battle for the holy land
homeon the groundcycle of violencecan anything end this?discussion
photo of suicide bomber, mothers holding martyr pictures
Introduction: April 4, 2002

With Israel and the Palestinians engaged in something close to all-out warfare, and with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell heading to the region in the days ahead, FRONTLINE's "Battle for the Holy Land" goes behind the lines to examine this perilous conflict through the eyes of those fighting it on the ground.

Through unique access to combatants on both sides, FRONTLINE's film teams take viewers inside the worlds of Palestinian militants and Israeli commando units, revealing the strategies, weaponry, and intelligence gathering tactics that have fueled the most recent cycle of violence.

In the past fifteen years the Palestinian intifada -- or "shaking off" of Israeli control -- has escalated from schoolboys armed with stones to underground militias armed with assault rifles and suicide bombers armed with high explosives. FRONTLINE takes viewers inside the Al-Aqsa Brigades, a militant group linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization and one of the several secular and Islamic militias that conduct suicide bombings against the Israeli military and civilians alike. Outgunned by Israel's tanks, helicopters, and high-tech surveillance instruments, Al-Aqsa leaders say its missions are designed not only to strike fear into the hearts of Israelis, but also to send them a message.

"Through martyr missions inside Israel and the armed attacks on settlements, we sent a clear message," says Al-Aqsa leader Jihad Ja'arie. "The Israeli street will never enjoy peace until the children of Palestine also enjoy peace."

FRONTLINE goes inside a secret refugee camp in Jenin -- located just a few miles from the Israeli town of Afula -- where a Palestinian "engineer" displays the chemicals that will be used to make explosive belts for suicide bombers. Viewers also witness street fights between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces in which Palestinian civilians -- some of them women and children -- are seen running for cover or getting caught in the crossfire. Such occurrences, Palestinian militia fighters say, justify their suicide tactics aimed at Israeli civilians.

Yet even groups like the Al-Aqsa Brigades recognize that Palestinian street fighters, armed with rifles and homemade bombs, can't hold off the superior Israeli forces forever.

"This type of resistance may create fear in one soldier, but it doesn't lead to a resolution of the conflict," says Al-Aqsa leader Ibrahim Abayat.

The film also presents the current violence from the Israeli standpoint.

FRONTLINE interviews Israeli military leaders, who stress their efforts to distinguish Palestinian combatants from civilians in order to prevent the loss of civilian life. "One of the important things is to decide who is the enemy," says Major General Giora Eiland.

Eighteen months into the current intifada, Israel's military tactics and goals are to arrest or assassinate every Palestinian deemed a terrorist threat. "The [Palestinians] that we are after are ticking bombs," says Colonel "Chico," leader of an elite Israeli commando unit. "We don't stop until we get them, because it really depends on us if they will carry out what they are planning or not."

Going inside two of Israel's special commando units, this report shows the training and high-tech tactics they employ in combating the Palestinian militias. Among the more common Israeli techniques are "closure" -- or blockading a Palestinian town suspected of harboring terrorists -- as well as sending out skilled ambush teams to capture terrorist leaders.

A particularly effective Israeli technique is using Apache helicopters to target and kill specific Palestinians with the aid of sophisticated surveillance equipment. Israeli leaders tell FRONTLINE that such tactics actually save lives by preventing full-scale assaults on whole neighborhoods or cities in an attempt to apprehend or kill a terrorist. Such attacks are not, however, without error: one attack kills a three-year-old Palestinian boy while the intended target escapes with injuries and goes into hiding.

In "Battle for the Holy Land," viewers join a commando unit as it trains for -- and carries out -- a daring nighttime raid within Palestinian terrority. The target: Nasser Zakarna, convicted in Israel as a Hamas terrorist. After weeks of planning and practice drills, the unit storms Zakarna's house, capturing their target as his family -- mainly women and children -- look on.

But while the mission is a success, even Colonel "Chico," its commander, concedes it is but one victory in a seemingly endless conflict.

More than ever, Israelis see this as a fight for their very survival. "You probably know about the Passover Massacre," says Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff. "And I'm asking what would your country, or other countries do if it would happen in their country. So, we don't have other choice. We cannot cower before the terrorism. I believe we have the right to defend our people."

. . . . .

"Battle for the Holy Land" is a FRONTLINE presentation of a Goldvicht Productions/October Films production for the BBC in association with the Kirk Documentary Group. The producers for the BBC are Dominic Allan and Stuart Tanner. The executive producer for October Films is Tom Roberts. The executive producer for Goldvicht Productions is Israel Goldvicht. The series editor for the BBC's "Correspondent" is Fiona Murch. The senior producer for FRONTLINE is Michael Kirk. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

home - on the ground - cycle of violence - can anything end this? - combatants - introduction
discussion - video excerpts - producer chat - map
tapes & transcripts - press - credits - privacy policy
FRONTLINE - wgbh - pbs

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation