December 17, 2018

Episode 74 – Calling BS on BDS

Soda water or still water? The big question. Here in Israel, we love our soda water. Maybe we relate to the pressure that builds up from those little bubbles of carbonation, or maybe we just like the fizz. Whatever the reason, in most Israeli homes you’ll probably find a carbonation device called SodaStream.

Until 2015, this Israeli company held it’s main manufacturing branch in the settlement of Maale Adumim. This, to say the least, bothered some people. You see, Maale Adumim lies across the green line in the West Bank and is considered by most of the international community to be an illegal settlement.

Starting in 2010, a series of organizations and courts, including the European Union’s highest court, came to decisions and rulings that put pressure on SodaStream for residing in the West Bank. It was easy to trace the source of this pressure. Better known for its initialization BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement sprung up in 2005 and set as its goal to end Israel’s violation of international law for the sake of the Palestinian people. Since then it has swept across platforms from university campuses to International courts.

In 2015, SodaStream announced that it would be shutting down its plant in the West Bank and laying off 500 Palestinian workers. A movement that claimed to be protecting the rights and privileges of the Palestinians was suddenly forced to reconcile with the fact that they had just cost 500 of these people their jobs.

Bassem Eid was born in Jerusalem but today he’s a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Bassem is an ardent Palestinian human rights activist and he joins us today to talk about BDS and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Bassem Eid on Facebook and Twitter

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Palestinian activist critical of UNRWA

The 65-year-old United Nations agency charged with providing humanitarian services to Palestinian refugees and their descendants has long been a target for criticism from Jewish and pro-Israel groups. Now its most vociferous critics include a prominent Palestinian.

Bassem Eid has accused the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) with failing the Palestinian communities it is tasked to serve while tolerating use of its facilities by the militant Islamist group Hamas. 

Officials and refugee policy experts dispute both claims. 

Eid’s very public campaign is taking place just as UNWRA begins to collect international pledges for reconstruction of destroyed homes in Gaza.

“By allowing Hamas to hide the rockets, when UNWRA knew very well that these will be shot toward Israeli cities and civilians targeting Sderot and Ashqelon, that’s the war crime,” Eid said in an interview with the Jewish Journal. 

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Eid’s parents fled the coastal plain town of Lydda, today known mainly by its Hebrew name, Lod. Eid lived for 33 years in the Mascar and Shuafat refugee camps at the northern edge of Jerusalem. 

“UNWRA has no right to represent the Palestine refugee diaspora. It is now time for the Palestinian refugees to decide for their own future and their own children’s future,” Eid said.

Eid began his career as reporter for the pro-Jordanian East Jerusalem newspaper Al Nahar and the Hebrew weekly Kol Ha’Ir. He spent the early ’90s as a researcher for the Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem and left the group to found his own institute, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), in 1996.

The PHRMG issued several reports fiercely criticizing the Palestinian Preventative Security Services, and Eid shut down the organization last year.

“I closed the organization one year ago due to a lack of funding, and because the policy of the organization doesn’t fit with the policy of European, Scandinavian and even the United States governments,” Eid said. 

Eid acknowledges he now lives on speaker’s fees and honorariums including events with groups campaigning to abolish UNRWA, such as David Bedein’s right-leaning Center for Near East Policy Research. 

Bedien made frequent appearances on network television during Operation Protective Edge, butting up against UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunnes in several exchanges over the storage of rockets at the agency’s schools and disputes about Islamist penetration of the curriculum in refugee camps. 

Last month, Eid joined Bedein at a forum titled “Perpetuating Statelessness? UNRWA, Its Activities and Funding,hosted by the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society in London. 

“Just because I’m invited to London to share a platform with David Bedein, who is calling for the full transfer of the Palestinians, it doesn’t mean I support his ideas. Of course I don’t,” Eid said. 

“What I am trying to do is get out my own message that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and UNRWA have kept the conflict going, and my people are still suffering.

“I want UNRWA to declare to the international community and to the donors that Hamas is controlling Gaza, and that UNRWA can’t manage its programs and should have to close it down until the international community and the donors take measures against what Hamas is doing,” Eid said. 

UNRWA’s defenders are quick to disagree.

“The fact that David Bedein has been so discredited by Jewish and Israeli journalists and has been caught lying so many times, he’s now had to hire a Palestinian to do his bidding,” said Sami Mshasha, UNRWA’s chief of communications and Arabic-language spokesperson in Jerusalem. 

“If the curriculum taught in UNRWA schools is so objectionable, why does Israel allow the same syllabus to be taught in UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem, an area that is completely under the control of the Israeli authorities?” Mshasha added.

Bedein has been forced to retract claims against UNRWA as far back as 2011, when he said the agency was seeking to impose a “Fourth Reich upon the Jews” and that its “raison d’etre” involved “a genocide against the Jews.”

During the Gaza War, UNRWA proactively alerted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the rocket stockpiles and demanded their removal by Hamas.

“These charges of collusion are particularly unfair since it is well known that UNRWA’s international staff in Gaza were subjected to serious intimidation by Hamas,” a senior U.N. official told the Jewish Journal on background.

Riccardo Bocco, a professor of anthropology and the sociology of development at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, who has conducted several surveys of the Palestinians served by UNRWA, contends the organization has a nearly impossible task of providing assistance while the donor countries, Israel and the Arab states have failed to facilitate either the return of refugees or payment of compensation as called for in the original charter establishing the organization in 1949.

“UNRWA is a nonpolitical organization whose actions have political implications, so what happens is that UNRWA directors may continuously recall different teachers, inspect what they do and try and refrain them from using UNRWA facilities or using certain textbooks as propaganda tools, but at the same time Hamas, as the PLO did before them, see themselves as national resistance organizations, so they will do as much as they can to push for their agenda,” Bocco said.

This week, German and U.K. governments moved to transfer $27.2 million in emergency funds for temporary shelter and housing reconstruction for Gaza. 

“This is about people providing the tools for people to improve their lives until a political solution to their plight can found,” Mshasha said.

“With winter and the rainy season underway, the population in Gaza is increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction.”

An open letter to Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai from a Palestinian Human Rights Activist

Dear Malala,

We see you have received the Nobel Peace Prize this week in honor of your activity for peace in Pakistan.

We congratulate you for your courage and for not being afraid to fight radical Islam in your nation. 

I write these words as a proud fellow Muslem.

I know how how difficult it is with so many obstacles in your way. 

For that reason,  we need to support you.

We are very proud of you.

I appreciate your decision to contribute your prize money to the children of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, because they really need your help.

I must advise you that if you want to make such a donation, please come here to do so in person and not through  UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency.)

If you send funds through UNRWA,  Palestinian refugee children will never benefit from it, because UNRWA funds in Gaza wind up in the hands of Radical Islam.

You are personally invited to my home and my community in Jerusalem. 

We will organize a trip for you to travel to Gaza to meet Gaza school children and help you contribute your gift directly to children who need your help.

Here are the facts at your finger tips.

That rocket launchers were found at U.N. facilities was hardly surprising. 

Fifteen years ago, the Gaza-based employees of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency held elections to determine its union leaders. 

Hamas took advantage of the campaign and took over the entire school system. 

By 2012, more the 90 percent of UNRWA employees had become Hamas supporters.

As a result of the takeover, Hamas created an entire apparatus whose mission was to maintain its grip on all the Gaza-based UNRWA schools. 

The organization, Al-Kutla Al-Islamiya (the Islamic Bloc), changed the school curriculum and introduced new textbooks. 

Anyone looking at the subject matter would see an organization bent on disseminating its lethal ideology to young Gazans.

The takeover of UNRWA was an “inside job”, carried out by the Hamas representatives assigned to each school and whose job is to recruit students to the Islamic Bloc. 

This ensures  that UNRWA schools have programs that prepare pupils for the armed struggle against Israel. 

This involves grooming children as “would-be shaheeds [martyrs]” and brainwashing them on the unachieveable “right of return” to Arab villages from before 1948 that no longer exist.

For you to get a an idea of the indoctrination that is taking place in Gaza, it would suffice to look at the Islamic Bloc’s YouTubeclips, which feature UNRWA instructors acting at Hamas’ bidding.

The footage clearly shows that Gaza children are not introduced to the values of the U.N. but rather to the values of jihad, “liberation of Palestine”  and the “right of return,” by force or arms.

Despite all this being an open secret — all of UNRWA’s donors are in the know, including the United States and Israel — the organization is still considered a welfare and relief agency that could provide an “alternative to Hamas.” 

But if you ask Gazans what UNRWA has done for them, they would say “nothing,” (that is, except perpetuate their refugee status). Hamas knows the reason.

It has a vested interest in ensuring that conditions of poverty remain unchanged and that the millions of greenbacks keep flowing in. 

This keeps the “right of return” relevant.

To state it simply: Donors hand funds to UNRWA officials who are affiliated with Hamas who then act according to principles of Radical Islam, not of the UN principles. 

Rockets and tunnels had been the most pressing concern from Gaza this past summer. 

Over the long haul, it is the Hamas brainwashing of Gazan schoolchildren that should have us worried.

In peace,

Bassem Eid,

Human Rights Activist, Political Analyst and Commentator on the  Israeli-Palestinian Conflict & on Internal Palestinian Politics.


Palestinian activist calls to reform UNRWA

Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist, has launched a crusade against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), tasked with providing “assistance and protection” for five million Palestinian refugees around the world. In Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, UNRWA gives food, aid, and runs schools.

Eid said a recent study by well-known Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki shows that 70 percent of Palestinian refugees are seeking financial compensation rather than the “right of return” to their former homes in what is today Israel. He said that UNRWA has an interest in perpetuating the right of return, to justify its large budgets. It is part of Eid’s blistering attack on UNRWA, which operates with a $1.2 billion budget from donor countries including the United States.

“Palestinians in refugee camps are suffering while UNRWA is gaining power and money,” Eid, who grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, told a small group of journalists. “In Gaza you hear more and more voices saying that UNRWA is responsible for delaying the reconstruction of Gaza (after the heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last summer).”

In an article in The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, Eid called for a five-point program to reform UNRWA including a call for an audit of all fund allocated to UNRWA and a demand that the organization dismiss employees affiliated with the Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza.

“Hamas has never denied that the majority of UNRWA employees are affiliated with Hamas and coordinate with the organization,” Eid said.

During the past summer’s fighting in Gaza, Israel accused UNRWA of allowing Hamas to use its schools to fire rockets at southern Israel, a charge UNRWA denied. Over the summer, UNRWA twice found rockets in two empty schools and issued a strong condemnation.

“UNRWA strongly and unequivocally condemns the group or groups responsible for this flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law,” the group wrote in a statement published on its website. “The Agency immediately informed the relevant parties and is pursuing all possible measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school. UNRWA will launch a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident.”

UNRWA officials declined to comment on the allegations. But a UN source provided The Media Line with a list of 16 “errors” in Bassem Eid’s original article to the Jerusalem Post. The rebuttals were brief. For example, in response to Eid’s charge that UNRWA staff in Gaza are affiliated with Hamas, the source said, “UNRWA staff are not affiliated with Hamas.” In response to Eid’s call for an audit of UNRWA, the source wrote that Eid “insinuates no audits take place – they do.”

UNRWA has long been a target of the right-wing in Israel, and they have happily embraced Eid. He told The Media Line that he is not paid by any of these groups and is currently seeking independent sources of funding.

“I have only started this project three weeks ago and I will be meeting with many people trying to get it funded,” he said.