THEY WILL LOOK FOR US
by Flora Nicoletta
East Jerusalem - There are countries
where champions of human rights finished in jail. It happens
also in Palestine, in the areas under the juridiction of the
Palestininian Authority. Bassem Eid is one of them. Arrested on
2 January 1996, he was released withtout charge the next day. He
was lucky. Head of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring
Group, he speaks here about his struggle.
"I was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, in the area
called Cardo. I live in Shu'fat camp. My parents are refugees.
My father is from Salameh, a village that stood [until 1948]
between Jaffa and Tel Aviv on the seashore, and my mother from
"I grew up in the Old City until 1966. That year, I was 8, the
Jordanian government [in control of the West Bank] decided to
establish Shu'fat camp. It was the last camp established in
Palestine [after en-nakba, the 1948 catastrophe] and the
authorities removed from the Old City 500 families. All were
refugees living in rented houses, and my family was among the
500. The rent was one Jordanian dinar per month, today it would
be 5 shekels. The landlords were the big families.
"The Jordanian authorities came and said: "We give you two rooms
and 80 square meters free". The people thought: "Free?! We will
not have to pay anymore the rent!". It seems it was a plan
between the Jordanian government and the Israelis. Why do you
remove me from the Old City? Give me an explanation... But the
people at that time were not educated, the most important thing
was to save money. They did not pushed us, they attracted us at
a cheap price. All the 500 families accepted. They created
Shu'fat camp with the 500 families. In 1966, they were 1.500
persons. Now in the camp we are 8.000, on the same surface area.
Imagine... We are people occupied twice by the Israelis: in 1948
and in 1967.
"We don't know exactly why the Jordanian government took that
decision. Nowadays we don't know. There was a sort of deal
between them. It's very strange because following the 1967 war
these empty houses were taken over by the Israelis. I can show
you exactly where I was born even if the house doesn't exist
anymore. Instead of the arches of today in the Cardo there were
"I'm living in the same house in the camp since 1966, since I
was 8. I don't live in the camp for nationalistic or political
reasons. I have 8 children and the most important is to satisfy
their needs. But even if I were able to buy a piece of land in
Jerusalem, I would be unable to build a house in the sense that
the Palestinians cannot obtain a licence from the Israeli
municipality. For that reason I remain in the camp.
"I finished the high school in East Jerusalem in 1977. There is
no secondary school in Shu'fat camp. That year I passed the
tawjihi [matriculation exams] and also my brother Hatem [Abdel
Qader, today a Legislative Council member]. Hatem was five years
older than me, he had left school for three years in order to
help my father because we were a large family, nine boys and one
girl. Suddenly we knew Hatem had registered for the exam the
same year than me. My father decided to send only Hatem to the
university, he couldn't sent both. Because Hatem had left school
for three years and worked to help the family my father wanted
to give him some sort of compensation, so he sent him to El-Azhar
"At that time I could only work, I could only look for a job. I
started to work mainly in restaurants as a waiter, sometimes as
a cook, in Israeli restaurants because one can earn more. In the
course of my work I met some Israeli journalists. I was reading
and writing well Hebrew because I learned it at Er-Rashidiyeh
School at Damascus Gate, a secondary school run by the
government with the Israeli curriculum. Yoram Ben Ur, today a
journalist with Israeli TV Channel 2, at that time was working
for Kol Hair. It seems he discovered my skills in the sense that
he offered me a job as a freelancer for the paper. The editor
gave me the task to write reports about the Occupied
"I continued in the same time to work in the restaurant for
another two years, until 1984, then I left because working with
a newspaper gives you an experience and you want to develop it.
The job with Kol Hair offered me the opportunity to expand on
contacts with some Knesset members such as Yossi Sarid, Dedy
Zucker, for exemple, Edy Kaufman, a lecturer at Hebrew
University, Atty. Avidgor Feldman and others.
"In December 1987 broke out the Intifada and a lot of work was
to come later on. With the beginning of the Intifada I started
working full time. In January 1988 I wrote a big article
concerning a terrible event which happened in the Nablus area.
The Israeli army entered Salem village, arrested four people,
made them lying on the ground and called a bulldozer to bury
them. I wrote a piece that made a big fuss and was discussed in
the Knesset. A special committee was appointed by the Defence
minister, who was Rabin, to investigate the incident.
"At the beginning of 1989 some Knesset members and lawyers
decided to establish B'Tselem, as a human rights organization
for investigating and documenting the violations done by the
Israeli authorities towards the Palestinians. They contacted me
asking if I wanted to work as a researcher. I said yes
immediately. Because it was an Israeli organization, at first it
was a bit shameful to investigate the violations for the
Israelis. It was amazing actually...
"I'm not a political person, so I had not to discuss about this
work with my faction. I have always been independant during all
my struggle. Therefore I immediately accepted. Really it was
amazing in the beginning. They kill Mohammad and you investigate
why the Israelis have killed Mohammad.
"Actually the task was very difficult at that very moment and I
asked me: how to get the trust of the Palestinians for the work
we are doing, how to get their trust? I found very easily the
way: by starting to write in the Palestinian papers about the
work I was doing at B'Tselem and what B'Tselem was doing. I went
to the daily El-Quds and met the publisher: "Every week I want
to write an article and I don't want money". He agreed. I wrote
dozens of articles for the paper. The pieces were documentated.
Every week, the human rights organizations knew that they would
read a story.
"What is my philosophy in this work? When the Israelis publish
reports about the Israelis they have more credibility than
Palestinians publishing about the Israelis. It gives trust, it
gives publicity, credibility because the Israelis are speaking
about the Israelis. They put pressure, more than other human
rights organizations. Dozens of reports B'Tselem published
thanks to my researches, dozens of reports about the settlers,
the undercover units, the demolition and sealing of houses, the
tax policy, the deportation of Palestinians. And three reports,
comprehensive reports, about the Israeli tortures on Palestinian
prisoners that I myself investigated.
"I remember when the PLO contacted B'Tselem asking for the
reports and once they sent a donation of 1.000 dollars. "We want
to be on your mailing list and this is a donation", and in Tunis
they translated the reports from Hebrew into Arabic. They
started to translate the reports and I received some copies,
reports translated by the PLO!
"There was a UN meeting in New York, in 1991, and the Americans
refused to give Arafat a visa. So the meeting was moved to
Geneva and Arafat delivered a speech where he mentioned the name
of B'Tselem and gave B'Tselem's statistics and how many
Palestinians were killed and how many houses were destroyed by
the Israelis during the Intifada.
"In 1992 we found there was a very grave violation committed by
Palestinians against suspected collaborators [with Israel]. At
that time it was extremely sensitive to speak about the
collaborators. No one human rights Palestinian organization has
ever done a research on this matter, no one. In B'Tselem they
decided to do the research. The Board of Directors demanded who
will have the courage to do it. I said "I will do the research".
"No, you will put your life in danger". I replied: "But it's a
question of human rights, sometimes you have to face danger for
trying to defend the rights of others". This kind of decision is
the most critical moment in one's life: either you will succeed
and will go up or you will fail and will go down. It's the time
to prove yourself.
"The Palestinians were shocked. B'Tselem used to come every day
for enquiring about the Israeli violations and now it comes in
Balata camp for enquiring how Mohammad was killed [by other
Palestinians]. Here you cross the red line for the Palestinians.
I received threats over the phone. They called my wife at home
saying: "We killed your husband today, we killed him, he will
never return home". My brother Hatem was against the research:
"The land is full of Israeli violations, why to take this matter
now?" "It's the major violation done now and I should do the
research; I have to go to Gaza and to meet the Black Panthers
and ask them how they have killed Mohammad and Fatima". It was
incredible, incredible and I believed in it and was ready to put
my life in danger in order to defend the rights of others.
"The research took two years. In January 1994 the report was
completed. We organized a large press conference. My brother
Hatem warned me not to participate at the press conference and I
refused. I was the main author of the report, how I would not
participated? We got a lot of publicity and journalists asked me
many interviews. "How have you done this research?", it was what
interested them, not the result.
"In May 1994, the Palestinian Authority [PA] was installed in
Gaza and Jericho. B'Tselem decided to concentrate solely on
those human rights violations for which Israel beared direct
responsability. Soon the PA was responsible for serious
violations and many journalists contacted me asking for my
comments. I couldn't kept silent in that very moment, I
couldn't... It was not B'Tselem's mandate, but I was a
Palestinian and I had the right to interfere. I started to
investigate the PA violations on my behalf, not for B'Tselem. As
"At the beginning of 1995, when the areas under PA control were
still only Gaza and Jericho, I noticed that the Palestinian
security forces were coming in areas under Israeli rule, aducted
people and incarcerated them in Jericho, in particular the
Preventive Security headed by Jibril Rajoub. I said to B'Tselem
I wanted to write a report about this. In one month I finished
the research because these violations were too much painful. I
worked 24 hours a day, without extra payment. In August 1995 the
report was ready, well written, full of proofs: what the
Palestinian security forces were doing to their own people.
"We held a press conference. I decided to participate because I
was the author of the report. Hatem was against my appearance in
the sense that it would harm me. The same day some journalists
asked Jibril Rajoub for his reaction. What was the answer of
Jibril Rajoub? That B'Tselem was a cheap dealer for the Israeli
police. This means a cheap collaborator for the police. The
journalists contacted me the same day: "Jibril Rajoub says you
are a collaborator".
"Later on, I found that the Palestinian human rights
organizations were silent about the Palestinian human rights
violations and still focusing on the Israeli violations. In July
1996 I decided to leave B'Tselem after seven years and a half. I
established the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group [PHRMG]
in December, on 9 December because that day is the anniversary
of the Intifada, and on 10 International Day for human rights is
"I'm someone who believes that independence doesn't mean
democracy. When you get independence, it doesn't mean you become
democrat. For independence you have to combat for a period of
time, but for democracy you have to combat for ever. I also
believe that democracy is not created by a government or a
leader, democracy is the determination of the people. If I want
to leave in a democratic system, I should start to combat since
the first moment for not giving a chance to the government to
establish a dictatorship.
"I still continue today to defend the same principles as in the
past and I notice that the principles that were violated under
occupation are still violated under our own authority. The
people continue to suffer under their own authority and today it
is extremely difficult to speak about the Israeli violations,
extremely difficult. Why? Because the journalists ask about the
PA violations and we feel ashamed. How can I speak against the
occupation and its violations if my own authority violates the
same rights of the same people. How?
"Every two weeks I use to go to Gaza. I have to leave my car at
Erez, at the Israeli checkpoint, in the sense that I'm not a VIP
and my number-plate is yellow. Because I'm a journalist the
Israelis give me a permit for three months. I show my press card
released by Beit Agron [Israeli Government Press Office] and my
IC. I have to sign a statement that I enter the Strip under my
own responsability. If something happens to me they will not be
"I pass Erez and reach the PA checkpoint. They know me very
well. "Welcome Bassem, what you will do in Gaza?", they ask me
friendly. "I want to see some friends, some organisations", and
I enter. Sometimes there are problems, sometimes they read the
papers, they watch the TV, they see what we do and they become
nervous. When we appear in a paper, I cannot go to Gaza for two
or three weeks until they forget. Nevertheless you don't know
what may expect you at the Palestinian checkpoint. Maybe a day I
will enter and a mukhabarat will tell me: "We want you for a cup
of coffee", as they say, and maybe I will go inside for one
week, two weeks or one month.
"However, even if it's dangerous, I have never hesitated to go
to Gaza. I should go to Gaza. Gaza is dangerous for me... so I
should stop going to Gaza? Not at all, because I know there are
people there who want to see me.
"I am not surprise by the authority's attitude, I am more
surprise by the community's attitude. Where are the lecturers,
where are the student councils, where are the Palestinian
journalists, where are the people who fought in the past for
human rights? All these people were supposed to create the basis
for democracy... I'm sure they will look for their rights later.
A day they will start to look for us in order to defend their
rights. They will need us at a certain moment. There will look
"I know the work I'm doing today will bear fruits in the future.
There are soldiers who protect the borders and there are also
human rights activists who protect the rights of the people".
Eat Jerusalem, July 1998