is changing, though slowly. While sitting in the law firm offices at Stinson LLP in Washington D.C., during the JCRC event, Eid called it “a good sign, a good beginning,” that some Gaza residents are speaking out against Hamas.

Since Hamas’ violent invasion into Israel on Oct. 7, he has noticed changes in attitudes and behaviors of the Gazan people. People are beginning to realize that tens of thousands of Palestinians would not be dead or wounded if Hamas had not stormed into Israel, he said.
Prior to Hamas’ invasion, polls showed that “high numbers of Palestinians” supported Hamas. Three weeks ago, “the numbers are dropping down and decreasing,” he said.

“In the Gaza Strip now we can see some, probably not enough [activism], but it might be a good start to see some people demonstrating or gathering and protesting against what is really going on,” Eid said.

He has heard demonstrators call for Hamas to release the hostages, “because those Gazan people want to go back to their homes.” The Palestinians “are slowly beginning to understand” that by Hamas holding the hostages, “that is only going to bring more and more poverty, misery and destruction.”

Eid noted that the money recovered in Hamas’ tunnels “could give power to Gaza for six months.” The terrorist group is stealing the humanitarian relief “under the eyes of the U.N.”
And it is not just Gazans who are upset. Those living in the West Bank are talking about their economy and “when they can get back into Israel to work.”

Eid noted, “Hamas is not really interested in what is going on among the Palestinians,” adding, “Hamas unfortunately is still strong in the Gaza Strip. They can silence people; they can keep the people quiet. Still, the policemen are functioning in the Gaza Strip very well.”

But Eid believes that if the Gazans are forced to move again to avoid the current war, “People will be really ready to fight Hamas.”

Then, Eid hoped, the Palestinian people will get “some political support” from around the world, including in Israel, to manage their lives by themselves.

Eid would like the world to give the Palestinian tribes five years to rule the Gaza Strip. He predicted that with Israeli economic assistance, the result would be a better life for the Palestinians and better security for the Israelis.

When asked how he views the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free,” Eid replied, “We are guests on this land. One day, we’ll leave, and others will come. Just enjoy it. You are not the owner of the land, only God is.”

Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC, called into question the large increase in antisemitism and the support for a cease-fire. He also urged Congress to approve a financial package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, and exhorted the government of Qatar to do more to pressure Hamas to release the hostages.

If the hostages are freed and Hamas is either stripped of its power or forced to leave Gaza, “not one more person will die,” Halber said.

Israelis are no longer willing to trade hundreds of Arab prisoners for the hostages, realizing that those released are likely to return to kill more Israelis, he said.
Palestinians must end a “culture bred on hate” of Jews. “They need to realize we are actually cousins,” Halber said.

Halber and Eid then took an Uber to the Qatari Embassy for the JCRC’s third gathering to urge the Qatari government to use its leverage over Hamas to ensure that the hostages are released. The event was co-sponsored by B’nai Israel and Ohr Kodesh congregations.

Suzanne Pollak is a freelance writer.


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