The Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne is bringing a Palestinian human rights activist to town next week to speak about prospects for peace in Israel.
The federation and Bassem Eid are not as odd a couple as they might appear. Eid advocates for co-existence and cooperation among Jews and Muslims living in Israel, and he has condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that aims to choke foreign investment in the Jewish-majority nation because of its alleged oppression of Palestinian citizens.
Eid believes BDS would hurt Palestinians by eliminating many of their jobs. He said 92,000 Palestinians commute daily from their West Bank homes to Israeli workplaces.
“We are people who are very worried about the future, and we are trying to do the best to secure the future of our children. To secure the future of our children, we need to survive. And for you to survive, you need to work,” Eid said in a telephone interview.
Eid has been called a traitor by Palestinian supporters, and at least two of his U.S. lectures have been disrupted this year by BDS proponents, notably the group Students for Justice for Palestine.
Last winter, police cut short an Eid appearance at the University of Chicago when it became a shouting match between him and SJP members. A later speech at DePaul University was reportedly disrupted, and Eid canceled a lecture at Northwestern University because of the threat of hecklers.
There is an SJP chapter at IPFW. Eid said he “of course” expects to encounter critics at his Monday evening lecture at the History Center. His talk is free and open to the public.
“I don’t care” about possible protests, he said. “Even if these people are demonstrating and shouting, I will enter. I will speak. I will never hesitate to continue fighting those who want to survive on the suffering of my own people.”
The Indiana General Assembly passed, and Gov. Mike Pence signed, legislation this year requiring the state’s public retirement funds to divest from any company that boycotts Israel.
Jaki Schreier, executive director of the Jewish Federation, said she hopes there are no disruptions during Eid’s lecture at the History Center.
“I would think that the community in Fort Wayne that would attend would be respectful and would realize that we have the power of free speech,” Schreier said.
“We have security at all of our events. It’s an unfortunate aspect of life now, but we will have security,” she said.
Schreier said she expects about 200 people to attend Eid’s lecture.
Eid, 58, was born in East Jerusalem and grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp. He made a name for himself as an investigative journalist who exposed human rights abuses against Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the late 1980s.
He later revealed wrongdoings by Palestinian authorities and founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 1996.
Eid’s current U.S. speaking tour began Sept. 7, ends Sept. 22 and includes stops in New York, Philadelphia and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The title of his Fort Wayne lecture is “Pathways to Peace.”
“We have to start thinking about much more peaceful methods to find a solution” to decades of violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Eid said by phone from New York.
He stressed that Palestinians need jobs, education and better health care to improve their plight.
“Palestinians really are people who are seeking dignity rather than identity, and dignity can be achieved via the economy,” Eid told The Journal Gazette.
The New York Times reported recently that Russia seeks to broker a peace process for Israel and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Eid said he does not think Russian efforts will be any more fruitful than those by the last three U.S. presidents.
The international community’s attempts at peace accords have “failed because of the lack of will of the Palestinian and the Israeli leaders to reach a solution,” Eid said.
“The only ones who can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he said.
Eid said that although he is not opposed to the possible formation of an independent Palestinian state, he questions whether the Palestinian Authority is up to the task of setting up a sustainable economy, public institutions and a democratic government.
“Right now, I don’t see in the near future that any Palestinian state is going to be established,” Eid said.