Bassem Eid is a Palestinian journalist and Executive Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) – an independent organization founded in 1996 that provides impartial documentation of human rights violations by Palestinian political factions. PHRMG monitors Hamas, the militant group in control of the Gaza Strip, as well as its rival Fatah, which controls the West Bank and maintains a much closer relationship with Western governments. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both frequently draw information from PHRMG reports. Eid was awarded the Litvack Award by McGill in 1996, and has returned to Montreal to deliver a speech on human rights at the McGill Law Faculty tomorrow. The Daily caught up with Eid to get details on the Hamas-Fatah rivalry, the isolation of Gaza, and honour killings in Palestine.
McGill Daily: In your talk on Friday, the press release said you will discuss human rights violations by Fatah and Hamas. What have the recent trends been?
Bassem Eid: The human rights record is very disturbing from both sides – Hamas or Fatah. When Hamas starts arresting Fatah people in Gaza, immediately Fatah in the West Bank starts arresting Hamas. When a Fatah prisoner in Gaza dies as a result of torture in Gaza, immediately the security forces in the West Bank start torturing someone to bring them to their death. The quality and quantity of human rights violations is equal on Fatah and Hamas sides. While Israel is bombing, shelling, and killing in Gaza, there are still armed gangsters from Hamas running after Fatah members, to kill them [as] so-called collaborators. Unfortunately the international community today [speaks much more] about Hamas human rights violations rather than Fatah.
MD: The PHRMG has many programs to monitor human rights – but what does the day-to-day fieldwork involve?
BE: For over a year and a half, Hamas has ruled Gaza. We really don’t have access to some information, especially when we are talking about honour killings, which is a very wide phenomenon in the Gaza Strip – even more than in the West Bank. We have another phenomenon: the killing of suspected collaborators in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas police. It becomes very difficult to investigate all these incidents. Sometimes besides the name and age of the person and date of death, we have no information.
MD: What about your experiences in the field? Have they been tedious or draining?
BE: To create human rights under this regime is not so easy…especially [because] the Arab government looks at human rights activists sometimes as spies, or [thinks] that they are in touch with the enemy…. The response is just to defame, to slander the organization rather than to give facts on what the report is talking about. We know about Syrian human rights activists who [have spent] almost over seven years in jail. In January 1996, I was arrested by Arafat’s order, but I was so lucky. I spent only 25 hours in jail.
MD: Why are there more honour killings in Gaza than in the West Bank?
BE: I think the West Bank is much more educated than the Gaza Strip. The West Bankers – I consider them a multicultural people. A lot of foreigners are in touch with [them]. More West Bankers are travelling for education in Western countries. That’s [reflected] in their mentality, [and their] culture. The most important thing is that in the West Bank people are less and less religious.
[For instance], a very courageous initiative began recently to put out a report on Palestinian gays and lesbians – which is not an easy step, because these things are completely prohibited by Islam. We started investigating this phenomenon mainly in the West Bank, but we couldn’t speak about it in the Gaza Strip. [Homosexuality] happens completely secretly within Palestinian society, so we are unable right now to [show] examples [of what] gay people or lesbians think about society, the laws.
MD: I read that the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to meet Israeli security demands has led them to illegally detain many of their own people. Can you comment on that?
BE: The problem is that the international community tries to put more and more pressure on the PA [to increase] security – and security means that anything related to security must be coordinated with the Israelis. Now what does this mean? Sometimes they are much [better than Palestinians] at collecting secret information, that X is committing a suicide in Nablus. Now Israel doesn’t want to invade Nablus, so they inform the PA, and they bring them to jail. As a human rights activist, I probably can live with that because I don’t want people to commit suicide, but on other side, what I am against is how they keep these people sometimes for months, years, without investigation, a fair trial, or without any judgement. Our problem is the lack of justice which is implemented by PA on the political detainees.
MD: You’ve written about a “one state” solution. Do you support it?
BE: I never supported it because I don’t think Israelis will agree on it. Israel is seeking a Jewish state, so with a one state solution, Israel [would] kill its dream. But Israel also refuses to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, so what is the solution?…. I don’t believe in [the one state solution], but it looks like [over] the years it [has become] the only solution between Israel and Palestine.
MD: What will you discuss at your talk tomorrow?
BE: The Palestinian judicial system, and how it has to be reformed. Two years ago we received a fund for a proposal [to reform] the Palestinian judicial system from Japan. We conducted 12 different workshops in the West Bank, with law students from different universities, retired judges, lawyers, and even some people from the security forces. People [are] very angry [with] the Palestinian judicial system for one reason: this judicial system, which used to be an independent system, hasn’t really [been] independent under the PA. This is a problem, because rule of law will never be implemented without an independent judiciary system.
Bassem Eid will speak tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Rue Peel. A light lunch will be served.
-compiled by Erin Hale