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Special Event

Crisis in the Middle East: Palestinian and Jewish Youths Exchange Views

Aired October 10, 2000 - 8:30 p.m. ET


JIM MORET, CNN ANCHOR: The fighting in the Middle East is played out on television screens around the world. It can be especially difficult to watch for those with family ties to the region. Tonight, Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno sits down with children of the conflict to get their views on the fighting and their hopes for peace.


FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I'm joined by six young people now with deep emotional and personal ties to the Middle East. Among those who join us, Jawad Issa. He is a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian attending high school in Maine, spend five years in Gaza, where his family lives today.

Noam Shelef lived in Israel for eight years. An Israeli citizen, he recently graduated from George Washington, University here in Washington, D.C. and works for Americans for Peace Now. That's an organization seeking peaceful relations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Tanya Nawas, her uncle is a senior adviser to Yasser Arafat. A Palestinian-American, she was raised in the United States but baptized in Jerusalem, where she returns every summer now to visit her relatives.

Matt Slovick is a freshman at Duke University. Like Tanya and Jawad, Matt is a member of Seeds of Peace. That's an international organization that aims at conflict resolution by bringing Palestinian, Arab and Israeli young people together. Matt was friends with a 17- year-old Arab-Israeli boy who was killed during the recent violence in the region.

Zeina Hamad, her brother currently works in the West Bank for the United Nations. She's a high school student here in the Washington, D.C. area, a senior, and one of her first childhood memories, she tells us, is of her mother being thrown to the ground by Israeli soldiers when she was trying to prevent two Palestinian boys from being taken away.

Also with us is Tamar Aranoff (ph), a senior at the University of Maryland and an intern with the Jewish Peace Lobby. Her last visit to the region, to Jerusalem, actually, was last January. So it's an area you know well. And thank you all for coming in.

All of you are unique in your perspective, because you are all young, the future is yours, what happens in this region is very much going to affect your lives as well as the place that is the birthplace of your family. As you have watched the events, these violent events unfold over the last couple of weeks, what have you thought about yourself and the future of the place you call home?

JAWAD ISSA, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: It was a very hard time. My family there, they're not feeling very good. But they're trying not to convey to me that they are scared because they don't want me to feel uncomfortable. And one of the very unique things about this conflict is one time I was talking to my brother, like, which was five days ago, and he's 8 years old. And he was telling me about all these riots, and he was saying that there's a helicopter over the house which is throwing rockets at the rioters.

So I was, you know, I was kind of bothered, because right now my brother will have this image typed in his memory that to break up the riot you need a helicopter, which is very untrue.

SESNO: Matthew.

MATTHEW SLOVICK, DUKE UNIVERSITY FRESHMAN: I think there's pretty much only one word that you can use to describe the region right now and that's tragic, on all levels. Last Monday, a 17-year- old friend of mine was shot during a demonstration in his village called Attava (ph) or Arabay (ph) in the north of Israel. And this was a kid who you could say didn't have a violent bone in his body, and yet somehow he was killed.

And I think it's impossible to say which side started it or who's right and who's wrong. The overall message here is that it's tragic and that it needs to stop. And now more so than perhaps ever, it seems the necessity for people, for kids and young people to work together, because if peace or healing doesn't come from the young people, where is it going to come from?

SENSO: It's the young people who are in the streets to a large extent, isn't it?

SLOVICK: It is. And I think that's sad. It kind -- it reinforces this idea about people on both sides of the issue being brought up and taught one thing, taught how different they are from the other side of the fence, the other side of the train tracks when the people are very similar people.

TANYA NAWAS, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: I'm very upset at what's happening and I'm even more upset at how the media is portraying what's happening. I, like Matt said, we shouldn't say who started it and who didn't start it. But I believe that Sharon did start this, like, uprising in the, like in the Palestinian territory.

He went to the Dome of the Rock, and he knows -- I mean, it's a very religious place for the Muslims and for the Jews, and he's welcome to go there if he wants to pray, but not with a thousand policemen coming over there and almost taking over, like, the place.

And that makes Arabs and Palestinians like myself, like, feel defensive, and like I just -- I'm upset that the media is portraying them in every -- in the past couple of days, "The Washington Post" has put, like, pictures of Palestinians throwing stones and Palestinians burning Israeli flags, but they don't, like, cover the entire story. A lot of Palestinians are suffering just as much and even more.

NOAM SHELEF, AMERICANS FOR PEACE NOW: I agree that what Sharon did was the wrong thing to do, and the way he did it -- I've been there, nobody started riots when I went.

But I think what Sharon did doesn't excuse the Palestinian response. It's frustrating to me -- and I understand where these grievances come from and there's a need to vent these frustrations, perhaps, but one wrong doesn't allow for this other wrong to happen.

NAWAS: But don't you think the Palestinians have been waiting and they're frustrated, since 1948? I mean, this is frustrations that has been built...

SHELEF: That's why we have a peace process.

NAWAS: We have a peace process, but that's not working. I mean, if there was a peace process that was working and that was -- I mean, Barak said the other day he was willing to give back the Palestinians 90 percent of the West Bank. What about the other 10 percent? The other 10 percent does not belong to Barak. It is the West Bank, and it belongs to the Palestinians.

ZEINA HAMAD, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Many of the kids that are in the streets now are there because they feel that that's the only thing they can do, like, to contribute to their country. They don't see their leaders, Barak or Arafat, moving forward in the peace process, though many say like it's so close, it's so close, yet it's not happening. And they don't see that happening, and they feel like they have to give everything they have to go out and at least die a martyr or...

TAMAR ARANOFF, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND SENIOR: Do they feel that the way to achieve -- to get a homeland for themselves is by throwing rocks?

NAWAS: They have nothing to lose.

ISSA: There is something to say. They have been waiting since the peace process started like in 1993, and you know, negotiations after negotiations have went on, and people have been waiting and waiting and waiting, and they've been patient about the situation. And I tell you, the situation was not getting and better.

ARANOFF: But by being violent, I feel that that cannot solve anything.

ISSA: I live in the Gaza Strip, and this strip is like kind of the biggest prison in the world. You have checkpoints everywhere and barbed wires around the area and a million people. It's the most dense place in the world, poverty, unemployment...


SHELEF: I'm sorry to interrupt. The reason that so many of us are engaged in this is to try to end those circumstances. But when we feel that we don't have a partner in the peace process, when Arafat doesn't do anything to stop the violence, what can we do?

HAMAD: Arafat cannot control the people.


SHELEF: No, but he can say that they ought not to do this, he can say that they're hurting Palestinian interests, that they're destabilizing the region.

NAWAS: He can say that, but they're not going to listen.

SHELEF: In my opinion, unless we're able to negotiate our way out this is, this is what we have.

SESNO: Tanya, if you sat down with your friends, some of whom are maybe out in the streets throwing those stone, and said, this is not the way to do it, we've got to talk the way Noam just said, what would they say to you?

NAWAS: Well, I think it is the way to -- I mean, it's hard for me to say this, but...

SESNO: So you wouldn't try to talk them out of this?

NAWAS: I wouldn't -- I mean, they have been through so much. They have -- they've suffered so much, and they've, like, dealt -- they've been patient. And I think maybe, like, they need this. If the Israeli troops got out of the West Bank, which is our territory, Palestinians would not have a problem and none of this would be happening.

SESNO: We're going to take a quick break everybody. Just a moment. We'll come back and talk some more.




SESNO: And we're continuing our conversation now with six young people, all with deep ties to the Middle East region. Jawad, I want to come to you. A moment ago, Tanya was saying that if she were home or on the phone and talking to friends there, she, frankly, wouldn't tell them to come out of the streets, to quit throwing stones.

Here you are wearing a T-shirt that says "Seeds of Peace." It's what you're all about or a lot of what you're all about. What would you be telling your friends? ISSA: Well, yes, I know that violence doesn't get people anywhere. I wouldn't be doing violence, you know, or joining in such protests. However, those people have been waiting for so long, and you know, have been patient about the peace process, which has always broken down all the time.

SESNO: So you understand it.

ISSA: Yes, and have gotten like -- situations have been growing worse and worse, you know, as the peace process has been going on.

And what we see, you know, as Palestinians we have gotten no support from anywhere in the world.

SESNO: Isn't it possible that they're burying the very peace process that you support through the activities that you've been involved with, the experiences you've had with Israeli kids and other kids?

ISSA: Well, they might have, but you know, I am -- I am fighting in my own way to get back my rights and they are fighting in their own way to get back our rights. As far as I've seen, we have gotten more rights through war than through peace.

The Intifada between '87 and 1993 has got us a lot of our rights. At least, it has brought the Israelis to ask us to negotiate. Before the Intifada, they wouldn't even consider the PLO legal.

SLOVICK: I think that more so the underlying problem here is not simply about land or about built-up aggression. I think it has become pretty obvious to everyone that fighting only begets fighting. Something that the Israelis do only angers the Palestinians, something the Palestinians do only angers the Israelis, and it just escalates to a point where it's almost impossible to turn it off.

I think that if we want to have peace in the region, there's two things that need to happen. First off, you need to build economic stability, because if you look across and you see -- if you're living in horrible conditions, and you look across and you see beautiful skyscrapers and such, it's understandable that that would make you angry. Why not? You see what someone else has and you don't. It's understandable that it would make you angry.

And the other thing that needs to be done is education, education of youth to show them, to demonstrate when you're in the middle of something, it's hard to see that violence is not curing everything. Throwing that rock is not making everything better. But when you're caught up in the -- in the heat of the moment, it's very, very difficult to see it.

I think everybody on both sides needs to take a step back and really evaluate what's been working and what hasn't been working.

HAMAD: During -- in reference to the education part, during the Intifada, many Israelis shut down the schools so kids couldn't go to school and get an education. That's why you see many of the Jewish kids, even adults nowadays more like up, and their status is higher up on the -- on the chain.

ARONOFF: Who shut down the Palestinian schools during the...


HAMAD: The Israelis. The Israeli soldiers shut down Palestinian schools.

ARONOFF: But they didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) education in the home.


HAMAD: I was there during the Intifada. Like kids were on the streets all day because they had nothing else to do. What else were they going to do? Sit down and watch this, like, go on and live it day and night?

SHELEF: I think that's unfair in the current crisis, though. I think you're right about the Intifada and what was done, but in the current crisis you have the Palestinian Authority closing down the schools so that their students go out and demonstrate.

HAMAD: Palestinians didn't have authority.

SHELEF: But they are now.

ISSA: Well, right now, let's say -- let's say the Palestinian Authority has to close the school. Why did they close the schools? Because they don't want the kids to go out of their homes, and you know, go to school, and on their way to school hold rocks and throw at the soldiers.

SHELEF: That may be, but...

ISSA: So Arafat...

ARONOFF: Israeli students have to go school in armored buses so they -- so they can be protected.

HAMAD: But they have armored buses.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Matt's friend was killed on his way home from school.

SESNO: Since you all think about the future, how do you feel about that future as you see what's happening now?

NARRATOR: There's hope for peace, no matter what. And I think one thing that I learned from Seeds of Peace is that -- I mean, you mentioned earlier like the strains between our friends. I mean, one thing that I learned in Seeds of Peace that I appreciate is that you don't -- you shouldn't single out individual people and feel like you should dislike them because of their religion or background. SLOVICK: That's the kind of education that I was talking about. The education that you can look across and you cannot -- you don't necessarily associate a Palestinian. You associate them as your friend and realize that they're not responsible necessarily responsible for everything that's going on. Textbook learning is OK, and sure, it's important, but even more so important -- more important is the idea of learning about each other.

SESNO: I want to thank all of you. I want to thank you for your comments and for your thoughts and for what you shared with another and with the group. And I hope your optimism and some of what you had to say here today would be heard not just here in this country but in the region as well.




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