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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The attack in northern Israel last night, which left six people dead, and thirty wounded, further escalated a new round of violence that started last week. The killings, carried out by a member of the armed wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, provoked a swift response today. Israeli F-16s bombed a government compound in the West Bank, killing a policeman and wounding 61, according to doctors. And Israeli tanks also tightened their vice around Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, moving to within 50 yards of the compound gates.
Following Friday’s midday prayer, marchers gathered outside their leader’s besieged offices, in a show of solidarity. What began as a few children throwing rocks grew to a full-scale clash between marchers and Israeli troops who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and finally, live ammunition. Rescue workers said more than thirty were wounded, two seriously.
The tit-for-tat violence escalated each day this past week. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza, and in retaliation, Israeli troops razed up to 50 Palestinian homes, drawing strong criticism from some Israeli editorial writers and others who said the tactics were “inhumane” “unjustified.” At a press conference with foreign journalists, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was defiant.
PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON: And I know sometimes it’s hard to accept that the Jews are having the right to defend themselves. This government will not make any compromise whatsoever, not now and not in the future, when it comes to the security of the Israeli citizens and the very existence of the state of Israel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And so the walls between the two peoples continue to go higher. This one was erected to defend Israeli homes in Gilo, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Palestinians consider it one of the hated settlements; and say it is on their land. For more than a year, there was firing back and forth across the valley between Gilo and the West Bank Palestinian town, Beit Jala. Moshe Sason, an Israeli whose parents immigrated from Iraq, lives in a Gilo apartment that wasn’t damaged by the shooting. But he has been deeply affected nonetheless.
MOSHE SASON (Translated): The fire came from that house and then from the mosques and the church. We cannot return fire because it’s important for us not to hurt people at their time of prayers. But Palestinians, they don’t care. They really just want to shoot and get somebody hurt here; that’s their purpose.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Where were you when it was happening? Were you ever threatened by the fire yourself?
MOSHE SASON (Translated): We come to visit our friends near here on Independence Day, and the shooting started. And we lay down on the floor and the bullets were going over our heads.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The shootings ended last month, but people here said they could start again anytime, now that a new cycle of violence is underway. Each side blames the other for initiating the fighting. Moshe says it has changed him.
MOSHE SASON (Translated): It did change my views because I know Arabs, and I like Arabs a lot. But obviously, there are some Arabs that do not want peace, and they want to fight and destroy us; to make us disappear and be thrown into the sea. I’m convinced that without Arafat it will be much better; and we can have peace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Has it changed the way you vote?
MOSHE SASON (Translated): I voted four years ago for Barak, and it was a shame. He wanted to give them everything, but they showed they just want to destroy us, and therefore, I voted for Sharon.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ephraim Ya’ar, a professor at Tel Aviv University, has been polling Israelis about their views on peace and politics since the 1993 signing of the Oslo peace agreement. He says there’s a direct correlation between loss of faith and the peace process and support for Sharon, especially after the Palestinians rejected Barak’s proposals at Camp David a year and a half ago, and the new Intifada, or uprising, began.
EPHRAIM YA’AR: You could have seen it month after month, that as the distrust of the peace process is growing, the support for Prime Minister Barak is declining, and the support first for Netanyahu and then for Sharon… However, I think that Oslo left too many holes in this, and there were not enough discussions, sufficient discussions, to clarify what each side should expect at the end. And as time passed on, and peace didn’t come, and didn’t appear around the corner, both sides had become more and more disappointed — more and more frustrated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some terrible events helped drive Israelis away from Oslo, events like the beating deaths and mutilation of Israeli soldiers’ bodies in Ramallah just after the Intifada began — and a series of suicide bombings, including one in June at a Tel Aviv disco that killed twenty-one young people, seven from one high school. They were mostly children of Russian immigrants. Two were sisters. Now, seven months later, life at Moffet High School almost seems normal. Irina Karp was at the disco that night.
IRINA KARP: There was a boom and a great flash and stuff flying through the air. There was blood and terrible smell. And so we run to look if we can help, and then I felt that I was touching something with my leg and it was a head.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A head?
IRINA KARP: A head. Just a head. And I, like, stopped and I couldn’t understand what was happening.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you going to discos again now?
IRINA KARP: Yes, I am.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You’re willing to take the chance?
IRINA KARP: I’m a teenager; I have to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does it make you feel like there can never be peace?
IRINA KARP: Basically, I don’t think it could be peace, because they want something and we can’t give them what they want.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And so month-by-month, sympathy for the peace process faded, and support for tough measures against the Palestinians grew. Ariel Sharon, who had opposed Oslo, was elected prime minister last year. He formed a coalition government with his Shimon Peres, a leader of the Labor Party and a key architect of the peace agreement, as foreign minister.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You’ve been so involved in this whole Oslo peace process. Do you feel like your dreams are just going up in smoke right now?
SHIMON PERES: It’s very hard to burn dreams– you can burn realities. No not at all. I think we did the right thing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What role does Chairman Arafat bear for the problems with the Oslo process?
SHIMON PERES: Maybe the greatest mistake that he’s committing right now is that by not making the Palestinian Authority an authority, but a coalition of forces, you can have a coalition of parties but you cannot have a coalition of armed groups. You cannot trust the rifles of the groups. They may upset the agenda; they may throw a bomb in the most delicate moment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What’s your analysis about why he hasn’t done that?
SHIMON PERES: It’s dangerous. It smells like civil war. You cannot be a leader without taking risks, and Arafat thought that he can make a coalition with the Hamas and the Jihad and the other groups. It doesn’t work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So now Arafat sits under virtual house arrest in his offices in Ramallah, forbidden by Prime Minister Sharon to move out of the city until he takes specific actions to end Palestinian attacks on Israelis. And the Israeli cabinet is debating even harsher measures on the heels of both last night’s attack, and the seizure of an arms-laden ship, the “Karine A.” I asked the Israeli defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who’s a retired general, if the situation could get a lot worse.
BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER: Well, I want to tell you one thing. We have no interest, whatever, to capture areas. We have no interest whatever to destroy the PA, or to destroy even the leader of the PA –no, not at all. All that we’re interested is to cool the situation, is to cool the area. And I can assure you one thing, that once quiet will be achieved, then the whole thing will be open.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I asked what most concerns him about the “Karine A” arms shipment.
BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER: The most dramatic conclusion is the Iranian connection. I mean, for the first time, you can see that how the cooperation between the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah and Iranians, work together, buy together and combat the whole operation to come and to bring it to Israel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When we asked the Palestinians leaders about this, they say, first of all, that Arafat is not getting along with the Iranian leadership, and second, that the Palestinian Authority would know that they would lose European and American financial support, which they’re dependent on, if they made an alliance with Iran, therefore they’ve never made an alliance with Iran. Are they just lying?
BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER: They are lying all the time. We have hard evidence, ma’am, to show you and to show everyone that there is direct connection between the PA and Iran.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We just met with Sari Nusseibeh, who is a PLO official in Jerusalem, as you know. He said that the confinement of Arafat in Ramallah, and the various roadblocks and reoccupation of certain areas of the West Bank are basically destroying the Palestinian Authority even now.
BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER: When you are talking about destroying the PA authority– the PA authority is one man, is Yasser Arafat– we are looking for someone that will cooperate with us for the benefit of their people, not for our people. We want to work together. I do not believe in existence without coexistence.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, like West Bank security chief Jabril Rajoub disputed most everything the defense minister said about Iran and other matters, and we’ll have that in our next report. But inside Israel, too, the government’s actions are controversial. The peace movement, which had been almost moribund because of disappointment over Oslo, is active again.
NOAM HOFSTEDTER: We’re here, as we’ve been here for the last two months, every Saturday, to tell Prime Minister Sharon he should change his policy or quit his job — and to tell the Labor to quit the government, which is blocking all possibilities for peace and negotiations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: If one goes to the West Bank, you see a lot. I mean you see check points, you see people that are hurt, you see houses that have been shelled. How much do Israelis know about that?
NOAM HOFSTEDTER: I don’t think more than a few hundred or a few thousand Israelis. People can know; the question is whether or not they want to know?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Labor leaders, like Yuli Tamir, are urging their party to quit the government.
YULI TAMIR: I think the Labor Party is doing a huge mistake, staying in this government. I think this government cannot offer an alternative for peace – by the way it cannot also offer a social and economic alternative, and there is a social and economic crisis going on in Israel at the moment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is there any chance the Labor Party will pull out of the government soon?
YULI TAMIR: We will fight for it. I doubt if will win. It’s very tempting to stay in office.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Minister of Defense Ben-Eliezer, who was just voted head of the Labor Party, defended staying in the government.
BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER: The situation is not that simple. And I know that for the benefit of the party that it will leave. But for the benefit of the nation, you have to stay. We are here to serve the nation; we are here to guarantee that as long as the situation is so boiling, someone has to balance. I think as long as we can influence, we have to be there. But the minute – the minute that I will feel that there is a chance for breakthrough, and by staying in that element, this will block my way; I will be out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Defense Minister and the other Labor Party leaders voted yesterday to remain in the coalition government, so they’re backing Sharon’s hard lines, but at the same time, they are also pursuing some peace overtures. Foreign Minister Peres has been meeting with Palestinian leader Abu Ala informally, and is urging the resumption of formal talks soon. The Prime Minister is talking peace, too.
ARIEL SHARON: I had one thing I wanted to accomplish, and that to reach a political settlement which will lead to peace with the Palestinians and with the rest of the Arab world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But he also talks very tough.
ARIEL SHARON: This government will not negotiate political negotiations under fire and under pressure of terror; take it as it is. And the earlier they will understand it, the faster the peace will be reached.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: As for Moshe Sason, he hasn’t given up on peace. Even after the shooting between Beit Jala and Gilo, he wants an agreement with his neighbors.
MOSHE SASON (Translated): I believe Sharon really wants peace, but I will vote for anyone that can provide us with quiet and peace, any prime minister that will allow us to live in peace. This small country needs a big peace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And so he waits, wondering if the firing will begin again.