BDS — that’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions — hurts the Palestinians more than it hurts the Israelis, an expert says.
Yeah, yeah, you think. Of course an Israeli Jew will say that.
But it gets a little more complicated when you realize that the assessment is coming from an Israeli Palestinian.
Bassem Eid, who will give a talk for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey on March 17 (see box), is used to surprising people with straightforward assessments of the harm done to his people — collateral damage, really, he thinks — as they are used as pawns in someone else’s struggle.
His story, which began with his birth in Jerusalem’s Old City in 1958 when it still was under Jordanian control, saw him become a human rights activist. He worked for B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights nonprofit organization, starting in March 1988, he said; he “documented violations of human rights against the Palestinians from the Israeli army and the Israeli government.” That was soon after the First Intifada started; he stayed at that job, as B’Tselem’s “main field worker, for 7 1/2 years.” The first Oslo Accord was signed in 1993, and “in May 1994 the Palestinian Authority arrived in Gaza and the West Bank. In ’96, B’Tselem decided that they were not going to interfere in the violations of human rights committed by the Palestinian Authority against Palestinians.”
The well-being of the Palestinians who lived in the West Bank and Gaza were Mr. Eid’s main concern, so “at that time I decided to resign from B’Tselem and to create a Palestinian human rights organization that would focus on the violations of human rights committed by the Palestinian Authority against the Palestinians. So I founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.
“And in December 1996, I was arrested by Yasir Arafat.”
That would be a very bad thing to happen to anybody — “if you create a human rights organization under a dictatorship it looks like committing suicide,” he said — but as it turned out, it easily could have been worse for Mr. Eid. “I was so lucky. I was kept in the Palestinian jail for only 25 hours. The only one who interfered to get my release at that time was Warren Christopher,” who was President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state.
“The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group used to publish reports about specific violations against human rights against the Palestinian people committed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Mr. Eid said. “I continued working as its director from December of ’96 to the middle of 2012.” And then things changed.
“We used to be sponsored and financed by some European governments and the European Union, with very little help from American foundations, but in 2012 the policy of the Europeans changed.
“They decided that they had to focus on Israeli violations against the Palestinians rather than on the Palestinian Authority’s violations against the Palestinians. So they decreased our funding, and that cut a lot of money from the yearly budget of our organization.” It cut so much, in fact, that “in the middle of 2012 it forced me to close it.
“So since 2012 I have had a new career. I now lecture around the world about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a completely different Palestinian perspective.” And he’s won many awards, including from the left-ish Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and one from McGill University in Montreal, which historically has not been an easy place for supporters of Israel.
At his talk for the federation, he plans to address “the recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And of course the most sexy thing about the conflict recently is the ‘deal of the century.’ So I am going to talk about it, about the attitude of the Palestinian Authority toward the ‘deal of the century’ and about what the ordinary Palestinian is thinking about the deal.”
Mr. Eid frequently talks about what he invariably calls the “deal of the century,” with air quotes audible over the phone. That deal is the one that President Donald J. Trump unveiled, in exactly those words; it was put together by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Mr. Trump’s onetime adviser and special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt of Teaneck, among others.
So what are ordinary Palestinians thinking about the deal? “One of the most important elements of the ‘deal of the century’ is how to contribute to the economic prosperity of the Palestinians,” Mr. Eid said. “Palestinians today, on the West Bank and in Gaza, are seeking a kind of economic prosperity. The majority of the Palestinians don’t believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved. They think that it will go on forever. I think that it probably will need another one or two more generations, which means that we need another 70 years. And right now people are trying to focus on their daily lives. So the most important part of the ‘deal of the century’ that Palestinians are talking about is economic prosperity.
“I think that if the ‘deal of the century’ can succeed in creating industrial zones in Gaza and the West Bank, that probably will pave the way toward peace one day.”
What might that peace look like?
“The best that we can hope for is disengagement from each other as each focuses on its own daily lives and businesses. That is the most important message that I am trying to deliver on campuses.”
What about BDS? How is it hurting the Palestinians more than the Israelis?
“The most famous example is SodaStream,” Mr. Eid said. That’s the wildly successful make-your-own-seltzer company that used to have a plant in the West Bank; in 2015, after a great deal of pressure from the BDS movement, it closed that plant and moved its operations to Israel proper. “After the move, 1,500 Palestinians lost their jobs, and today the yearly income of SodaStream in southern Israel is triple what it used to be in the West Bank.
“So who is the loser here? The consequence of the move is that Israelis are making more money and the Palestinians are losing more money.”
There’s more, he said. “Each Palestinian working in an Israeli business — automatically his family will get health insurance. When you lose your job, your family loses their health insurance. So why is BDS trying not only to hurt the workers but also to hurt their families?”
So why is this happening? “This idea has been funded by Europeans,” Mr. Eid said. “I think it is because Europe is moving backward, toward its own background of anti-Semitism. And I have no doubt that this is an anti-Semitic movement.
“Let me put it another way,” he continued. “The Europeans are sacrificing the Palestinians for their own political interests.”
Why do the Palestinians go along with it? They don’t, Mr. Eid said. “There was a survey among the Palestinians about two months ago. About 70 percent of the Palestinians have no idea what BDS means. So these people are fighting in America, on the campuses of Harvard and Columbia. They are fighting in Europe. But there is no relationship at all between those people in the United States and in Europe and the Palestinians who are living in the West Bank and Gaza.”
What can be done about it? “We have to bring more and awareness on campuses, especially in the United States,” Mr. Eid said. “We have to tell people what the facts are.
“And the facts are that BDS is hurting Palestinians more than Israelis.”
Does he have any hope? Yes, he said. He does. It’s just realistic hope.
“I am a very skeptical person,” he said. “The terms of the ‘deal of the century’ — I am a person who believes that the century will pass away without a deal. I am very skeptical about the deal, but we cannot ignore it.
“And I believe one thing. I believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved only by the Israelis and the Palestinians. Without any third party. Because as a Palestinian, I know what I want. I know that the Israeli knows well what he wants. We can solve it only by sitting at a table and negotiating.
“You know that since 1993, since the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House in September 1993 until today, there have been so many plans. So many initiatives. So many deals. So many conferences and meetings and negotiations. And nothing moved on. Nothing moved on.
“In my opinion, it is very easy to solve it. Bring the Palestinian leader and the Israeli leader and close them in one room, and say that you are going to stay here forever until you solve it. But when you have so many fingers playing in the conflict, it just makes it more and more complicated, because every country that is involved is involved according to its own political interests.
“Unfortunately, Europe has become part of the conflict, rather than a part of the solution.”
So is there any hope, Mr. Eid?
“Yes, I think that we can live together in peace,” Mr. Eid said. “Look. Today we have around 150,000 Palestinian workers every day crossing from the West Bank into Israel and working over there. Is that not a peaceful situation?
“The situation now has been allowed to fester because it is in the interest of other people to allow it fester,” he concluded. If the Palestinians and the Israelis can figure out how to cut them out, then together — then alone — the two sides can make peace.
Who: Human rights expert and political analyst Bassem Eid
What: Will talk about the Palestinian-Israeli situation for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s FedTalks
Where: At the federation’s headquarters, 50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus
When: On Tuesday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m.
How much: $10
What else: Coffee and dessert