With Bassam Eid
Executive Director, Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group
Tuesday, March 6,
2001;11 a.m. EST
In a recent New York Times
Op-Ed piece, human rights activist Eid urged Palestinian
National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat change tactics the
struggle to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
"Mr. Arafat must shift the
focus of the uprising from armed resistance to unarmed, civil
protest -- from clashes to demonstrations, as some prominent
Palestinians have suggested," Eid wrote. "Nonviolent protest was
the original character of the intifada. Although Mr. Sharon
might still respond with bullets and tanks, unarmed resistance
stands a better chance of influencing international and Israeli
opinion, which is the only way to convince Mr. Sharon to return
to the negotiating table."
The transcript follows.
Welcome Bassem Eid from Jerusalem. You have written in the New
York Times about the need for Palestinians' to adopt tactics on
non-violent disobedience. What has been the reaction among
Palestinians to this idea?
Bassam Eid: Local
Palestinians didn't respond to my article. They might not have
read the article. However, many Palestinians from the United
States sent me very positive reactions. Anyhow, I am so happy
that so many people are sharing my ideas.
Oslo. Norway: Are
you afraid of Arafat by calling for a non-violent approach?
Bassam Eid: Of
course not. I am calling for non-violence as a principle, with
no political interests. My position as a human rights activist
is to continue calling for non-violence, and I am not seeking to
be the friend of Arafat or his security forces. Both Arafat and
the Israeli government signed the Oslo Agreements, and that
Agreement is supposed to protect the rights of both nations. My
main task as a human rights activist is to ensure that the
rights of the Palestinians will indeed be preserved.
Jerusalem: Dear Mr.
Who among the prominent
Palestinian leadership advocates non-violent protest instead of
a violent intifada? And do you see this tactic as having any
chance in the charged atmosphere of the current violence?
Bassam Eid: Two
days ago, Bassam Abu Sharif, one of Arafat's advisors, clearly
condemned the bombing attack in Netanya. The head of the Human
Rights Committee at the Palestinian Legislative Council, Qadura
Faris, also publicly condemned the violence on both sides. At
this stage, violence still seems to be the only language
employed by both sides. However, everybody is tired of violence,
and if prominent voices on both sides start calling for
non-violent resistance, it might give the Palestinian population
an alternative way to express their anger and frustration at the
ongoing occupation, by participating in civilian protests.
Reston, VA: What is
taken by force can only be returned by force. Israel only
respects might...That is what led them return the Sinai to
Egypt, to leave Lebanon, and leave Nablus (what they call
Schem). Are you saying America should have invited the British
for a cup of tea to discuss its independence?
Bassam Eid: Did you
know that the Israelis are also saying that "the only thing
Palestinians respect is force"? No, it is not true that "what is
taken by force can only be returned by force". We are into the
second intifada now, and it's getting us nowhere. We are no
longer in Abdul Nasser's time.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Having been in Biet Sahur and other Palestinian villages I
am both encouraged by non-violent protestors (Palestinian center
for rapprochement, alternative travel, etc.) and by the
resilience of the people -- yet I was increasingly frustrated by
the same Palestinians who did not address the violence that is
carried out by Tanzim or Hamas -- instead it is overlooked and
even justified. I understand that occupation is the first
provocation of war -- but how can non-violent activists not deal
with violence on ones own side. Can violence be justified in
Bassam Eid: It is
the Israeli violence that increased so much the violence on the
Palestinian side. Two days ago, when the Israeli army started
shooting from the settlement of Psagot to the Palestinian
neighborhood of al-Bireh, an Israeli missile entered into a
house and killed a woman that was sitting there with her four
children. I condemn violence on both sides, but I can understand
the frustration and the anger of the Palestinian people that
until now leads to the violence.
Sacha Klein: Why
are can't the Palestinian people understand that if they stop
all the violence, the Israeli government will then be willing to
re-start the negotiation and re-open the city. To stop the
violence is a pre-requisite to any form of talks.
Bassam Eid: We
cannot stop the resistance against the occupation. Did you know
that 2.5 million Palestinians have lived under general closure
SINCE 1993? Even the Oslo Agreements did not help this
situation. If the Palestinians will stop the violence on their
side, I doubt whether the Israelis are not going to continue
shooting people and shelling their houses.
I have heard many Palestinians say that this is the most
hopeless their situation has ever been, including the hardships
endured in the first Intifada. Tactically speaking, armed
Palestinian resistance may serve to scare the settlers away, but
seems unlikely to bring true freedom to those in the West Bank
and Gaza who need it most -- the average working-class
Palestinian. What needs to happen before Palestinians could band
together for organized nonviolent resistance? Will I see this in
Bassam Eid: I think
we need charismatic leaders who would enjoy the trust and
respect of the Palestinian population. I believe that the
Palestinian people are ready to receive the idea of
non-violence, especially if they perceive it as effective. The
best way to do this is by example; once a first action is
organized and successful, the movement could gain a momentum of
its own. Hopefully you will see this in your lifetime.
[edited] does the IDF
[Israeli Defense Forces] make real attempts at arrest in the
occupied lands, as opposed to shooting a suspect?
Bassam Eid: In many
cases, while the Israeli army would have been able to arrest
suspects, people were simply shot. The Palestinian Human Rights
Monitoring Group has enough examples and evidence of such cases.
Why should you expect The Palestinians to react to the Zionist
occupation non-violently any more than the French resistance
during the second world war? The overpowering influence of
Israeli propaganda on the U.S. media would distort even a Ghandi
style protest into a threat to the "Jewish Homeland."
Bassam Eid: I
understand why the Palestinians are reacting to violence through
violence. However, violence is leading us nowhere. I believe
that a non-violent strategy on the Palestinian side would raise
more sympathy for their cause, even in the American media.
Garden Grove, Calif.:
The suicide bomber who was responsible for the bombing in
Netanya was reported to have previously been imprisoned for
terrorist acts and released as part of an agreement between
Arafat and the Israeli government. He was reported to have
signed a document noting his agreement not to return to his
terrorist activities. Please comment.
Bassam Eid: The
Oslo Agreements were implemented neither by the Israelis nor by
the Palestinians. Other provisions in the agreement, for
example, forbid Israel to "alter the status quo in the
territories", i.e. to build further Jewish settlements. However,
since 1993, the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories
have expanded at a pace never seen before. I condemn any attack
on civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinians, but I remind you
that the Israeli army and settlers already killed over 400
Palestinians in the past 5 months.
Duluth MN.: Bassem
Eid: I am wondering if you are familiar with the Jewish
philosopher and theologian, Martin Buber? Often an advocate for
the Palestinian way back in the mid-fifties?
You suggest a non-violent
co-existence similar to what Buber believed and advocated, many
He was ostracized for
quite some time, by many in the academic and political Jewish
community because of his humane and progressive views.
Only recently has there
been a return to his writings; his philosophy of co-existence
and respect for the Palestinian point of view.
Bassam Eid: No, I
have never read Martin Buber. But if he wrote about
non-violence, his ideas must be very interesting. Thank you for
Eid Yabroud, Palestine:
Suppose for a minute we convince the occupation forces to
resume negotiations. Where will that get us? Will we exchange
our obedience for their security? Will they ever return
Jerusalem to us though negotiations?
Bassam Eid: I am
not talking about obedience: I am talking about civilian
DIS-obedience. We, the Palestinians, have the full right to
continue our resistance against the occupation, to liberate our
occupied territories and to declare our independent state. We
can do so through non-violent resistance. It seems highly
unlikely that the Palestinians will win a military victory over
Israel. Eventually Israel will have to implement the UN
resolutions 242 and 338.
Non-violence is a wonderful idea. How can the international
Bassam Eid: The
first thing the international community can do is to stop
supporting Israel and the Palestinian Authority blindly. In the
past five months, the international community has been very
passive in my view. It seems to me that Europe prefers to let
the United States deal with the current situation in the Middle
East. Unbiased media coverage is also very important.
Houston, TX: Isn't
it true that non-violence as a strategy will succeed only if the
oppressing side has feelings of guilt over what it is doing and
eventually repents? In this case, why should the Palestinians
expect non-violence to work for them since it is apparent that
the Jews of Israel have no desire to negotiate and would be
perfectly content to keep the Palestinians locked up in their
Bassam Eid: First
of all, non-violence can work through two ways: by appealing to
the conscience of the oppressors, and by getting the
international community to exert pressure on the oppressors. But
I am not convinced that the Jews of Israel have no feeling of
guilt and no desire to negotiate. Non-violence can appeal to
those people in the Israeli society who would potentially be in
favor of the Palestinian cause. Some Israeli journalists like
Gideon Levy or Amira Hass are still going around the Palestinian
territories and try to present an objective perspective of the
situation and the Palestinian suffering.
Washington DC: I
lived in Bethlehem 5 years ago and saw the effects of the
closures and Isreali policies up close. My question is why is it
so difficult for the Palestinian people to find alternative
leadership ? Arafat is not representing the true interests of
his people and it appears that there are no other leaders
willing to step forward and the Isrealis like it that way.
Bassam Eid: Arafat
will continue to be a symbol for the Palestinian people, even if
the Palestinians find an alternative leadership. I believe that
this intifada, if it will continue, will bring out a new
leadership who might understand the Palestinian demands better
than the current Palestinian Authority.
Our time is up. Bassem Eid has generously spent more than the
allotted hour answering questions. Our thanks to him and to
everybody who sent in questions. Due to the great interest in
Mr. Eid's ideas, we were not able to have all questions