Peace and Dignity: Bassem Eid on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
On Wednesday, October 18, Skidmore welcomed Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid to Gannett Auditorium for a lecture about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The lecture was largely organized by Skidmore Hillel and their Israel Affairs Coordinator, David Solovy ‘20, and was co-sponsored by Hillel International, Christian Fellowship, HAYAT, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and the Office of the Dean of Special Programs. It was set to be the first in the new Perspectives lecture series, which seeks to present diverse views on Israel-Palestine.
Eid, who was born and grew up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shuafat outside of East Jerusalem, has had a long career as a Palestinian activist. Although he is now primarily a political analyst for Israeli television and radio, Eid describes his activism as "non-political" in nature. He has worked for the Israeli organization B'tselem, which documents human rights abuses in Israel, and he also founded the now-defunct Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) in 1996. He has written several books, such as Neither Law Nor Justice: Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Since the Oslo Accords, in conjunction with B'tselem and PHRMG.
In his talk, Eid discussed the many barriers that prevent Israel and Palestine from making any meaningful progress in their conflict. He talked about the many political forces at work, and the fact that the Palestinian territories lack any sort of unified government to represent Palestinian people. Government forces that control parts of Palestinian territories include the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, which primary controls the Gaza strip, with indirect control of some parts by the Egyptian government. Eid explained that this division makes it very challenging for Israel and Palestine to have any sort of meaningful diplomatic relationship.
Eid also discussed how this political division means that every political power has a different goal. For instance, Egypt and the PA’s goal is to get Hamas to leave the Gaza strip, while Hamas wants to effectively create a Palestinian police state. Israel, in contrast, wants reconstruction for the sake of better infrastructure and building more houses.
One of the points that Eid emphasized was that most Palestinians want dignity, not identity. Most of them don’t want a Muslim homeland, and instead simply want three things: survival, education, and a good life for their children. The politics of how this is accomplished are of minimal interest to most Palestinian people. Instead, Palestinians only want to see a noticeable improvement in their quality of life.
Another barrier Eid discussed was a lack of any sort of freedom of information in the Palestinian territories. Many of the human rights abuses Eid emphasized revolved around the wrongful imprisonment of Palestinians for voicing unpopular opinions, and he himself was once arrested for this reason. Also, because many Palestinians do not have a clear view of the political situation, it is difficult for them to fight for change.
Finally, Eid emphasized that in his opinion, Palestinians and Israelis must be the ones to resolve the conflict, and as the situation is now, this will not happen anytime soon.
As the lecture neared its conclusion, I was curious about one thing: what can an American college student like me do to help the Palestinian people? When I asked Eid this question after the lecture, he told me two things. First, that I should advocate against the funding by the American government for the deeply corrupt PA. Second, that I should advocate for the US to not financially support or be part of the United Nations (UN). Eid argues that the UN has never solved political conflicts, and tends to make conflicts worse. Although these approaches may seem like a strange and counterintuitive approach to working towards peace, Eid believes that they are the most effective, and that any direct action must come from within Israel-Palestine. In the meantime, the conflict rages on, and time will tell if any such actions can achieve lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.