By Ally Tobler
Bassem Eid, a Jerusalem-based political analyst and human rights pioneer in Arab and Palestinian affairs, spoke to University of Maryland students Oct. 24 about the deep-rooted conflict between Palestine and Israel.
“There has been a huge gap — a huge and big gap — of hatred between both sides,” Eid said.
Terps for Israel hosted the event as a way for students to gain a deeper understanding and a different perspective on the complexities associated with this long-lasting clash.
“I feel as though I’ve been brought up with a very strong relationship with Israel, just by being Jewish and I spent a gap year in Israel,” sophomore psychology major Talus Gordon said. “So it’s important for me to come out and support an organization that is very pro-Israel.”
“In general, we usually have American politicians, journalists or professionals that have a certain point of view, and they’re usually pro-Israel,” Terps for Israel Vice President Avi Schneider said. “You never have a person like [Eid] who has actually lived under the Palestinian authority and has dealt with the Palestinian authority and has these unique perspectives that no one usually has.”
Eid founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), an organization which monitors abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). This came after he was arrested by Arafats’ Presidential Guard (Force 17) for revealing human rights violations of the PA in 1995. Since PHRMG closed in 2011, he has been traveling the world and speaking out about Palestinian-Israeli conflict — including at the United Nations.
During his talk, Eid focused on not only the magnitude of the conflict, but what should be done to ease it — by both the United States and the countries involved themselves —should anything help solve these rifts.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is multifaceted; it began in the mid-20th century and involves concern over borders, security, water rights, ownership of Jerusalem and freedom of movement for Palestinians, just to name a few.
The conflict, he said, is easy to explain, but impossible to find solutions for.
“I think what makes the conflict hard is the leaders rather than the people themselves. In the past 70 years, we, the Palestinians, have been used by the others. Only used. But no one has tried to give help,” Eid said.
The conflicts in Middle Eastern countries surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli territory are so severe, Eid said, that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is actually probably the safest place in the Middle East.
Despite this, the area is struggling economically. Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which sought to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through means of territorial concession and the creation of the PA, “hundreds of billions of dollars [have] been donated to the Palestinian Authority,” according to Eid.
“But [this money] has never been able to create one job in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “The big question is, where has all that money gone?”
Although Eid said he believes the conflict is so complex that not one solution can promise an end to it all, he said that the area is in need of a better economic situation.
“I believe that a good economy will probably decrease the Palestinian violence,” he said.
Eid also delineated U.S. involvement when it came to the situation. According to him, the American Administration claims they are “still learning” about the conflict.
“I don’t believe the current American Administration can make any kind of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
When it comes to those who identify as Palestinian and Israeli around the world but are not directly involved in the conflict, Eid believes that “students at campuses can have huge influence on the conflict by trying to enforce more and more pressure on their own representatives,” he said.
Eid is also a critic of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
“BDS is not something we really experience on our campus,” said Yonina Keschner, a sophomore business major and Terps for Israel education cabinet member. “But on other campuses that my friends are at or that I’ve heard about, BDS is a huge prevalent thing on their campus, and it makes a lot of people feel unsafe. Thankfully it’s not something I necessarily feel everyday, but it’s definitely something I’m very much against.”
Terps for Israel strives to not only be a political organization, but also to showcase education and culture.
“When it comes to education, we’ll have a multitude of conversations [and] events,” Schneider said. “A political event we are doing is going out to the Hill to lobby to Congress. We do that every semester.”
Terps for Israel also connects with other student groups on campus to create cross-cultural relationships. Last semester, the organization did a Latino and Israeli dancing event where the group showcased dancing in both cultures. The group also celebrated Sigd, a Jewish-Ethiopian holiday, with UMD’s Ethiopian Student Association.
“We’re trying to keep going on that route with different cultural events,” he said.