By Sarah Frazer || Staff Writer
For Common Hour this past week, Bassam Eid, a Palestinian Human Rights Activist, spoke about what he sees as the biggest obstacles to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Eid, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been barriers to peace since the leaders of both groups benefit economically from a prolonged conflict. Eid’s talk was not without controversy though, as students questioned him about his lack of acknowledgement of Israel’s role in the conflict.
The crux of Eid’s argument is that the Palestinian people are suffering because of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and the Egyptian government. He explained that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza in 2005, which was one of the major steps towards peace between Israel and Palestine. However, four months later, Palestinians held elections and awarded Hamas 2/3 of seats in Parliament. Hamas gained popularity because they claimed responsibility for the withdraw. At this point, Eid said that Hamas decided to occupy Gaza, and he considers their leadership of Gaza an occupation.
Eid explained that there are four actors in Gaza: Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the Egyptian government, and Israel. According to him, the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority have destroyed the Gaza strip. For its part, Egypt view Hamas as a terrorist organization and, therefore, believes that the only way to get Hamas to leave Gaza is by placing more restrictions on them. The Palestinian Authority want to regain authority for Gaza. Eid claimed that, in contrast, Israel would like to see more reconstruction in Gaza for economic reasons.
He elaborated, “Today, in my opinion, the Gazan people are much more upset and angry towards the Egyptians than towards the Israeli government.” The Egyptians closed a passage between Gaza and Egypt “on the demand of the Palestinian authority in the West Bank.” At this point, according to Eid, “some of the Palestinians in Gaza are not considering [those in] the West Bank the Palestinian people,” which shows how divided the Palestinians are and how much trust they have lost in their leaders. Eid explained that it seems like the Palestinians are seeking a “three state solution for two peoples.”
According to Eid, reconstruction of Gaza has been delayed because Hamas wants resources to go to its tunnels and military capability while Israel wants reconstruction efforts to go to rebuilding houses and other facilities that were destroyed. Eid claimed that the Palestinians are “seeking dignity rather than identity.” In Palestine, “nobody is talking about settlements. Nobody is talking about the wall,” he said. No one is even talking about the foundation of the Palestinian state. Instead, they want dignity which they will get through economic prosperity.
A few times during his talk, Eid suggested that the Trump administration could solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least that they were taking steps in the right direction. Eid asserted that the two most important issues in the conflict now are Jerusalem and refugees. According to Eid, Trump’s statement that he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was helpful since there is no conflict if Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and if there is no right of return. So, if America can solve the issue of Palestinian refugees, “I believe that the next day the conflict will be solved,” Eid expressed. He said that the Trump administration is, indeed, working on the refugee issue, as the US is working to convince countries like Lebanon and Jordan to recognize refugee populations in their countries.
The reason that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been resolved, Eid explained, was economic in nature. If the money that is coming to the conflict would stop one day, “probably the next day we will find a solution between ourselves.” Eid argued that the leaders of the “Palestinian government in the West Bank want to keep the status quo” because at the end of the month they are receiving money which will pay their workers. “If there is a Palestinian state tomorrow, who will pay the $100 million?” Eid asked rhetorically. “Corruption is eating us from within,” he said, and “who is benefitting from that cash money? Only the leaders.” With so much money flowing in, “Israelis and Palestinians became experts in how to manage the conflict rather than to solve it.”
Similarly, Eid said that “the international community became a part of the conflict, rather than a part of the solution.” According to Eid, Arab countries today are willing to pay many hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the conflict going. Qatar sends $15 million every month, yet not one house has been built in Gaza. According to Eid, “nobody is helping us and everyone is using us.” Eid argued that “it looks like we [Palestinians] are selling ourselves here.”
Eid’s presentation provoked controversy among students. One student noted that someone had posted a sign on the protest tree, which called Eid a “traitor;” according to the student, it was the first time a Common Hour speaker had been protested on campus. Two students, during the question and answer period, remarked that it was nice to finally have a pro-Israel speaker on campus, which they said had never happened in their three and a half years at Franklin & Marshall. However, F&M has not really had any speaker come to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one way or another.
Other students challenged Eid’s arguments. The first questioner asked him how he could claim to be a human rights activist when he only spoke about Palestinian violations. Eid argued that he does talk about violations on both sides, and, he said, one of the major problems is the media, which refuses to report any violations committed by the Palestinian Authority. In contrast, Eid asserted that violations committed by Israelis are covered on the front page. According to Eid, the Palestinian people and the international community appreciate him. He continued, “I [have fought] for the rights of the Palestinians for 26 years.”
Another student asked what Israel would give up if Eid wanted the Palestinians to give up both their identity and their right of return. Eid responded that some Jewish people have called for the right of return of Jews to Arab countries since most Israelis arrived to Israel from Arab countries. So, Eid contended, if one wants to invoke the Palestinians right of return, we should go and give everyone around the world the right of return. Eid then explained that he was not suggesting that the Palestinians had to give up that right, but we need to find a solution. If Palestinians will accept some kind of compensation instead, then we should go with that.
Eid’s response to critics is that, as a Palestinian, it is his job to criticize Palestinians, in the same way it’s Israelis’ job to criticize Israel. Eid reiterated that he didn’t think the media would ever report what he said in his presentation. But he needs to tell the international community what is going on inside Palestine. Eid said, “in my opinion to be pro-Israel means to be pro-Palestinian. And to be pro-Palestinian means to be pro-Israeli.” Thus, he said he was pro-both sides, although not everyone interpreted his presentation that way.
Senior Sarah Frazer is a staff writer, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org