Palestinian critic of BDS speaks at St. Louis Friends of Israel event

Bassem Eid spoke to a full house at the St. Louis Friends of Israel event at United Hebrew Congregation on June 21. Photo courtesy Galit Lev-Harir. 

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

The tense situation in the Mideast was the topic of discussion at United Hebrew Congregation on Thursday as the temple hosted an internationally known Palestinian human rights advocate for a talk on the complexities of the conflict.

“In my opinion, peace will have to start from the bottom, not from the top,” activist and commentator Bassem Eid told a crowd so large that chairs had to be added to the aisles.

Founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, Eid is a controversial figure to some as he has been a critic of both the Palestinian Authority and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. He has been extensively published and honored with awards due in part to his allegations regarding human rights policies of both the PA and the Israeli military.  A sought-after speaker, he has lectured worldwide on Mideast issues.

His talk at United Hebrew was sponsored by the St. Louis Friends of Israel. 


Earlier in the week, Eid spoke at the Presbyterian Church USA’s biennal General Assembly, which was held downtown, where Eid said he was verbally harassed after his talk there.   

Eid began his address at United Hebrew by identifying the Egyptians, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel as the main forces controlling Gaza.

“What is the difference between these four actors?” asked the East Jerusalem native. “The first two actors are very interested in the destruction of the Gaza Strip and the other two are much more interested in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.”

He said the Egyptians want to put pressure on Hamas while the PA hopes to return to power there.

As for Hamas, they have financial problems, which helps explain their recent fomenting of unrest and confrontations this year. 

“They believe that when more and more Palestinians are killed by the Israelis, more political achievements we are going to get from the international community and from Israel,” he said. “Hamas is using their own people as a human shield.”

Eid felt that a solution might come but it wouldn’t be soon, noting that it could be generations before peace might arrive. At present, he said that Palestine lacks infrastructure, employment and a functioning economy making recognition a moot point.

“This is not the state I am dreaming of,” he said. “This is not the state that I really want. I think these leaders must understand one important thing, that a state must have to be built before it is recognized.”

In the meantime, he did not sound optimistic about either side seeking an agreement saying neither Israel nor the Palestinians were interested in peace at present. 

He also said external forces weren’t being of any help.

“In my opinion, the majority of the international community these days became a part of the conflict rather than a part of the solution,” he said.

Eid believes that solution lays in building financial and political stability in the West Bank.

“I don’t think that we need conferences. I don’t think that we need meetings. I don’t think that we need initiatives. I don’t think that we need agreements even,” he said. “Let the economic prosperity pave the way to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

Eid believes that Palestinians have lost faith in their own leadership and are more concerned about survival and the necessities of life rather than settlements or the wall.

“That means the majority of Palestinians these days are people seeking dignity rather than identity,” he said. “Homeland is not the place where you are born. Homeland is the place where you can find dignity, justice and freedoms.”

Eid said that Israel is far from a perfect nation. Still, he called the conflict zone “probably the most safe place in the Middle East.”

“As a Muslim and an Arab, I don’t want to be in Syria. I don’t want to be in Libya. I don’t want to be in Iraq. I don’t want to be in Yemen,” he said. “It is much more safe for myself and my children to continue living under the Israeli-Palestinian problem.”

Eid said the Gulf nations, once intractable enemies of Israel, are now more afraid of Tehran than of the Jewish State. He said delegations were quietly building a détente with Israel.

“I’m sure that these delegations are not mentioning the Palestinians at all,” he said. “These people are coming to coordinate their own security and how we are going to defend our countries from the evil Iran.”

Still, he said the conflict will not be solved quickly, nor will mediation by the United States be key to any solution.

“Don’t believe ever that any American administration, including Mr. Trump or those presidents in the coming hundred years, are going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem because the only ones that can solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem are the Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

He said that proposals that go back to the 1967 borders are a non-starter and not just because Israel won’t accept them. Egypt doesn’t want Gaza back nor does Jordan desire the West Bank.

Eid said that what’s needed in the West Bank today is greater stability, more economic cooperation and a calming of tensions.

“To take a knife and stab an Israeli, we will never benefit from that,” he said. “We are just losing from that. To run your car over civilians waiting at the bus stop, that’s rubbish.”

The presentation was followed by an interactive session with the audience. Notecards were distributed to collect questions but Eid spontaneously dispensed with that formality and simply accepted direct queries from listeners. 

He spoke about the importance of changing textbooks in Palestinian schools to reflect less divisive impressions of the conflict, denounced Iranian influence and criticized the Palestinian Authority for suppressing political discussion among its own people. 

He said religion, often seen in the West as a key driver of the conflict, had a more minimal role than most people believe with all sides trying to keep it from complicating the larger issues.

“Even Hamas are not talking about religion,” he said. “I think Hamas has their own agenda and they are talking about their political agenda rather than talking about Islam.”

Eid said he’d seen hopeful signs in recent years of the public on both sides moving toward cooperative efforts. He also did not feel there was much danger of an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza.

 “I believe the Israelis will succeed with the Egyptians to calm down the situation,” he said.

Galit Lev-Harir, a co-founder of St. Louis Friends of Israel, said it was the group’s first event since becoming a 501c3 non-profit earlier this year. She expressed satisfaction at the healthy turnout and said feedback from the community was good.

“They were very impressed, thanked us for holding the event and look forward to us holding more events of this type,” she said.

Lev-Harir also added that Eid’s talk was a worthwhile inaugural gathering for the group.

“I thought he was an excellent speaker who presented his thoughts well and we were very pleased to have him,” she said.