Calgary welcomed Palestinian Human Rights activist Bassem Eid with a standing ovation

Palestinian Human Rights Activist Bassem Eid was in Calgary on Feb. 7 at an event sponsored by a grassroots group called Calgary Jews Stand United.

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – On February 7, Calgary Jews Stand United—a grassroots organization mainly driven by members of the Israeli Diaspora living in Calgary—welcomed an audience of approximately 600 to an evening with Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid.

Entering the sanctuary of Beth Tzedec Synagogue, eyes could not help but gravitate to a large section in the upper bowl where each empty seat honoured one of the 240 innocent people taken into captivity by Hamas terrorists during the savage attacks on Israel’s southern communities on Black Sabbath, October 7, 2023.

The images of all those children and babies and women and men, including some who were elderly and ill, were even more devastating given IDF confirmation earlier on February 7 of 31 hostages dead in Gaza.

Our community came out in droves to hear Bassem Eid, drawn by a need to be together, to remember those murdered on October 7 and subsequently, and to reaffirm the importance of advocating for those we fervently hope will yet return to the loving arms of their families.

And how often do we hear an Arab born in Jerusalem and reared in an UNRWA refugee camp sharing a message that is openly critical of Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Middle Eastern regimes that fuel their engines of destruction?

Eid, who attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem, later working as an advocate, peace activist and journalist, now spends much time on the road, frequently addressing Jewish audiences where he is predictably well received.

Each empty seat in the upper bowl of Beth Tzedec honoured one of the 240 people taken into captivity by Hamas terrorists on October 7. One hundred and thirty people of all ages are still held hostage in Gaza.

The event, spearheaded by CJSU organizers Ortal Luzon and Roni Sandruski, was held in conjunction with Beth Tzedec Congregation, Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, Calgary Jewish Federation, JNF Canada, Stand with Us Canada, Students Supporting Israel and the Israeli Canadian Council.

Rabbi Cantor Russell Jayne, the Senior Rabbi at Beth Tzedec, led the Canadian and Israeli anthems while Rabbi Menachem Matusof (who was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco) recited Psalm 122 for the soldiers of Israel and the land of Israel, a prayer for the kidnapped and, In Arabic, the translation of a psalm promising the arrival of Moshiach (the Messiah).

According to Luzon, the CJSU journey began when Diaspora Israelis, previously unknown to each other, “were connected by our sheer despair after the October 7 attack.”

“We were heartbroken and lost, seeking a way to connect our community and shed light on the situation back home.”

“Your presence here speaks volumes,” Luzon told the audience. “It is a powerful reminder of our community’s incredible strength and unity.”

“The story of Israel, our story, is one of unparalleled perseverance and resilience,” said Luzon. “Against all odds we have risen time and time again, overcoming adversity with unwavering determination. However, the challenges we face are not limited to our borders.”

“The threat of radical Islamic extremism looms large, not only in our region, but across the globe,” added Luzon, who says CJSU has made it its mission to “…educate those who are misled” by Israel’s enemies and their enablers.

Eid was born in 1958 in Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem, where his family lived in the Jewish Quarter. Today he lives in Jerusalem, Israel.

During the first Intifada he was a field worker for B’Tselem, an Israeli non-profit devoted to calling out human rights violations in the occupied territories. In 1995, Eid turned his efforts toward human rights violations perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority against Palestinians. The following year he founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

In her introduction, Sandrusi recognized Eid as a prolific writer and award-winning activist.

Eid began by acknowledging the fear and dread of Israelis and Palestinians during a time when things are “upside down.”

“People don’t know to where this war is really leading us,” Eid said.

“I think that the Hamas almost proved to the international community on October 7 that they are a genocidal movement, that they are a brutal, barbaric terrorist organization.”

While he previously sounded that alarm, Eid said it was “much more comfortable” for some leaders in the region to turn a deaf ear because it suited their purposes.

“Now things are more clear, not only for Israel, not only for the international community, but I believe also very clear to the Palestinians themselves,” said Eid, who added that Israel alone can put an end to Hamas.

Not a single Arab country is calling for an end to the war, Eid said.

“All of the Arab countries are calling to increase the humanitarian aid to Gaza,” noted Eid.  “Even the International Court of Justice never, ever mentioned to stop the war.”

Underscoring the existential risk to Israel, Eid characterized the war as Israel’s second war of independence.

Hamas has brought the people of Gaza “misery, barbarity, and destruction,” Eid said, as well as hundreds of kilometres of tunnels.

“But, in the meantime,” adds Eid, “the Hamas did not ever try to build one shelter.”

When Hamas is challenged on that point, says Eid, they ascribe responsibility to the United Nations and the Israeli occupation.

Eid shakes his head at the victory proclamations of Hamas’s leader, safely and luxuriously hunkered down in Doha, as Gazans experience devastation.

“If this is victory, imagine what our defeat will be,” mused Eid.

“We are living in the lap of a leadership that is not a leadership. Hamas is not a leadership.  Abbas is not a leadership,” Eid said.

“Nobody cares about the civilians in Gaza,” added Eid, who explained that the international community is calling for more humanitarian aid when it is fully aware that it is siphoned by wealthy Hamas leaders and “sold on the black market the next day.”

Israel has confiscated hundreds of millions in Shekels from the tunnels, Eid said.

Eid says he talked about the participation of Palestinian UNRWA workers in the October 7 slaughter in Israel, long before UNRWA admitted that a mere 12 employees had blood on their hands.

The numbers are far greater, Eid said, adding that the tragedy is magnified because many UNRWA employees who took part in the attacks were teachers who influenced the children of Gaza.

“As a Palestinian I really hope that Israel will free Gaza from Hamas,” Eid said, characterizing Hamas leaders as “Iranian agents and Qatari traitors.”

Other proxy actors, including the Houthis in Yemen are “adding oil to the fire,” Eid said.

What will happen in Gaza the day after the war ends?  Eid does not believe Gaza should come under the control of the Palestinian Authority or a coalition of international organizations.

He favours self-rule by and for Palestinians and noted that the Gaza Strip consists of five districts and a population of which 67 per cent was, originally, Bedouin. It is Eid’s belief that each of five tribes “can keep its people under control.” He said this formula could work as long as the tribes do not unite.

Eid was dismissive when asked during the Q and A if the region wouldn’t just descend into tribal warfare. (I’ll editorialize here. One does not need a history or political science degree to surmise that such an arrangement would lead to further chaos and fertile soil for another generation of proxy warlords).

Eid thinks room should be made for said tribes to run the affairs of the Gaza strip for at least a period of five years, “and to see how things are going.”

If that model were to work, he’d like to see it implemented in the West Bank.

“No Hamas and no Abbas,” Eid proclaimed.

“The tribes need, also, to be supported and protected,” said Eid, adding “I think that the only one that can support and protect those tribes is Egypt.”

He did not address the unlikelihood of Egypt applying for the position.

In Eid’s vision, Israel would facilitate economic prosperity for Gazans that would, in his view, help to protect Israel.

Eid told his Calgary audience that in the West Bank more than 200,000 workers previously crossed daily into Israel, earning hundreds of millions of shekels every month.

According to Eid, this Palestinian labour force is waiting for an end to the war or a decision from the Israeli government to let them once again work in Israel, something he says is a non-starter for the right wing of the Netanyahu coalition who favour importing workers from the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Eid speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would himself favour the return of Palestinian workers to Israel.

If West Bank workers are not allowed to ply their trades within Israel within the next month or two, Israel can expect a “huge storm of violence from the Palestinians towards the Israelis,” Eid said.

He had strong words for what he called “the so-called pro-Palestinians” whom he referred to as “thugs and gangsters” causing “huge damage to the reputation of the Palestinians” and providing no benefit to the people they claim to support.

Eid called for the US Congress to limit the activities of these actors, whom he believes will eventually perpetrate acts of terror in the United States and Canada, and called out the leaders of universities, saying that Jewish students should not be living in fear on their own campuses.

These pro-Palestinians couldn’t operate at all in the Arab world, noted Eid. “They would be in jail until their death,” Eid said. “But here, the United States call it freedom of speech.”

Students should be protesting this and demanding protection from legislators, said Eid. Their failure to provide it would be the prelude to much suffering in America, Eid warned.

The success of CJSU in bringing the Jewish community together for the evening with Bassem Eid is remarkable. Would that our synagogues and community organizations could readily attract those numbers in time of celebration!

Some took comfort in Eid’s support for Israel and the Diaspora Jewish community and his affirmation of truths they consider self-evident. Others would have preferred a deeper and more nuanced dive into the complicated history, issues, motivations and relationships that were the prelude to October 7.

Inviting Bassem Eid to speak to the Jewish community is akin to preaching to the choir. Perhaps Moshiach will draw a little closer when Eid is given standing ovations by large and enthusiastic Arab audiences.


Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

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