battle for the holy land
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Battle for the Holy Land
Program #2015
Original airdate: April 4, 2002

Reported By
John Kampfner

ANNOUNCER: Five times during Holy Week, Palestinian suicide bombers attacked Israeli civilians. The Israeli army counterattacked, isolating Yasser Arafat inside his compound. There were mass arrests and deaths. Full-scale war is in the air.

How did events in the Middle East spin so dramatically out of control?

Tonight FRONTLINE goes behind the lines on both sides - suicide bombers, Israeli commando squads - the latest war, seen through the eyes of the foot soldiers in the Battle for the Holy Land.

ANNOUNCER: 1987, The West Bank. Palestinian children throwing stones and bottles at Israeli soldiers. Then the Israeli response, tear gas and rubber bullets. It was the first intifada, the Palestinian word for uprising. Year after year, hopes for peace were punctuated by acts of violence, and each side blamed the other.

Now, 15 years later, a second intifada. Only this time, the stone-throwing boys have grown into men armed with real weapons. They have taken the fight into the heart of Israel itself.

Last December, two BBC film teams achieved remarkable access to the fighters from both sides for a one-month period. What they found shows how this war plays itself out on the battlefields.

The film begins with the Palestinians.

December, 2001

NARRATOR: Bethlehem, shortly before Christmas. As daylight fades, the fighters of the second intifada come out onto the streets. These men are all wanted by Israel. The Israeli security services and army are tracking them all the time. They fight knowing that at any moment they could be picked up or picked off.

JIHAD JA'ARIE, Al-Aqsa Leader: [through interpreter] Through martyr missions inside Israel, the military attacks in streets bordering Israel, and the armed attacks on settlements, we sent a clear message to the Israeli streets: The Israel streets will never enjoy peace until the children of Palestine also enjoy peace.

NARRATOR: Jihad Ja'arie is a wanted man in the company of other wanted men. He's a leader of the al-Aqsa Brigades, a new group of street militants who are loosely affiliated with Yasser Arafat's forces. Ja'arie can never be sure who he can trust.

JIHAD JA'ARIE: [through interpreter] I always have my hair cut at this barber's. I feel secure to the extent that even when i put down my weapon here, I'm not worried about it.

NARRATOR: Wherever Ja'arie goes, he is accompanied by his two bodyguards, Ghassan and Mohammed. Al-Aqsa are outgunned, surrounded and watched.

JIHAD JA'ARIE: [through interpreter] We cannot deny that Israeli intelligence has managed to kill some leaders of the national and Islamic factions. They know where we are, where we go and where we come from. We are always on the streets. But in the final analysis, it's God who takes a soul away, not Sharon and his security forces.

NARRATOR: At night al-Aqsa go on patrol. They conduct surveillance and reconnaissance.

MOHAMMED: [through interpreter] We are distinguished by our street-fighting abilities. We've gone through a lot of military courses on how to use weapons, how to shoot, how to snipe, how to attack, how to retreat and how to cover an advancing group. Until now, our daily training has been conducted by Ja'arie and other brothers.

NARRATOR: Getting weapons is harder now that the Israelis encircle most Palestinian towns. But there is a way.

1st MASKED FIGHTER: [through interpreter] The Israeli soldiers themselves, Jewish people, Bedouins and Druze are all selling us arms.

2nd MASKED FIGHTER: [through interpreter] We do not deal directly with the Israeli officer or soldier. I cannot just call a soldier and ask him to bring me an M-16. It goes from one man to another.

Firstly, the soldier takes it. He will want to sell it. Who does he want to sell it to? He wouldn't sell it to me, as he would be court-martialed. He sells it to one of the drug dealers who is close to him. The drug dealer then sells it on to another man. It might be an Israeli Arab. But we do not have direct contacts with the Israeli army itself.

1st MASKED FIGHTER: [through interpreter] It goes from one hand to another until it reaches 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 pounds

NARRATOR: Guns supplied by the enemy. It's risky. Booby-trapping weapons is an established ploy of Israeli intelligence.

1st MASKED FIGHTER: [through interpreter] We call this the "capsule," which is hit by the firing pin, which ignitesthe spark inside. The Israelis started to put two capsules inside the bullet. One type was a capsule made of steel, which meant that when the firing pin in the gun hit it, the bullet exploded. Of course, this kind of thing has happened to us many times. It's destroyed a lot of our guns. So now what we do is to check for booby-traps. We have to check bullet by bullet.

2nd MASKED FIGHTER: [through interpreter] I don't put a single bullet in the M-16 until it is checked. They have their booby traps, and we have our ways to check for them. But I'm afraid we can't tell you about them.

NARRATOR: Ja'arie and his men have several hideouts, sometimes in large apartment blocks like these. Families live all around them, making it harder for the Israelis to strike without inflicting other casualties. But nowhere is safe for long.

They spend the day monitoring satellite TV. Stations like Al-Jazeera or Hezbollah provide their only link to the outside world.

To be in a car is to dance with death. The fighters have to change cars every few weeks. The cars they get are bought from the same mafia groups that supply them weapons. Once identified, they are an easy target from the air.

JIHAD JA'ARIE: [through interpreter] This is the car of the martyr Hussein ABAYAT. He was assassinated by the Israeli army. They fired rockets from a helicopter at his car. It was hit by more than five rockets. His assassination took place whilst he was one of the main leadersof the Brigades of the al-Aqsa in the West Bank.

NARRATOR: The mantle passed to Hussein 's brother, Atef Abayat. The ties of blood. That's how it works.

This was Atef's car. He was killed a year later, blown up by a booby-trap bomb, a classic operation by Israeli intelligence. The car had been bought unwittingly from an Israeli agent. The Israelis waited until Atef was inside. Then they detonated the bomb.

The Israeli army's elimination of key people forces those that remain to concentrate on the basic task of just staying alive. But the Israelis are simply buying time. The militias quickly regroup.

The al-Aqsa leadership stays within the family. It's the turn of Ibrahim Abayat, seen here at Atef's funeral. Ibrahim is acknowledged as the leader, but he has to be closely guided by the more experienced street fighters.

IBRAHIM ABAYAT, Al-Aqsa Leader: [through interpreter] We work for the protection of the city and on all issues pertaining to the Palestinian people. We patrol the area. We patrol from Beit Sahour to Beit Jala and all the military points of the Israelis.

NARRATOR: Gilo, a Jewish settlement across the valley, is regularly attacked by Palestinians in Bethlehem. The Israeli response is to kill leaders such as the Abayat brothers. The cycle of violence.

Those deaths are, in turn, avenged by further attacks on Gilo. Palestinians aim to make Israelis experience the fear of not knowing where the next bullet will come from. Ja'arie and his men fire at random. The Israelis respond. The tanks surrounding Bethlehem move in. Firefights break out around the town. The battle rages for three days.

IBRAHIM ABAYAT: [through interpreter] Realistically, we have no effective means of combating their superior military capabilities. We don't have an adequate response to the range of their weapons, their planes and tanks. All we have to fight them with is small arms. But in doing so, we show the world that we are resisting.

NARRATOR: The tanks take control of the main roads. In conventional warfare like this, the Palestinians are easily outgunned. The best Ja'arie and his friends can do is to slow down the movement of the tanks.

JIHAD JA'ARIE: [through interpreter] The Israeli army has acknowledged that in Bethlehem we have engaged them in intense fighting. They admit to the effectiveness of our targeted shooting and our snipers.

NARRATOR: Homemade pipe bombs are part of the Palestinian armory. The fighters try to target the tanks, but in this case, the damage is minimal. Still, they inhibit Israeli infantry support.

IBRAHIM ABAYAT: [through interpreter] The nature of Israeli soldiers is that they are cowards. They won't fight you without superior equipment and protection. They have bulletproof vests, helmets, weapons and a range of specialist equipment. They even have helicopters or Apaches to monitor them from the air.

NARRATOR: The tanks pull out. Locals say 23 Palestinians died in the fighting.

But there is another weapon in the al-Aqsa arsenal, the suicide bomber. Three quarters of Israel's casualties are civilians, gunned down or blown up in suicide attacks. Since September the 11th, the world has been waging war on terror. The Israelis say the battle began long ago.

Maj. Gen. GIORA EILAND, Israeli Defense Forces: Since the Second World War, we can see a transformation in the nature of war from conventional, ordinary wars between countries to more low-intensive conflicts between countries and organizations.

One of the important things is to decide who is the enemy. And one of the mistakes that you might make is to say, "Well, anyone that hates me will be considered as enemy," and it might be ahuge mistake. We try to define enemy as only the people who actually fight against us. It includes, of course, those who fight and shoot at us. It includes those who organize the operations against us. It includes those who supply weapons and explosives to be used against us. But it doesn't include, for example, those who supply food for those who are sent to fight against us.

[Scenes of Israeli military subject to security review]

NARRATOR: Good intelligence is vital- surveillance,listening devices, information from collaborators and prisoners. The work begins with military units monitoring the movements of Palestinians inside West Bank towns. A specialist commando unit called Egoz has been brought in to plan an ambush of Palestinian gunmen who have been firing on Jewish settlers.

Egoz developed its ambush skills in Lebanon, using intelligence tip-offs to capture or kill Hezbollah fighters. When Israel withdrew in May of 2000, the army decided to disband Egoz, thinking its skills would no longer be needed. But the second intifada put an end to that. Egoz, along with other specialist units of the Golani Brigade, were suddenly back in demand.

Col. "CHICO", Commander of Golani Brigade: Usually, in the Palestinian conflict, the people that we are after are ticking bombs. And in this- in this kind of situation, usually we- we don't stop till we get them because it really depends on us if they will carry out what they are planning or not. So we take more risks.

NARRATOR: A recent operation. This thermal night camera records the heat given off by Egoz commandos as they set up an ambush. They are after Palestinian gunmen who are planning to shoot at settlers.

Col. "CHICO": We organize the area in such a way that we can control it- first of all, monitoring it by surveillance, all kind of surveillances, in order to detect the terrorist group which is- when it infiltrates or enters the area that we decided we want to control. And then there we build some kind of a net of ambushes and other forces. And when they are entering that area, we close on the- on the target. And if we are lucky, we also succeed in engaging and eliminating it.

NARRATOR: At midnight a gunman is spotted as he moves across the ridge line. Before Egoz commandos can open fire, they have to be certain their target has a gun and intends to use it. The gunman suddenly seems to sense the presence of the Israeli commandos. They fire. He gets up. He's shot a second time.

Col. "CHICO": The moral question - do you just kill a man with no trial? And that's maybe the hardest question that you can get into terror fighting. Do you take out a ticking bomb, kill him, or do you try to arrest him?

Maj. Gen. GIORAEILAND: We prefer, or we are forced to kill someone only when four conditions are met. Number one, there is no way to arrest someone. Number two, the target is important enough. Number three, we do it when we believe that we can guarantee very few civilian casualties. And number four, we do it when we believe that there is no way that we can delay or postpone this operation, something that we consider as a ticking bomb.

NARRATOR: Egoz commandos are watching an area intelligence reports indicate armed Palestinians are about to infiltrate.

COMMANDO: I will feel that if the terrorists tonight don't get into this settlement, we have done our mission. We've made sure that our are that we were given, no terrorists came in from. To get to them to make sure they won't come in tomorrow or the next day, we will find a way to do that. I am just checking in to the- [speaks into radio in Hebrew]

NARRATOR: Ambush works when the enemy is within a soldier's shooting range. But many Palestinian fighters are harder to reach, concealing themselves deep inside their heavily-populated communities. Getting to them is the mission of Israel's high-tech American-made helicopter gunships.

Maj. Gen. DANI HALOUTZ, Commander of Israeli Air Force: First of all, this is the most accurate means that we have. Missiles of helicopters are meeting the target with the accuracy of less than one meter. Second, the warhead missiles that helicopters are carrying is the smallest familiar tous, compared to other means. Third, the collateral damage created by those missiles is very little- very, very, very little. And in most of the cases, there is no collateral damage at all. And fourth, we are reducing the potential casualties of our soldiers.

NARRATOR: Sometimes the Israelis have to use more than one method. Late last year, the army tried to seize a senior Hamas leader, Abu Hunnud, who they say masterminded a number of suicide bombings. The operation went badly wrong. Three soldiers died in the gunfire, and Abu Hunnud escaped.

Soon after, he was arrested by the Palestinian authority and given 12 years in jail. The Israelis were convinced it was more of a safe house than a prison, so they hit the building with rockets from an F-16 fighter jet. Several jailers were killed. Abu Hunnud escaped again.

Attempt number three fell to the helicopter pilots. Their successful mission became a model for future attacks.

    ISRAELI INSTRUCTOR: [subtitles] First film, Abu Hunnud. Firing by several helicopters simultaneously.

NARRATOR: But there's no such thing as perfect intelligence or absolute precision. Mistakes are made. Civilians get killed.

Maj. Gen. DANI HALOUTZ: Although there is no intention - and i am emphasizing, there is no intention to harm anyone who is not involved - from time to time, incidents are occurring and persons who are not involved are paying for this ugly war. And it's ugly war.

Maj. HAGAI, Israeli Air Force: When we get the mission, we get co-ordinates of an area to go, and we are going there. They tell us where to aim our missiles or where to shoot. We don't know who is the target or where is the- or what is the target. We get only the co-ordinates and where to shoot, and this is what we are doing.

NARRATOR: These sorties are highly controversial. There are psychological and sometimes political reasons for the pilot not being given the identity of the target. No matter how experienced and well-trained he is, there are only certain things he needs to know.

Maj. HAGAI: It looks a little bit strange when you are hovering over a city and you are shooting inside. It might look a little aggressive. But if you think of it as using a very accurate weapon with very small warheads, and you compare it to shooting artillery inside, everyone would prefer to use this weapon instead of the alternatives.

Maj. Gen. DANI HALOUTZ: Mr. Abu Hunnud is- was a very famous terrorist, and he was personally involved in killing many Israelis. When we were sure that he's the one - and there are many means how to know that he is the one, and i am not going to elaborate about it - we ordered the pilots to close the range and to fire. That's the storyof Abu Hunnud.

NARRATOR: Within a week of the killing, Abu Hunnud's Hamas took revenge. A wave of suicide attacks killed 30 Israelis. This is the dilemma for the Israelis. Do military operations slow down the cycle of violence or just cause more bloodshed? Which anti-terror method do you use, and when do you use it?

[ Timeline of the violence]

Two Apaches circle over Hebron. Their target, Mohammed Abu-Sider, who the Israelis say has organized suicide attacks. Oneof the rockets is caught on camera. It passes by in a sixth of a second. The rockets hit their target, but there was another man and two children inside the car.

Botched Israeli missions transform fear into rage, giving the militias a chance to recruit new members. Three-year-old Burhan Haymouni becomes, to Palestinians, one of their youngest martyrs. The Israelis' intended target is badly injured but survives. He is now in hiding in Hebron.

Jenin, just a few miles from the nearest Israelitown. New secular groups like al-Aqsa and older Islamic groups like Jihad now work closely together. In Jenin we join a group of al-Aqsa fighters. As we drive, they check the skies for helicopters.

We continue in the car down the rutted streets of the refugee camp. For the last part of the journey, we are hooded. We are led by the hand down back alleys, down a flight of stairs, to the most secret location of all. This is a weapons-making factory. The Hebrew letters make it clear where the raw materials have come from.

The man we are about to meet is the most important link in the chain. If the Israelis knew where he was, they would eliminate him - without question. To many Palestinians, he is a legend. This is an engineer, an engineer of death.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] To start with, let's see the raw materials. This is gunpowder. We call it kuhul, and we use it inside the bombs. It's made up of basic materials, including charcoal, sulfur and agricultural fertilizers. These are simple components, but the effect is quite good. There is also this substance. We call it Um al-Abd. It's very sensitive and highly explosive. We make it from chemicals like acetone, hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide.

NARRATOR: The engineer's hands reveal that his body is burnt from head to toe. He says the Israelis have already tried to kill him once with a rocket.

ENGINEER: [through interpreter] We have here a specialized mine. From here to here, it is filled with gunpowder, and from here to here is filled with the substance um al-abd. We may also put a mortar shell in the front. What distinguishes it is that when it explodes, it generates an intense heat which reaches 4,000 degrees. This temperature is high enough to melt a tank. Also, the mortar helps destroy the tank because it is filled with TNT, pure TNT.

This is the explosives belt the young men use when they carry out their martyr operations. It contains the substance um al-abd, which is very sensitive and highly explosive. An explosion is triggered with an electrical switch.

NARRATOR: We now want to see the man who gives the orders, the head of Islamic Jihad. He's been arrested by the Palestinian authority, but we can still get to him. First we must meet a close personal friend of his, a leader of al-Aqsa.

JAMAL HWAID, Al-Aqsa Leader: [through interpreter] This is a very patriotic environment. A lot of young men have been martyred here. There are 22 martyrs in all. Jenin camp is the greatest source of martyrs for Palestine. It's the capitol of martyrs, which is why Sharon calls Jenin the "cockroaches' nest." We call it the "nest of angels."

NARRATOR: Friends, but from different organizations. Rivals too. The factions have an extraordinary league table of suicide missions and casualties.

JAMAL HWAID: [through interpreter] The honorable rivalry between the different factions has resulted in an increase in the number of martyrs from each organization. If i can compare this with football teams in Britain - like Manchester United, Liverpool and Leeds United - when one team gets stronger, this drives the other teams to become stronger. The players have to improve their skills. This is the same as what's happened in Jenin. It's led to the martyrdom missions becoming more diverse and successful.

NARRATOR: Jamal agrees to take us to Ali Safuri, the head of Islamic Jihad.

[ Learn about the militias]

This is a prison in a secret location run by the Palestinian authority. But the guards have a dual function. They're as anxious to protect their prisoner from what they call Israeli assassination as they are to restrict his activities. They check even their own for weapons. Collaborators are an important part of the Israeli arsenal.

ALI SAFURI, Islamic Jihad Leader: [through interpreter] Don't make me laugh. People are deceived by the hype surrounding Israeli intelligence. There's no such thing as Israeli security. Israeli security is fragile, and the proof of this is that while Jenin was under siege, individuals in Jenin were able to carry out martyrdom operations inside Israel. And you tell me Israeli military intelligence is strong.

Suicide missions are not our goal. They are a means of deterrence. The human being who dedicates his soul to Allah and his people strikes at the heart of the Zionist enemy by turning his body into a bomb.

[ Read Safuri's interview]

NARRATOR: In Jenin it's called the martyrs' cemetery. The graves of two young gunmen, Mustafa Abu Saria, and his friend, Abed Abu Nasa.

    ABED ABU NASR: [through interpreter] In the name of Allah, fight them, and Allah will punish them through our hands.

NARRATOR: The two friends recorded a final statement on the eve of their mission. This is a "cocktail cell," volunteers from different groups on a joint operation. Abed, on the right, is from al-Aqsa. Mustafa, from Islamic Jihad.

It's the 40-day wake for Mustafa.

MOTHER: [through interpreter] I was watching TV. They said the person who carried out the attack in Afula was Faisal Mustafa Abu Sereh. It's his father's name. I searched the house. Maybe he was still at home. But I saw he wasn't there. Then i knew it was Mustafa for sure.

NARRATOR: Mustafa and Abed had sneaked out of Jenin through the fields. They drove a stolen Jeep the few miles toAfula. They opened fire with semi-automatic guns, killing 2 Israelis and injuring 14 before being shot dead. Mustafa told nobody in his family of his plans. That's part of the training.

MOTHER: [through interpreter] He went and bought some corn on the cob. "Take it, mother," he said. It was the first time he called me "Mother." He always called me "Mom." So i said, "That's a new word." He said, "Yes, i want you to be pleased with me. I always want you to say `May Allah be pleased with him.' "

I would have prevented him going. If someone had told me, i would have stopped him and then surrendered him to the Israelis. I would have saved him from death.

Before the death of my son, when i heard of Israelis killed by us, i felt both happy and sad. As i am a mother, they are also mothers. May Allah help them, too. Just as i raised my child, they also raised theirs.

NARRATOR: For all the grieving of the mothers, there are plenty of new volunteers waiting to follow Mustafa.

On December the 31st, Israel's special forces are given a difficult mission, to seize Nasser Zakanna, convicted in Israel, a Hamas terrorist. He is wanted alive for interrogation. Intelligence reports say Zakanna would be at home that evening, armed. Women and children would be with him.

The commandos are briefed about the house, room by room. The information comes from surveillance.

    COMMANDER: [subtitles] We're building a model of the house. The house with the half-story is this one. The one with the tank is here. The whole house is lower here. Here's the house next door. One of you will open the gate. We go through and surround the house with the red roof.

    Any questions about the house?

    1st COMMANDO: [subtitles] I'm worried about this route. You'll get a soldier killed, and you won't bring out the man.

    COMMANDER: [subtitles] The operation is high risk. If we don't arrest these people, they'll carry out a terror attack.

    You're stuck in the alley. Are you going on foot?

    2nd COMMANDO: [subtitles] Yes.

    COMMANDER: [subtitles] People don't open the door. What do you do?

    3rd COMMANDO: [subtitles] If i can break the door down, i will. If not, I'll use explosives.

    COMMANDER: [subtitles] Who is going to break down the door? Who's actually doing it? Have you ever done it before? OK.

NARRATOR: The commandos are now ready, but they have to wait. The timing is crucial. They need real-time intelligence- immediate, up-to-the-minute confirmation that the target is going to be where they want him to be.

Col. "CHICO", Commander of Golani Brigade: My first fear, like any commander, is to lose my target or not to carry out my mission. My second fear is for my men. In a town like Kabatiya, you could have a few dozens of people with arms, and it worries me.

NARRATOR: An unmanned aerial drone monitors the unit's progress from above.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Take cover over there.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] This is the place, yes?

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] You go up there.


    WOMAN IN HOUSE: [subtitles] Who is it?

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Come and open the door.

    WOMAN IN HOUSE: [subtitles] Who is it?

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Come and open the door immediately.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Quiet! Quiet!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Come and open the door!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] The house is surrounded by the Israeli army!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] I hear weapons.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Take cover. There are weapons in the house!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Come and open the door immediately!

NARRATOR: They use a short-range shotgun to break through the door.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] At least let the women and children leave!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Watch there, and up there.

NARRATOR: Shooting starts coming from the house.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Hold your fire! Hold your fire!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Explosives over here! Over here! Explosives over here!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Take it out of my bag.

NARRATOR: Before they can set the explosives, Zakanna's brother decides to bring the family out.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Where is the Jeep? Put him in the Jeep!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Get down! Get down!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Hands behind your back!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Where are the hand ties? Give me a hand tie. Give me a hand tie.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Move back! Move back!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Tell us who's in the house! It's a shame to demolish it for nothing.

    MAN FROM HOUSE: [subtitles] Trust me-

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Just tell us who's in the house!

NARRATOR: With the captured weapon on his shoulder, the commando searches for others.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Take your honor and go inside!

    WOMAN IN HOUSE: [subtitles] Honor! You do not know the meaning of the word!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Don't move!

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] I've got him.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] You've got him? Guard him.

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Do I close the door?

    COMMANDO: [subtitles] Close the door!

NARRATOR: A textbook operation, another suicide bombing perhaps averted. But what about the one after, and the one after that? They wonder, will the job ever be done?

Col. "CHICO": [through interpreter] The kind of terror acts that were taking against Israeli civilians in the last few months make it clear that even though it's really unpleasant job, we must do it.

INTERVIEWER: Do you see an end?

Col. "CHICO": [through interpreter] I hope for an end, but to be practical, sincere, I don't think in the near future to see a happy end. I think it will take time. For the time being, we are not ready for that.

NARRATOR: The three Palestinians are interrogated. Zakanna is detained. His brothers are later released.

Maj. Gen. DANI HALOUTZ, Commander of Israeli Air Force: We are fighting over our homes. And it's not a remote fighting, it's here, in house. It's very close, and everyone in Israel is familiar with someone from those who was killed. So it's a very personal type.

    RADIO ANNOUNCER: Israeli forces last night arrested three Palestinian terrorist suspects in the West Bank. A government spokesman said the operation was in response to last week's suicide bombing in Jerusalem in which two people died.

NARRATOR: We are taken to meet a young man the Palestinians call a "living martyr," someone who is ready for his suicide mission. He has completed his training and preparations for his own death.

"LIVINGMARTYR": [through interpreter] We will resist them by any means, here or wherever they are, even in the furthest places. Any time we are able to reach them, we will reach them, Allah willing.

We have sacrificed our lives for the sake of Allah, and because of this, we have taken this path. The Quran says, "Fight them where you find them and expel them from where they expelled you." We are just carrying out what the Quran instructs us to do. We fight them when they fight us, and we expel them as they have expelled us.

NARRATOR: So now they're taking the battle deep inside Israeli communities. It is a different war to the targeted one the Israelis want to fight. To the "living martyr," there is now no difference between the Israeli soldier and civilian.

"LIVING MARTYR": [through interpreter] Islamic Jihad is the faction keenest to target only soldiers. But our position is that all those who live in on a land which is not theirs are aggressors and tyrants, even the women and elderly. They are transgressors because the land is not theirs. They came to us.

We hope for martyrdom. I hope to be martyred after this meeting.

ALI SAFURI, Islamic Jihad Leader: [through interpreter] It achieves forus the balance of terror. The balance of terror is important. When my countryman sees that Apache circling in the sky, he becomes scared. But also for them, when an operation takes place in Afula, the man in Tel Aviv becomes too scared to even sleep at his home. Such is the balance of terror.

NARRATOR: The balance of terror, the ultimate logic of the Palestinians' war with Israel. Faced with superior Israeli force, the prospect of death is ever present. They believe one tactic remains: Thepower to determine the time of their own death and of those they take with them. There is always a grave waiting.

March, 2002

ANNOUNCER: In the months since, Palestinian suicide bombers have penetrated deeper inside Israel than ever before. Israel has escalated its military response, sending tanks and troops deep into the Palestinian areas. Last week, our BBC producer went back behind the lines in the West Bank.

Al-Aqsa fighter Jihad Ja'arie was still in Jenin.

INTERVIEWER: Since I was last with you, the Israelis have come in with tanks. Can you tell us what happened during that time? What did you do?

JIHAD JA'ARIE, Al-Aqsa Leader: [through interpreter] We placed explosives in the routes that we knew would be entered by the Israeli tanks. We also placed explosives inside uninhabited and empty houses, in the expectation that these might be entered by the Israeli army. These explosives created a burden for them and made it more difficult for them to go through this area.

ANNOUNCER: The Israeli army has lost two tanks in Gaza. Ibrahim Abayat, the al-Aqsa's leader, is still in Jenin. Al-Aqsa has stepped up its suicide bombings.

IBRAHIM ABAYAT, Al-Aqsa Leader: [through interpreter] There must be a message to the Israeli street: What is happening is not in your interest. You need to stop the raging bull of Sharon, and to limit the scope of his policies and remove him from office. Sharon is not going to bring you peace. All that Sharon will bring is destruction upon the Israeli people.

ANNOUNCER: For their part, the Israelis continue to blame Yasser Arafat for not stopping the suicide bombing. The man in charge of Israeli forces is General Shaul Mofaz

Gen. SHAUL MOFAZ, Chief of Staff, Israeli Army: If the Palestinian side and chairman Arafat want a peace agreement with Israel, the simple way is to sit around the table of negotiation and not to fight and to use the terror activity as a strategic decision againstus. And i believe that Chairman Arafat and some of the Palestinian leaders didn't reach yet the point that they want peace with Israel.

[ Read the interview]

ANNOUNCER: But Islamic Jihad's leader, Ali Safuri, who has now escaped from house arrest, says it may not be up to Arafat.

ALI SAFURI: [through interpreter] I don't believe that the brother Yasser Arafat would order a ceasefire after all that has happened to the Palestinian people. Actually, he should not order a ceasefire until the Palestinian people gain their complete rights. We will have no ceasefire, and we will not put our gun aside until the liberation of Palestine, with its capital Al-Quds Ash-Shareef, holy Jerusalem.

INTERVIEWER: What, right up to the sea?

ALI SAFURI: This is our legitimate right. Palestine from the river to the sea, that is our legitimate right in this homeland. Yes.

ANNOUNCER: Last Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed 22 Israelis at a Passover seder. More than ever, the Israelis see this as a fight for their very survival.

Gen. SHAUL MOFAZ: You probably know about the Passover massacre. And I'm asking what your country or other countries would do if it would happen in their country? So we don't have other choice. We cannot cower before the terrorism. We have to fight against it. We have to defend our country. And i believe we have the right to defend our people.


Israel Goldvicht
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Stuart Tanner


Michael Kirk

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John Kerry
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Israel Goldvicht

(c)2002 BBC


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A FRONTLINE presentation of a Goldvicht Productions/October Films production for the BBC in association with the Kirk Documentary Group


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ANNOUNCER: There's more to explore at our Web site, including FRONTLINE's interviews with the Israeli army's chief of staff and leaders of the Palestinian fighters, a chronology of the escalating violence, which began in September, 2000, opinion pieces on what, if anything, can end this crisis, and something new. Find out on our Web site if this FRONTLINE program will be shown again on your PBS station and when.

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Next time on FRONTLINE: After 14 years on death row, Frank Lee Smith was cleared of a crime he didn't commit. But there were no happy reunions. It was too late.

    Prof. DONALD JONES, University of Miami: This is though this person's life wasn't worth time. It wasn't worth checking. It wasn't worth this extra step.

ANNOUNCER: Requiem for Frank Lee Smith. Next time on FRONTLINE.

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