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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
War and peace, love and hate in the Middle East. First Yemen where warring parties agreed to a cease fire after more than two years and I speak to the
U.N.’s tireless negotiator, Martin Griffith.
Then, true love that sparks hate in Israel. A Jewish Muslim marriage between two A list media stars.
And finally, the power of empathy, how an Iraqi refugee and a Trump supporter became unlikely friends.
Welcome to the program, everyone, I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
The brutal murder of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, may turn out to a forced one positive outcome. It focused world attention on the
devastating war in Yemen where Saudi airstrikes and a U.S.-backed coalition of fueling a massive humanitarian crisis.
But now, there is a red glimmer of hope, a tentative truce between warring factions was negotiated at peace talks in Sweden. It was the first such
talks since 2016. And the cease fire has just been announced and set to start at midnight local time Tuesday. If it holds, it could help more than
20 million people in Yemen who are in desperate need of humanitarian support. Over 100 children are dying of cholera and famine there every
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Senate, for the very first time ever invoked the War Powers Resolution to order President Trump to end U.S.
support of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. It’s a direct approach also against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.
Leaders from Iran to Washington expressed guarded optimism at the progress towards peace. But the negotiations advance so quickly that crucial
details remain unclear. As U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, spearheaded and shepherded the tentative truce and he joins me now from
Martin Griffiths, welcome to the program
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO YEMEN: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me on.
AMANPOUR: So, as special envoy, clearly you know what I just announced. It’s just been said that there is a ceasefire that is set to go into effect
tomorrow. Give me as much as you know and what you expect that to achieve.
GRIFFITHS: Well, the — as you were saying in your lead in that, the — there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to flesh out the exact timing
of different withdrawals. But essentially, it’s as follows. The ceasefire will go into force at midnight tonight, one minute after midnight. We
would expect the parties at that point to down tools, to stop fighting, the skies would quiet over Hodeidah.
We will plan to hold the first meeting of the monitoring committee that the U.N. will chair with the parties. And that committee is tasked to flesh
out the details, which were discussed in Sweden but need further elaboration.
But essentially, this month, by the end of this month, we should have seen withdrawals of the substantive nature from both the port and away from the
main Sunnah Hodeidah road. So, that’s very, very quick indeed. So, the system is in urgent mode at the moment.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just as you before I get into the nitty gritty of the whens and the wheres and the timings and the withdrawals, et cetera.
Just in, you know, overarching, this seems like extremely good news and you described it is happening very fast after — I mean, literally no movement
whatsoever despite all your best efforts over the last two-and-a-half plus years.
GRIFFITHS: Yes. It was a breakthrough in fact. Because to get parties together around a table or in the same building after two-and-a-half years
of battle which is continuing to — in fierce battles or Yemen, together into the same room was itself something of an achievement and then to be
able to come out from that after eight days in Sweden of really, you know, hard work with this kind of agreement I think is remarkable.
But bear in mind that we had spent many months before Sweden trying to negotiate similar arrangements for Hodeidah with the support of the
Security Council’s. So, we knew where we wanted to go but for the parties to agree with where we all wanted to go is still a remarkable tribute to
AMANPOUR: So, Hodeidah, let’s just be clear, is the main port, it’s the one where all the humanitarian aid should come into and it’s really the
lifeline, the major sea lifeline anyway of Yemen.
So, I just want to know whether you agree that some of the awful things that have happened recently, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi played
a significant part in focusing people’s attentions. How did you notice the willingness of the main major parties change the willingness to engage in
GRIFFITHS: Well, I think I — we were able to see movement, to see change in that regard back in August, August, September, so before the events in
Istanbul. And we saw the Saudis, for example, are clearly a key actor of this, in the lead of the coalition supporting the government of Yemen, we
saw them moving towards the realization I think because of what happened on the battlefield and because of the looming famine that there was really no
alternative now but to move rapidly on a political solution.
The Security Council united all the time on Yemen, which is rather lucky Yemen in that regard, has been calling for exactly that for some time. So,
we saw all predating these more public events that you were describing, we saw a shift in favor of peace. Having said that, there’s no doubt that the
attention, the world attention is helpful in the sense that it focuses all our minds on making this happen.
And what made Sweden work was international consensus and the specific acts of a number of different leaders, one of which Mohammed bin Salman, was
instrumental on three different occasions in regard to the Swedish talks.
AMANPOUR: Well, you are throwing a bone to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia who’s under huge international skepticism and criticism right now.
So, what were the critical moments you say, three critical moments in getting to where we are right now?
GRIFFITHS: The key one was a conversation that the secretary general of the U.N. who, as you know, came to Sweden as the closer for those last 24
hours, spoke to the crown prince. He also spoke to President Hadi of Yemen, and these conversations, behind the scenes, formed sort of what made
the confidence available to agree on Hodeidah in particular. So, that was of critical importance in those last hours.
So, I’m not trying anybody a burden, I’m simply describing what happened. And what is important to remember about Yemen, I think, is that there is a
consensus internationally in many countries, in the Security Council and among Yemenis that this can be resolved and should now be so.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s go through some of the public statements. You just mentioned the Secretary General. I want to play what he said and then have
you flesh out exactly what you think is going to happen at Hodeidah. This is what he said about what should happen at the port.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: You have reached an agreement on Hodeidah Port and city. Which was seen a mutual really (INAUDIBLE) forces
from the port and the city and the establishment of the (INAUDIBLE) cease fire. You then (INAUDIBLE) in the ports and this will facilitate
humanitarian access on the (INAUDIBLE) to the civilian population and it will improve the living conditions for millions of Yemenis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: OK. So, do you know now any more details as to exactly how that is to work? I mean, have warring parties said that they will hand over
control of the port to the U.N.? Is there a fixed time line? Are you confident that this actually will happen?
GRIFFITHS: We have lots of detail on that. For example, because it will be the World Food Program which will take the lead in backstopping the Port
Authority and improving conditions in the port and making sure that customs and revenues is handled a new way. They have already plans for how many
people they need to deploy and when they can do it.
So, in terms of the United Nations system’s response to what the secretary general was announcing that I think we’re well on the way to putting those
things in place. What we hope will happen is this, the cease fire will come into force, as we say, in a few hours’ time. We hope the fighting
will stop but, in the beginning, it won’t be monitored.
U.N. monitors will deploy as soon as possible, we hope to get the first core team in there before the end of the week to monitor and report to the
Security Council weekly on whether the parties are compliant.
And the first withdrawals would be from the port and then to allow the key humanitarian road from Hodeidah to Sanaa where supplies will go from the
port through Sanaa to rest of the country of vital importance will then open up. And we hope that that will happen, as I was saying earlier,
before the end of December.
And I think it’s important to recognize that these withdrawals and redeployments are essentially guided by the sense of humanitarian need.
So, liberating the port and enabling the U.N. to backstop it is humanitarian, opening up that road, which was now closed through conflict
from Hodeidah to Saana similarly. This is a humanitarian project, a humanitarian stopgap to enable the people of Yemen to avoid the
catastrophes that we fear.
But it goes beyond that. There is, as you — as the secretary general said, a governor wide, a province wide ceasefire. And we have to remember
that not only is Hodeidah the humanitarian hub for the country, it’s also the center of gravity of the war, it’s where the main battles have been
going on in recent weeks.
So, calling a ceasefire in Hodeidah is a massive signal to the people of Yemen that something new is possible that might — we might see something
happening. So, I think if we can make all this happen according to plan we will be very, very fortunate and the people of Yemen will notice a new
prospect for the future.
AMANPOUR: So, what the future, will that involve another round of convening of all these officials once the humanitarian corridors have been
opened, if indeed that does happen to your expectations? Is there next planned a political settlement?
GRIFFITHS: Yes. We have to negotiate a political settlement on the basis of the Security Council resolutions that guide me, of course, 2216 is the
main one. And essentially, we need a political agreement between the governor of Yemen and the parties and Sanaa and (INAUDIBLE) to — who came
together in Sweden to resolve the issues of the war, to return to the state the monopoly of force with withdrawals and disarmament, to form a coalition
What I hope to do is to reconvene the parties in late January, the secretary general spoke to President Hadi about that last Thursday, so that
we can start the process of looking at the political issues and the substance of any eventual agreement.
There is so much experience in previous talks in Yemen of the options. The latest, the last one, sadly being two years ago, but such a lot of
experience we could draw that I believe that we can go fairly quickly if the political will is there to a settlement that will end the war and that
will give us the basis to start building peace.
AMANPOUR: So, let us talk about the political will (ph) and again, you are highly experienced and you know what this is all about, this is a proxy war
between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I mean, that’s what is being portrayed as, it’s the Saudi-led coalition for the free Yemeni forces versus the Iranian-
backed Houthis or at least that’s what the public narrative is.
Why all of a sudden is — will they be political will to settle what essentially is a fight between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the UAE versus
GRIFFITHS: Well, I don’t actually agree with that narrative. I don’t think it is a simple proxy war, as indeed you rightly say, is often
described as such. I think it’s firstly a Yemeni wall between Ansarullah, the Houthi movement, and the government of Yemen. And by the way, one in a
series that they’ve been fighting each other for some years. So, that’s the primary one and that’s got nothing to do with Saudi Arabia or Iran.
But clearly, there are interests at stake. We all know that there’s nothing surprising. I don’t think there’s anything shocking about that.
So, to resolve this conflict, we have to combine both mediation between the Yemeni parties of the sort that we saw last week as well as sort of an
alignment of international interests.
And indeed, Sweden did that too because Sweden was not only negotiated around the table in Sweden there was constant contact with these various
capitals to get help, to ensure that what were the parties were discussing could be translated into agreements. We need to continue that. I believe
there is a new wave of political will to settle this conflict. I think the terrible threat of famine has been a huge focus for all of our minds.
Secondly, I didn’t — I think it’s very clear the battle ground is not the place where this conflict will be resolved, months of assault on Hodeidah
did not lead to a solution there. So, I think the parties can see that military solution is not available, political solution has to be the one
that is now the priority.
AMANPOUR: So, then is this a contradictory statement or a statement that recognizes what you’ve just said? This is from Khalid bin Salman who Saudi
Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., this is as this these talks were well underway, December 30, last week. He said, “The legitimate Government of
Yemen supported the former U.N. envoy’s proposal of U.N. control over the Port of Hodeidah. The Houthis refused and only consistent military
pressure by the Yemeni armed forces and the Arab coalition force them to agree.”
So, essentially saying well, actually it was a military solution and we’ve beaten them to the negotiating table.
GRIFFITHS: Yes. Well, I think he may be right, you know. I am not a military person and I — you know, there’s a limit to how much you or I can
peer into the minds of those who may be responding to pressure or maybe responding to opportunity or even just doing the right thing. So, I think
everybody has a different narrative where they come to.
For me, what’s important and I’m sure for the people in Yemen what’s important, is simply sensible offers put to the parties that can be backed
up verifiable compliance. And the — what the United Nations brings to this with the support of the Security Council, of course, is the second.
We’re able to put office in front of the table to the parties but we can also help with the verification of those offers in the compliance of the
So, it maybe political, it maybe military pressure, it maybe political opportunity, whatever it is, something happened last week in Sweden and
it’s up to me to capitalize on it.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. And you seem to be capitalizing very well and the people of Yemen will thank you and they obviously need an enormous amount
of help. I mean, millions and millions, as you said, are on the verge of starvation if nothing changes and we’ve seen, as I’ve said, so many
children dying every day of cholera and famine and the pictures are truly heartbreaking.
I just want to put this to you though in terms of pressure. I mean, clearly, Saudi Arabia cares what happens in the United States, in
Washington, its biggest arms supplier, its biggest backer is the United States and the Senate, as I’ve said, did invoke the War Powers Resolution
to prevent President Trump continuing support. Obviously, the House has a say and the House disagrees but this could change.
So, clearly the participants were also looking at what was happening to their backing. But what I actually want you to respond to is the
following. I spoke to Houthi-backed foreign minister, Hisham Sharaf Abdullah, who I believe was at the talks. And he actually said as much as
they thank you for your efforts and the U.N., the real center of gravity is in Washington. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HISHAM SHARAF ABDULLAH, HOUTHI-BACKED YEMENI FOREIGN MINISTER: The only country in the world that can stop the war, and I say it in front of the
whole world, is the United States not the United Nations. It’s the U.S. who can stop this war because they are the strongest backers of the Saudis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What do you say to that, Martin Griffiths? I mean, you know, he’s basically saying that, “Well, it’s not you actually it is the United
GRIFFITHS: I’m happy with that. You know, the U.N. doesn’t have any battalions as the pope, it has no battalions. The U.S. is playing an
absolutely crucial role in — at this moment, I believe, and I say that because I have many, many contacts with U.S. officials, both in the region
and back in Washington, and the secretary general even more so than me.
So, the U.S. has a key role in helping nudge the events forward in the right way and they have been doing so. They have been very, very active on
this file, not just with their allies in the Saudi-led coalition but with others. And the British foreign secretary, as you know. came to Sweden
also as a sort of closing encouragement and he met with the leaders from both parties. That’s the first time, I think, that British foreign
minister has met with representatives of Ansarullah.
That’s good news for me. The more help we get from powers the happier Yemen will be. But this is the U.N. view, of course, it’s a Yemeni
solution that needs to be decided. So, the solution is not in Washington, the solution is not in Riyadh, the solution is between Yemenis, and that’s
part of the U.N.’s job, I think, it’s to preserve that value.
That’s why it was incredibly important for me that the secretary general decided to attend to help, he may just work very hard, to help the end of
that eight days in Sweden and to understand what happened there. I mean, you don’t say no to the secretary general very easily. So, I think that
was also very, very important.
AMANPOUR: At least not to his face. Of course, we have to wait and see what actually does transpire on the ground and whether the cease fire does
go into effect and everybody will be hoping it does.
I just wanted you just to end by sort of laying out the disastrous fate of the Yemeni people under this bombardment, under this — you know, this war
that’s gone on for the last three plus years. You know, we talked about millions of people facing famine and it is extraordinary, it is
extraordinary that people in the United States are really attuned now to this and it is since the murder of Khashoggi that Yemen was put front and
center and they’ve seen pictures and they’re really horrified by it. Just explain what will happen to the people there if this ceasefire doesn’t
GRIFFITHS: And I (INAUDIBLE) that is your question because they’re — you know nobody should be too complacent about that. There are lots of reasons
why it may not stick, why things may go wrong or not in time. So, I think it’s incredibly important to stay focused on trying to make it work.
But I’m glad you put that question because the alternative is horrifying. Famine is different, as you know, from hunger. Famine is a viral problem
and famine is already in some of the provinces of Yemen. And if we don’t preserve the humanitarian pipeline, which is where we started this
conversation, then there’s every likelihood that famine will grow and cholera with it.
And UNICEF, I remember having a conversation with the Henrietta Fore, who went to Yemen not long ago. And she said to me, you know, “People talk
about this being a failing state, it’s failed.” The systems aren’t there now. The numbers are frightening. U.N. is already feeding 8 million a
month people. There is a fear that it could go to 14, that’s half the population of Yemen. The costs of this program are enormous.
And I believe one of the reasons why this war has gone on as long as it has is because those pictures haven’t come out of Yemen, it’s been difficult,
as you know, of course, for journalists to get access to the parts of Yemen that they need to tell the story and it’s extraordinarily important that
they have done and they are doing and this is a spur to all of us.
So — and finally, Yemen is important not just for the Gulf region. I’m in Brussels at the moment. The Red Sea shipping lanes and the trade that
comes through there is of huge importance, of course, for Europe. Yemen, it’s geography, makes it of a critically important state and stability in
Yemen, and we haven’t even touched on the issue of terrorism in Yemen. So, it is in Yemen is important for all of us, not just for people in their
region and not just the Yemenis themselves.
AMANPOUR: Yes, indeed. Well, we really wanted to focus on the plight of the people because we do remember how huge it was as a generator of
terrorism, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and all the plots that have come out of there. So, for every reason, it’s important that this be
solved. Martin Griffiths, thank you very much for joining us.
GRIFFITHS: Thank you very much indeed.
AMANPOUR: So, Yemen is hardly the only place in the Middle East where people are coming together to form a better future or to try. Like Romeo
and Juliet, Lucy Aharish and Tsahi Halevi came from different worlds, both Israeli but one Jewish and the other Arab and Muslim. They are both
prominent public figures.
She is the first Arab Israeli to present the news in Hebrew on national television. He is an actor on the hit Netflix show, “Fauda,” which is a
thriller about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And like Shakespeare’s characters they got married in secret in a private ceremony away from the
public gaze. It’s hard to believe but the Israeli government there doesn’t like all this, it doesn’t recognize Israeli interfaith marriage and it
doesn’t condone assimilation.
Joining me now from Tel Aviv are Lucy Aharish and Tsahi Halev. Welcome to the program.
TSAHI HALEV, ISRAELI ACTOR, “FAUDA”: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Let me start by asking you across the — oh no, no. Come on, come on. I said stepped all over you. Tell me you’re greeting. Go ahead.
LUCY AHARISH, ISRAELI NEWS ANCHOR, “RESHET 13”: I will say it in Hebrew?
HALEV: Yes, of course.
AHARISH: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
HALEV: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
AMANPOUR: And actually, Lucy, let me ask you to say in Arabic as well because that’s what kind of started getting you into trouble. How do you
open your broadcast every evening?
AHARISH: I open my broadcast as every evening by saying (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE). This is Lucy Aharish. It’s (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN
And this is causing me a lot of trouble for some people. You know, some of the viewers of our channel doesn’t really like the fact that I am greeting
in Arabic also. And I can say that on a weekly basis, we are getting some complaining from the viewers that this is not OK, that I am basically
greeting in Arabic, that this is an Israeli channel, that this is a Jewish country and I should know my — where I am living and I should know not to
open the show in Arabic. And that cause, let’s say, a lot of buzz.
But I’ve been doing that for the last six years on my show. I started the show in the morning. So, then I said (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE). And
then, I started — and then, when the show started being broadcast in the evening, so I said, (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE). And for some viewers
it really, really irritated them and they felt uncomfortable hearing me speaking in Arabic.
HALEV: And so, the minute we got — we heard about the letters, since I’m basically a musician, a singer, songwriter, so we decided to take one of
the letters and put on a melody, a nice melody and present it as a song and this is what brought —
AHARISH: Yes. Because —
HALEV: — birth to the song, “Masaa al-Khair.”
AHARISH: Yes. Because unlike other — actually, I have to say that, unlike other letters that we got to channel, that letter was actually
written in a really polite nice way, no — you know, nobody cursed me like other times, nobody threatened me like other times. And that was like he
just said that it’s not OK and that my managers need to do something about that. So —
AMANPOUR: So, you responded —
AHARISH: — what do you say, maybe we should compose that.
AMANPOUR: Yes. So, so you did and we have a clip. So, we’re going to play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Tsahi, what is it saying? I mean, what does the song say?
HALEV: Well, it talks — actually, it just talks about the letter was complaining about the fact that Lucy is using masaa al-khair as a greeting
in Arabic. And since it’s an Israeli channel there shouldn’t be any Arabic — you know, spoken in Arabic on the other show.
What I took out of it is actually (INAUDIBLE), is actually to — you know, to give greetings to someone. I said, I mean, what’s so bad in greeting?
I doesn’t matter in — you know, in any language. It’s something positive. So, let’s take that as kind of chorus and just, you know —
AMANPOUR: So, let me then — let me ask you because it’s one thing to have people upset about a greeting that you make on your television channel, but
let’s not forget that you guys are actually married and you are in an interfaith marriage. As I’ve said, Trahi, you’re Jewish, as I’ve said,
Lucy, you are an Arab Israeli, you’re Muslim, and there’s been a lot of backlash to that. What is the heart of the criticism, Lucy, that you guys
AHARISH: Basically that, that we got married, that a Muslim woman married a Jewish man.
You know, yes, we got a lot of backlash, I have to say. There were a lot of bad comments from all over, like the Arab side and Jewish side, like
extremists from both sides. But, you know, if we had to focus on something we want to focus on the enormous amount of love that we got from so many,
so many in Israel, like Jewish and Arab that at the end of the day said, “You know what, guys, this is your life. Do whatever you want. If you
love one another, let love win,” you know the biggest cliche ever.
And yes, yes. I cannot tell you that it was not hard, it was not harsh and it was not painful to look at all the bad comments that we are getting.
But at the end of the day — you know, the day after the wedding, we got this post that a principal in one of the schools in Israel started the day
– the day after the wedding, on a school day, by talking with all the students about tolerance and being equal and treating people in an equal
way and loving no matter what.
And at the end of that day, the students put on the wall of this big poster, and saying love no matter who you are, what you are and where
you’re coming from, congratulations Lucy (inaudible). Well – and for us, you know, that was not the purpose, when we got married, but it’s this is
what is coming out of this marriage.
So you know what? We did our job.
AMANPOUR: So – so it’s really important –
HALEVI: You know, we respect (ph) each one’s –
AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead – go ahead, Tsahi.
HALEVI: What I want to say is, you know, we understand completely that it’s not something that is very typical, although it happens. You know,
here in Israel, we have Muslim citizens and Jews and Christians and Jews. We have people from different religions working in different – you know,
doctors and judges.
So it’s something that there is a mutual life, we can understand why, for some people, it’s hard to understand why, you know, whether it’s on the
Muslim side, or the Jewish side, to keep – you know, to keep the heritage, or you know, whatever. Each one has his own ideas. I want people to (ph)
And it’s not that it was very, also, easy for us, you know, within our inner-circles, but the minute we got the – you know, the backup and the
love from our close families, then that was the most important thing for us. And like I said, we respect each one’s ideas and –
AMANPOUR: So – so let’s – let’s not forget that this all happening in the backdrop of an unresolved war between Israel and the Palestinians, and an
ongoing war, and no political, or peace, settlement.
It – it seems like Yemen is doing more towards peace than Israel and the Palestinians right now. So simply to say that, Tsahi, you play a character
in this – this amazing drama, this – really, a viral Netflix hit called “Fauda.”
And here’s a little clip, because your character, Naor, impersonates an imprisoned terrorist in order to get information out a member of Hamas. So
we’re going to play this little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Did those animals hang you upside down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No, wish they did. They beat me up, and then they tied me up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Did they ask you about me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): So what was the interrogation about?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): About the Hamas tunnels and ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): ISIS?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They said that Sheikh Awdallah’s son swore allegiance to ISIS. The Jews are afraid of him. But you mustn’t
believe the Jews, they’re all liars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So I just want to ask you what it was like playing that part. And several of you – several of you who are the actors also, like many
Israelis, served in the Israeli Defense Forces.
I believe you were an undercover operative, perhaps doing some of these actual jobs, when you were actually in the IDF. It’s sort of like life
imitating art. But just speak to that role at a time when, you know, there’s still no real peace efforts between the two sides.
HALEVI: Well, actually, I think what’s – what was special about “Fauda,” whether it’s, you know, the first season or the second season, the whole
essence of “Fauda,” although it’s not a documentary, it’s a fiction.
It does deal with this Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and you know, the fact of us, first of all, Muslim and Jewish actors play together in this
project. And besides being a great action series, I think it does expose this Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a certain way that is not exposed when
you see it through the media.
You know, eventually it deals – you get to know both sides, but you get to know the different colors. You get to know the humanity behind the fact of
being a Palestinian or an Israeli, and to understand you cannot generalize. When you say Palestinians, or when you say Israelis, it’s not – it’s not a
On both sides, you have different opinions, you have different people with different ideas, you have people with feelings that – that they all – they
live – they have fear, they have hate, they have love.
So I think, in that sense, it made all of us, as actors, understand that we’re doing something – we’re proud of something that is – is very
And actually that scene, Play with (inaudible) is a great Muslim actor that I had the privilege of playing — with both started our acting career in a
movie called (Inaudible). So for me, those things (ph) was kind of, you know, closing a circle with him after five years playing together. It was
— it was incredible.
AMANPOUR: Well, you’re — you’re — you’re talking about a really important thing and that is an Israeli meeting a Palestinian and actually,
you know, developing empathy and feelings and understanding for each other.
But I want to ask you, Lucy, because you told on — you told us a while back that perhaps this enormous division, you said, we used to speak of it
as a war between Jewish and Arab, Israelis and Palestinians.
But it’s not that anymore, you said. This is a war of religion. So, you know, there used to be a consensus amongst the Israeli people for peace and
for a two state solution. Do you feel that anymore?
AHARISH: You know I’m — I’m optimistic. I’m an optimistic person. Like a lot of people are asking me how can you still be optimistic about
everything that is happening in the Middle East, about everything that is happening in Israel, and you know at the end of the day I think that you
can understand why I feel in love with this guy because — because of — of this.
Because at the end of the day we are — yes, we — there is a lot of coexistence in Israel. There is a lot of coexistence in — in the regions.
But us, as media, are not actually showing it.
And you can — exactly on this phrase by generalizing and you can talk a lot about what is happening is Israel. You know Christiane; I’m getting a
lot of critiques inside the Israeli society about me criticizing either the Arab side or the Jewish side about things that are happening in the state
And a lot of times I was called a traitor. I was called someone who forgets who she was or where she came from. I was called by names or — or
you know threatened or one and a half million things.
But at the end of the day, you know, I’m living in a democracy and the only democracy in the Middle East. And as an Arab, as a Muslim, as an Israeli I
know that in one way or another I’m standing on some kind of a bridge.
And this bridge gives me the opportunity to look at things in a different way. The course of my life, the things that I went and the things that I
saw made — gave me the opportunity to actually see things from both sides.
And I can tell you today that both sides in this conflict are wrong and both sides are not like saints. And you know I love my country and I love
Israel and for me it’s like I’m always saying that loving your countries is like loving your parents.
It’s like, you know, you love your parents to death. You will do everything for them but sometimes you can also criticize your parents. And
sometimes you can say that well, maybe I won’t raise my children the way that my parents did. And this is the same way when I’m criticizing my
AMANPOUR: Yes, all right. Lucy .
AHARISH: So I think that both sides have .
AMANPOUR: Go ahead. Yes. Lucy Aharish and Tsahi Halevi, I wish we had more time to talk but you’ve made a very, very important point and you are
public about what love between two different sides can look like and that is a pressure point and we appreciate you being with us.
So from love to friendship, the barriers that seem to keep people apart can often vanish within minutes of actually meeting and talking. That is
especially apparent with our next guest Bnyard Sharef and Maggie Anderson.
He was an Iraqi refugee living in America. She was an enthusiastic supporter of then candidate Trump’s tough stance against Muslim refugees.
It was only by a stroke of luck that the two met and developed an enduring friendship that overcame their initial differences. They’re story went
viral after a report was published on mic.com (ph) and they told our Michel Martin about their transformative relationship.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MICHEL MARTIN: Bnyard Sharef, Maggie Anderson; thank you so much for being with us today. So let me just start by asking how you met. I
understand it was a photo shoot for Catholic relief services. Sharef, you want to start?
BNYARD SHAREF, IRAQI REFUGEE: Yes, so I was with my — I was working with an organization in
Tennessee, Nashville where I live, and they — I heard about this campaign and they asked me to be a part of it. We’re a Catholic relief services with
a photographer called Jeremy Cowart.
They made this project to get together immigrants and refugees and — together with people who are in some ways fearful or have – aren’t very
welcome of immigrants and refugees. So, that’s how I — I went in to this. It was just a day long thing. And that’s where I was photographed with —
MARTIN: With Maggie.
MARTIN: Maggie. OK, so Maggie did you sign up for this or how did you — how did you get involved with that?
MAGGIE ANDERSON, SUPPORTED MUSLIM BAN: I was actually walking in the mall trying to get my phone fixed. And someone came up to me; I kept like
telling them I like don’t want to answer your question because those were the people with clipboards (ph). And then eventually they asked me do you
think refugees should enter the country? And I was like no. And I was the first person to say that. So, they asked me to join this campaign and I
told them yes.
MARTIN: Really? What made you do it?
ANDERSON: I love politics, I`ve been obsessed with it my whole life. They like offered me $300. And I would’ve done it for free. I like go downtown
at my — like it’s a nice small town and debate people for fun. So, it was a pretty cool opportunity.
MARTIN: Did you realize that you were going to paired with somebody–
MARTIN: — from an immigrant background and take a picture together?
ANDERSON: No. But like once I got there, I saw people who were like obviously, like refugees. And I was disappointed with myself because I
should’ve saw it coming. In my head I was like of course they’re going to make me tell this to like an actual person, not just like ideas.
MARTIN: And so what happened?
ANDERSON: I was taking my portraits. And then Bnyad came. And they had us take a photo holding Muslin prayer beads. And then I had my rosary like
around my neck, I’m Catholic, and so I took it off. And then we took a photo where Bnyad held like the Catholic rosary, and I held the Muslim
MARTIN: How did you feel about that?
ANDERSON: I was a little concerned at first. But at the same time, I really appreciated it because it was like pluralistic. He was the opposite
of what I pictured Muslim people to be in my head at the time.
MARTIN: And what did you — how did you feel about that?
SHAREF: Yes. Well, I mean I had no idea even while I was being photographed with Maggie. I had no idea that she didn’t welcome — she
didn’t want refugees to be able to (inaudible) in the U.S. She was just a young person there. And we talked a little bit, very normal conversations.
MARTIN: So, you didn’t get a vibe from her that she didn’t like you or–
SHAREF: No, yes.
MARTIN: Or she was scared of you? You got no negative vibes?
SHAREF: I didn’t get that – yes.
MARTIN: So, how did you find out later that she really wasn’t digging your act?
SHAREF: Yes, so we talk on the set and she’s like I’ve studied Islam and religions. And we talk a little bit more and we — I asked her if she
wanted to continue this conversation over coffee. And we exchanged contact information. And I found her online.
And as soon as I go to her Facebook page, I see her Facebook cover photo is her — of her at a Trump rally. And her newsfeed is very obviously all
rightwing news sources like not welcoming refugees, things like that. And she — I thinks he got her — Trump’s autograph or something like very
And she was very vocal about it. Her — had like all her newsfeed was headlines about refugees being banned or committing crimes and doing bad
things to this country which I was — it was — it came of like a shock to me.
MARTIN: And when you saw that, did you still want to go get coffee?
SHAREF: I was — I was like I think she just tricked me or she has another motive for seeing me. Maybe she’s going to harass me or just make fun of
me, I was — I had no– like it was unknown to me.
MARTIN: Maggie, tell me. I know that you’re interested in religion. That you spent a lot of time studying–
MARTIN: — religion and your choice to embrace Catholicism was a choice for example.
MARTIN: As something that you came to after a period of study. What was it about Muslims that still concerns you?
ANDERSON: I was studying Islam a lot. Like my sophomore year of high school, I read the whole Quran. And in parts of Islam, there’s a thing
called chronic aggregation.
So like, because it contradicts itself so much, everything in the back of the book or the things Muhammad said later supersede the beginning. And
so the problem with that is that all the stuff in the back of the book is like the not so peaceful verses.
MARTIN: So, you associated with violence and the hostility toward non- Muslims?
ANDERSON: And terrorism in general too. And I — I also take an international terrorism class. But after that class, I continued studying.
But the sources I had were like very rightwing sources that well, obviously there is an issue with terrorism in the Islamic community, they generalized
it to every single Muslim.
MARTIN: When Bnyad said to you, hey, let’s get together and continue this conversation, what did you think?
ANDERSON: I thought he was going to try to convert me to Islam. So, I studied so much about like Christianity and the history and the Catholic
Church, because I was going to try to like counter convert him to Catholicism.
But then we — our conversations we had was just like a normal conversation that we respected each other. And we’d like talk about topics, but it
wasn’t like — it was like a pluralistic in nature rather than like hateful.
MARTIN: And that surprised you?
ANDERSON: A little bit at first, yes.
MARTIN: Yes, have you ever met any Muslims before?
ANDERSON: Many actually.
ANDERSON: The one thing that like was bizarre to me is like I don’t — I can’t comprehend how I had these beliefs because my senior high school, my
two best friends was a girl from Pakistan and a girl from Kazakhstan. One of the — only one of them was like very religious.
But in my heart I feel as though I blamed it on the male — like men in Islam rather than the woman. I kind of saw the women and children as
MARTIN: And what about the refugee aspect, rather the immigrant aspect of it?
ANDERSON: I was fearful that people would come and like rape statistics will go up and women will be abused and that gay people and hate crimes
would occur. Those were like my biggest concerns, I guess.
And so I was just fearful that with like a huge influx of refugees like all the parts of America that I love would be like taken away because it’s like
a relatively safe country in comparison but I no longer find that to be true.
MARTIN: Bnyad, I’m just going to ask you is it hard to sit here and hear that? Like to hear that — like somebody sitting next to you thought that
you, you’re family, other people that you know would be — come here (inaudible), you know, attacking people. Is that — is that hard to hear?
SHAREF: It is really hard and what’s even harder is that she’s not the only person to believe that and it’s — yes, I think it speaks to that a
lot of people think the same way and that is very unsettling to think about it.
MARTIN: You are born in Iraqi and your dad was a translator for the U.S. army and so tell me it is why it is that you are — your family decided to
SHAREF: Yes. That’s — so my family — my dad, he worked with U.S. government around the time when the U.S. forces came into Iraq around 2002
and 2003. You know Iraq, as soon as I was born; Iraq has been in terrible place over the years.
What my dad did when — was — there was a promise for a better future for Iraq and a democratic free future and my dad really believed in that and he
was — he wanted this new promise — this new promising future and he was willing to risk his life to help be part of it.
And unknowingly that affiliation with the U.S. government had turned him into a target to a lot of people.
MARTIN: What was it that made your father, your parents feel it was finally time to go?
SHAREF: Well, it was — the final straw was that in 2014 was when the — ISIS was getting — gaining a lot of strong hold in northern Iraq and
becoming a much bigger problem and it was, I think that that moment my father decided that it was time for him to get on this program that the
U.S. government had established to bring — resettle the allies to the United States.
And he — he had the opportunity to do this before but it was at that moment that was when he decided that it was finally time to do it.
MARTIN: And how long did it take before you were able to get your VISAs?
SHAREF: It took about three years. When they finally gave us the yes, it was around December 2016, around election time here in the U.S.
MARTIN: We’re you following what was going on in the election from Iraq? Did you — did you — were you aware of the conversations that people were
SHAREF: Yes, we were very loosely following it. We weren’t that detailed into it.
MARTIN: And then it did happen that there was a — an attempt to impose a ban and it actually happened overnight. And then you were caught in that.
I just want to play a short — a clip from that day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FUAD SHAREF: This is my wife and this is my little daughter. I was denied the boarding flight to JFK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) worked with the U.S. government in Iraq as a translator, putting his life on the line. It took two years to get
approved for special VISAs for him and his family. They’re original flight ended up being scheduled for just hours after the travel band went into
F. SHAREF: I sold my house. I quit my job. My wife quit her job. And kids left school. All this and — and — and I paid $5,000 for the
tickets, all went down the drain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: I can only imagine what that felt like but do you mind trying to describe what it was like for you when you were on the plane and your
family was taken off the plane.
SHAREF: Yes, well it was very, very nerve racking and a lot of despair. I mean I remember when they told us that they’re not going to let us board.
I just completely fell to the floor and we were, I guess, sitting there not knowing what’s going to happen next.
MARTIN: Maggie, you saw the story about Bnyad on ABC when it first aired. What was your reaction?
ANDERSON: I was sitting in the living room of my house with my sister.
And I turned and looked at her and I said this is liberal propaganda. They’re taking one family story and generalizing it to all Muslims.
MARTIN: And then you saw it again.
ANDERSON: Yes, because I was trying to learn how like to say his name.
MARTIN: And you realized it was this guy that you –
MARTIN: – you had just met?
ANDERSON: I watched it, and it actually made me cry because I was so horrified, because, in my head, that’s not the people I was stopping from
entering the country. Bnyad is not an extreme terrorist, or an extreme Muslim. He’s like far from that.
I saw the statistics, not people, and after watching that video, I like removed the stuff off of my social media. And I then I continued like
researching and hearing other people’s stories. And then, at that point, I changed my mind about refugees.
MARTIN: Did you tell Bnyad?
ANDERSON: Yes, I sent him a text.
SHAREF: I remembered just – I couldn’t believe what happened. I mean I had just checked Facebook, and she had removed everything. And I was like
– I realized how powerful it was to have interaction and you know, have a human connection.
S o I was – I just – I was just – my reaction was, “I need to tell somebody what just happened, because I don’t believe it.”
MARTIN: And the rest is kind of –
SHAREF: Yes, history.
MARTIN: – history, right. The rest is history, so now you all are friends, right. You’re sort of friends. So kind of – let’s dig in here.
Maggie, it’s not that that information wasn’t available before, and in fact, you saw Bnyad’s story before, and you choose not to believe it. But
now, you’ve chosen to believe it.
MARTIN: Why do you think that is?
ANDERSON: It was the difference between like seeing a video on the internet and then seeing like an actual person in real life.
MARTIN: So the question I’m having now is what do we do with this, because so much of the way we interact these days is projecting through like social
media and stuff like that? What – do you – do you think, in your friendship, there’s sort of a way forward for the rest of us? What should
ANDERSON: People, in general, and like Americans, when you talk about politics, they’re so concerned about I need to be right, and I need to
change this person’s mind, instead of looking at an issue and saying this is a problem and what’s the best way to solve it.
So I feel like most people are so prideful, and their opinions, at least in my case, where it’s – it’s too hard to say no, I’m wrong. So people just
start like getting upset, rather than like actually listening, like actively, to the person they’re talking with.
MARTIN: Bnyad, is there anything Maggie’s changed your mind about?
SHAREF: Yes, I think it really – I had lot of stereotypes, and I mean I picture a Trump supporter as one, a prototype thing (ph). I didn’t view
them as more complicated. There’s a lot of people who voted for Trump for something that – like one issue that they believed in that really wanted
some political candidate to speak on that issue.
And he picked up on that issue, and that’s why they support him. And it’s not that –
maybe that they’re just probably not racist at all.
MARTIN: I don’t know if you still consider yourself a Trump supporter, but what was your main reason for supporting Trump? I mean you’ve already said
it, it was part of his policy toward immigration that you agreed with. But were there other reasons?
ANDERSON: Yes, I agree – I still agree with some of the things that Donald Trump stands for. For example, I’m like a free – I’m like full free speech
of all forms, like no matter what.
And I found that he supported that more. I’m also, like pro the 2nd Amendment, and I’m very prolife. That’s like on thing I will never change
my mind about, and it’s also part of the reason why I changed my mind about immigration.
MARTIN: Tell me more about that.
ANDERSON: Well, I’m like so prolife, and I’m always like so concerned about like you can’t just kill, in my opinion, like the life of a baby even
if they’re not born. But you can’t just be prolife for that person, I need to be prolife for all people.
So that means if they’re immigrants that want to enter the country to like better their lives, that’s like a prolife stance as well. It’s not just
like – it’s not just about abortion.
MARTIN: So you’re talking to people, in part, because you want people to know that this kind of conversation is possible. Where do you think it
goes next? Do you have anyt thought out that?
SHAREF: What I want to – my message is that to not take everything – I mean you see, like a new story, for example, do not take that and believe
in that like as your total belief. I think people – there should be – it’s – everything is more complicated than we realize.
ANDERSON: Americans, in general, on both sides, in my opinion, need to learn how to look at the other side with a like – like still with a
critical eye, but with an understanding that what they’re saying could be true, and there’s a possibility that you’re wrong.
MARTIN: So Maggie, has this – has your friendship with Bnyad changed your trajectory for your life in any way? I mean has it changed what you want
ANDERSON: Yes. Now, I’m planning on going to college to become an immigration attorney. So I’ve changed people’s minds against refugees
before in the past, just the things I’ve in my town, in debating people.
And I feel morally obligated to like undo that, but I also would like to help. Immigration is now one of my most important political issues.
MARTIN: Bnyad Sharef, Maggie Anderson, thank you both so much for talking with us.
ANDERSON: Thank you.
SHAREF: Thank you.
MARTIN: And for being open minded.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Hearing the story of the other, the essential ingredient to any kind of conflict resolution, that and having an open mind.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.