By: Sean Savage
Perhaps nowhere today is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more hotly debated than on college campuses. With the latest surge in terrorism in Israel, many pro-Israel students—like their brethren in the Jewish state—have been left with sense of unease, dread, and countless questions about what is driving young Palestinians to stab Jewish Israelis en masse.
In a bid to better understand the situation, nearly 100 students from Northeastern University in Boston recently gathered in an event organized by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) campus arm to listen to noted Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid.
Eid, who hails from eastern Jerusalem, came prepared to offer an unlikely perspective. He directed significant blame towards his own people and their leaders, which is something rarely seen among Arab Muslims discussing the Middle East today.
The Northeastern talk was part of a nationwide CAMERA-sponsored speaking tour for Eid that includes the University of Albany, Binghamton University, Cornell University, Kenyon College, the University of Central Florida, the University of Miami, Florida International University, Ohio State University, Denison University, Elon University, and Brooklyn College.
“I think it is very important that this CAMERA tour is coinciding with the unrest in the region now,” Eid said in an interview. “I have a very peaceful and important message. I want to promote peaceful reconciliation and coexistence between the Palestinians and Israelis.”
Much of Eid’s criticism was directed towards the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, who also leads the Fatah political party.
“Abbas is managing the conflict, not trying to solve it,” Eid told the audience at Northeastern.
“Fatah is committing a big crime, including Abbas, by increasing the violence against the Israelis,” Eid expanded in his comments to JNS.org, citing the Palestinian officials’ rampant incitement to violence.
Eid referred to remarks Abbas gave Sept. 16 regarding the Temple Mount, a holy site at which Abbas and many Arab leaders have accused Israel of seeking to change the status quo, despite countless statements from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the contrary.
“[The] Al-Aqsa [mosque on the Temple Mount] is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. [Israelis] have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem,” Abbas said, adding, “Each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it’s for the sake of Allah.”
Other senior figures from Fatah, including Nabil Shaath, a former PA chief peace negotiator, met with the family of 19-year-old slain Palestinian terrorist Mohanad Halabi, who fatally stabbed Israeli Jews Aharon Bennett and Nehemia Lavi in Jerusalem on Oct. 3.
Eid blamed the international community, including the U.S., for turning a blind eye to the violence and not pressuring Abbas to do more.
“I don’t think the PA is doing enough to calm down the situation. The international community needs to put more pressure on the PA to urge calm…The PA needs to know that with violence, nothing will be achieved,” Eid told JNS.org.
Born and raised in eastern Jerusalem, Eid garnered international headlines in 1996 after he was arrested by Palestinian security forces for his harsh criticism of the PA’s human rights record. Eid was released after one day following intense pressure by the international community.
Later, Eid founded the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group and has received many awards for his work promoting Palestinian human rights.
“The youths in America and Europe have no idea what is going on over there,” Eid said. “The information they get from the news media is not the real information about the region. I came here to provide clear information to help youths be more and more informed and knowledgeable.”
Eid mentioned how social media, which is very popular among youths, is driving much of the current incitement among Palestinians.
“There is a very huge incitement right now, especially on social media. When I go on social media, it is horrible what is going on….When I look today in social media or Mideast political parties like Fatah, [and] they are inciting more and more against the Israelis, this makes me feel worse about the future,” he said.
Following his lecture, Eid fielded a wide range of questions from an audience eager to make sense of the current events in Israel. He drew some of the loudest applause of the night for his comments on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is particularly popular among anti-Israel elements on college campuses. Eid didn’t pull any punches, calling the BDS movement “stupid” and its supporters “jobless people” who want to “destroy the Palestinian people.”
“The majority of Palestinians have no idea what BDS means or who [BDS movement founder] Omar Barghouti is,” Eid told the crowd.
Eid explained that the BDS movement is damaging the lives of working Palestinians, noting a conversation he had with a former Palestinian employee of SodaStream, which recently moved its main manufacturing facility from disputed territory in Judea and Samaria to the Negev desert.
“Around 2,500 Palestinians lost their jobs because of the move,” Eid said. “BDS is a stupid activity.”
Eid said the current terrorism wave has only exacerbated the economic plight of Palestinians.
“It is very sad what’s going on and many Palestinians are upset,” he said. “Economically and politically we are the losers.”
Asked by a student why the Palestinian people themselves are not standing up to end the violence, Eid said the majority of Palestinians are “afraid to speak up.”
“If you speak out, your store will be burned, your car will be burned,” he said.
“The Fatah people are going around eastern Jerusalem like gangsters,” added Eid, explaining that there is a saying in Arabic that “when there are troubles, you hide your head.”
Despite his harsh criticism of Palestinian leaders and institutions, Eid still believes the Palestinians “deserve a state”—but that the Palestinians are a long way from achieving that vision.
“We failed to manage Gaza,” Eid said, referring to Israeli disengagement from the coastal enclave in 2005 and the subsequent takeover of the territory by the terrorist group Hamas. “How can we manage a state?”