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Conflict in the Middle East

Aired August 12, 2001 - 17:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Another day of terror in the Middle East; another suicide bombing in a crowded restaurant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're back to score one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRAZIER: Israelis under attack in the cities and in the settlements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

It's like shell shock.

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FRAZIER: But, determined not to leave, Palestinians in Gaza remembering those who've given their lives...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I heard he died it was very difficult for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRAZIER: ... and working to instill hope in their children.

Good evening everyone, welcome to special report on the conflict in the Middle East. I'm Stephen Frazier, thanks for joining us.

This half hour we are focusing not only on the escalating violence in the Middle East, but also on everyday lives of Israelis and Palestinians, the people caught up in this bloody conflict; we have a series of reports from our Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna.

First, the latest violence in Israel: Just hours ago terror gripped a suburb of Haifa as a suicide bomb exploded in a crowded cafe. It happened just after -- just days after another suicide bombing killed 16 people at a Jerusalem restaurant. But today's blast -- the bomber was killed, and at least 20 other people were injured. Reports say the Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility. In east Jerusalem, Palestinians continue to vent their anger over Israel's seizure of Orient House one day after the Jerusalem bombing. The facility, a cultural and political center and a symbol of Palestinian hopes for independence.

Thursday's bombing at a Jerusalem pizza restaurant was the deadliest attack in the city in more than 10 months of violence. That blast, like many others in this conflict, was the work of a suicide bomber. While the Israelis view such bombers as terrorists, many Palestinians hold a different view.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): On the 26th of October last year, a Palestinian on a bicycle rode up to an Israeli military post in the Gaza Strip. He detonated explosives strapped to his body, killing himself, and becoming the first suicide bomber of this intifada. His name Nabil Al-Raier (ph), his face now painted on walls throughout Gaza.

Since then in 11 suicide bomb attacks, at least 47 people -- Israelis and Jewish visitors to Israel -- have been killed, the most recent attack taking place in a crowded restaurant in the middle of Jerusalem, the bomb studded with nails to cause maximum harm.

The suicide bombings condemned in the strongest of terms by the international community. The bombers, themselves, seen as the worst kind of terrorists: murderers of innocent civilians.

But on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, those who carry out the bomb attacks are heroes, martyrs in the struggle against Israel, role models for Palestinian youth.

DR. EYAD AS-SARRAJ, GAZA COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM: There is a process in which people have identified with the power in a way and the ultimate power is the power of dying, the power of death (ph).

HANNA: In February, another face joined that of Nabil Al-Raier on the wall. His closest friend, Shadi (ph) Al-Kahlout. The 23-year- old blew himself up near an Israeli military base, killing only himself. His funeral attended by thousands. His mother grieved at losing a son, but proud of the way he died.

SUBHIA AL-KAHLOUT, SUICIDE BOMBER'S MOTHER (through translator): I thanked God. We're all going to die and go back to God. But I'm a mother and I was sad to lose my son. At the same time, according to our religious teachings, my son is alive and in God's company.

ABDUL RAHIM AL-KAHLOUT, SUICIDE BOMBER'S FATHER: When I heard he died, it was very difficult for me. I was proud because Shadi was a martyr but he's my son and losing him was painful.

SARRAJ: Sometimes the expression of grief in this culture, a grief for the martyr, is something that people are not proud of, even ashamed of because it shows weakness in the public eye. Gradi (ph) Al-Kahlout tells a story of his brother's life. He talks of a quiet boy who loved sports, winning a certificate in karate. Who, as a teenager, became deeply religious. Who, together with his best friend, Nabil, formed a band that sang about Islam and about the Palestinian cause. And who, along with Nabil, was prepared to die for the cause. Prepared, as well, to kill civilians as he had been taught by his Islamic Jihad spiritual leader.

SHEIKH ABDULLAH SHAMI, ISLAMIC JIHAD LEADER (through translator): If the Israelis we kill are civilians, what are the Palestinian children they are killing? Are they military officers? Why is it that when our civilians are killed it's natural and when their civilians die we become terrorists? The Israelis also have to feel the pain and sadness that we feel, so we carry out the martyr operations in the depth of the Zionist entity as a response to the crimes of the occupation.

HANNA: The philosophy of Al-Kahlout's spiritual father echo in the words of his biological one.

A. AL-KAHLOUT (through translator): A person lives under occupation, his land taken away from him, while the aggressor who took his land, his holy sites, lives comfortably on this land. This creates hatred. In addition, Shadi is a religious man that fights for justice and for the raising of God's voice. Becoming a martyr to enforce God's teaching was his primary goal.

HANNA: Religion, a powerful factor, but what of the injunction in the Koran against the taking of one's own life?

SHAMI (through translator): The almighty God orders the Muslims to defend their land and their belief against aggressors and occupiers. And the one who dies while resisting, he is a martyr and the martyr doesn't die but is living in the heavens with the profits and the people of good works.

SARRAJ: Of course there is, I think, a bottom line message, I believe, which is despair, because if we have a good life today, we shouldn't seek a second life tomorrow.

HANNA: In the poverty stricken streets, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad say there are many waiting to seek that second life.

SHAMI (through translator): Martyr operations need a special kind of man, one with strong convictions, a high degree of courage and the belief in self-sacrifice. They are selected by the heads of the military wing from among people they meet in mosques, at rallies or in universities.

HANNA: Sheikh Abdullah Shami rejects the suggestion those selected are brainwashed or manipulated.

SHAMI (through translator): If it was a matter of brainwashing, what is to guarantee us that the person who reaches the target of the operations doesn't feel scared and retreat. This is what happens if they are not completely convinced with what they are doing. Those who carry out bomb attacks are mature and completely aware and understand what they are doing.

A. AL-KAHLOUT (through translator): We had a feeling that one day Shadi would become a martyr, but we didn't know when. Once I told him, don't you ever think of doing a martyr operation and not talk to me. He promised me that he would call me and he did call me. He called me from this phone. It was the last call he made. He told me, dad, I'm not going to sleep at home tonight. Don't worry. God willing, I will go to the office tomorrow. Don't worry. He sounded very happy as if he had found a treasure. I told him don't be long, and that was the end of the call.

HANNA: In a letter left for his parents, Shadi Al-Kahlout told his mother not to cry, to rejoice for him. He told his father to be patient, as he would see him in heaven.

Will the younger sons emulate their elder brother?

S. AL-KAHLOUT: The child takes this decision, not the parents. But this decision should come when they are mature and they understand their religious teachings and are politically aware. I do hope that the political situation changes, that we have our state, that we regain our rights and live in freedom, then the situation will calm down and my children can live a normal life.

HANNA: Abdul Rahim and Subhia Al-Kahlout have 10 surviving children and numerous pictures of a dead son, a son they say they think of every hour of the day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRAZIER: Our Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna reporting there.

Suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians often spark angry responses from Israel. And, as we said, Israeli troops seized Orient House and other Palestinian facilities in East Jerusalem after Thursday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Today United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling the Israeli move an unwise step.

One of the greatest sticking points in reaching a permanent peace agreement: Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. After this break, a closer look at life for Israelis who choose to live beyond the green line separating Israel from Israeli occupied territories such as Gaza and the West Bank.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRAZIER: Among and amidst the 1 1/2 million Palestinians who live in Gaza, there are 6,000 Israelis, many of them recent immigrants from Russia or the United States; settlers who live in enclaves guarded by soldiers.

To the Palestinians, they are part of an occupying force, but the settlers believe they are the front line of a defense against an assault on the Jewish state; and they insist they will not leave what they regard as their land. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HANNA (voice-over): Missubim (ph), the point at which the settlers cross from Israel into Gaza, ahead, a 20-minute drive through hostile Palestinian territory. Layser Amitay has driven this road for 13 years and in the last 11 months have seen it get more and more deadly.

LAYSER AMITAY, KFAR DAROM RESIDENT (through translator): Here at this intersection, a suicide bomber blew himself up against the concrete blocks. Here there were two grenade attacks.

HANNA: And a little further on...

AMITAY (through translator): We're getting to the place where my wife, Mary (ph), was murdered. The murder took place here next to these palm trees. They used the palm trees as a marker. When the bus got between the two trees, they joined the wires and the bus exploded.

HANNA: Layser Amitay's wife was one of two Israelis killed by that Palestinian bomb last November. Nine people were injured. At the end of Layser's drive, the settlement of Capaderome (ph) and a home, he says, has been without a wife and mother for 259 days.

AMITAY (through translator): If I was once connected to this place because I was building in it, now I'm connected by blood. To go past the place where Mary was murdered hurts me, but it has bound me to the land even tighter.

HANNA: As people die, so are they born. Rachel Assraf was pregnant with this baby when she was injured by the same bomb that killed her friend, Mary Amitay. Not once in the long weeks of recuperation, says Rachel, does she think of abandoning what she agrees is a dangerous settlement life.

RACHEL ASSRAF, KFAR DAROM RESIDENT: Leaving a home. It's not a house with four walls; it's a home. Leaving a place you brought children to after you gave birth to them, leaving a place where you planted trees and grass and feel connected to the place, that's not so easy to get up and leave.

HANNA: In the Palestinian view, the settlement is a visible sign of an illegal policy of occupation, a symbol of Israeli oppression and defiance of international law. For settlers, the Palestinians who live all around are enemies. The Palestinian goal far greater than just the destruction of the settlements.

DR. SODY NAIMER, NEVE DEKALM RESIDENT: The ones that are instigating all the violence actually want one thing, is to destroy the Jewish nation and to see an end of the state of Israel. So we're back to square one where there's no other side to discuss and agree on anything. It's just a matter of your existence or your disappearance.

HANNA (on camera): In the distance, the Palestinian city of Han Eunice (ph) in close proximity to the red grooves of the houses of the Neve Dekalm settlement. In the past six months, around 300 mortar shells have been fired by Palestinians into this area. More than a dozen Israelis have been injured. Remarkably, no one has been killed.

NAIMER: We believe that we're performing some sort of a divine deliverance here and it's more idealistic than anything else. It's just some people could look at it as pure luck.

HANNA (voice-over): But underlying the belief in divine protection, the fear that the next attack will claim a life.

NAIMER: It's like shellshock, you know? One of the kids in the house slams the door and I'm jumping. If I ever have one of the regular casual notices on my beeper, I'm jumping.

HANNA: A number of teenagers were injured by a mortar shell that fell outside a youth club in the settlement. Sixteen-year-old Daut said she thought about leaving but decided to stay.

DAUT MORDECHAI, NEZER HAZZAMI GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): I didn't want to leave this place. I was born here and I grew up here. My friends are here and all my memories are here. I don't think because of these attacks we should leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We hope that there will be help from the outside to stop this mess. That is what our leaders also hope. We hope they will get the Arabs out of this region and the whole mess will be over.

HANNA: For most of the settlers there's only hostile interaction with Palestinians and a brief glimpse of Palestinian vehicles stopped at road blocks while the Israeli vehicles are given priority to pass through. But there can be exceptions.

Michael Goldschmidt farms Amaryllis flower bulbs for export to the United States. For more than 20 years he's employed local Palestinians. He has continued to do so throughout months of bitter conflict.

MICHAEL GOLDSCHMIDT, GANNE TAL RESIDENT: I come to work every day. We talk about everything between us and I don't feel any conflict in it whatsoever. But that doesn't depend on the workers, and it doesn't depend on me what happens in the country in the whole .

HANNA: "Whatever happens," says Michael's wife, "the family is here to stay."

RIVKA GOLDSCHMIDT, GANNE TAL RESIDENT: And we should fight this period of fighting and then the Arabs will see that our -- that we are determined to stay here and we are staying for good, they'll have to put down their weapons.

(MUSIC)

HANNA: It's a balmy night, a group of settlers relax next to the beach, a light wind blows in off the sea, all apparently tranquil. EITAN MATZLIAH, NEXER HAZZANI RESIDENT (through translator): I don't sleep at night. At this time, I used to be asleep, now I can't sleep at night. So I sleep during the day and I am awake during the night. The whole night, I live in fear but my life has to go on.

HANNA: And life does go on. The daily routine, children gather to play, morning prayers at the synagogue, the belief routine itself is an act of defiance. The conviction of all that by their very presence they protect and preserve the state of Israel and that they do so with pride and with dignity.

AMITAY (through translator): We know that it is possible to absorb the blows and not lose our humanity, to look the whole world in the eye and say that we will act as human beings in the shadow of God. We will soak up this conflict and the strength of ourselves and we will get through it.

ASSRAF: I understand today that the Arabs want us out of here and we're not going to give them that. We're going to stay on because we feel we're on a mission here. And I believe we're going to see better times. I don't -- I hope they're not far away.

HANNA: But as each day passes, that hope fades along with the sun setting on the settlements.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRAZIER: Again, our Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna reporting there from Gaza.

In the West Bank, which is on the far side of this map here, near the sign that says Jerusalem, there are an estimated 200,000 Jewish settlers now living in dozens of settlements. They're scattered among 2 million Palestinians.

But now a change: Many of the settlers for the first time are beginning to express a desire to leave. In a recent poll nearly 1/5 of the respondents said they would leave the West Bank if they felt they could.

The conflict is taking its toll not only in the lives lost to violence, but also upon the outlook of those who are struggling to survive. After this break, a closer look at how that trauma is effecting the lives of the Palestinian people.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRAZIER: In almost 11 months of conflict, now, hundreds of people have been killed on both sides of it. But behind the daily reports of death and violence, there's also intense emotional suffering; and in Gaza, indications of a society being ruptured by sometimes unconfronted trauma.

More now, again, from CNN's Mike Hanna.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HANNA (voice-over): "They shell us and we can't do anything," says 13-year old Mirad (ph). A tear that could be one of frustration, anger or fear glistens briefly on his cheek. "What can I do?" he asks.

This is the neighborhood where Mirad (ph) and his friends used to live until April, in houses demolished by the Israeli army, which said the building sheltered gunman firing on the nearby Jewish settlement. Then in tents, they, in turn, abandoned, following ongoing violence in what's become a frontline in more than 10 months of conflict.

Eleven-year-old Haman (ph) says he comes here to water the trees. "This is our land. We want to live here," he insists. "If they kill us, let them bury us here."

"Our parents try to comfort us," says Haman's (ph) younger brother, Mohammad, "but my father can't protect me from the Israelis. We had to run away from our house."

JALAL ABU LOZ, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): I can't -- how can I protect them? When they bulldozed my home, I was torn apart. I was looking at home being demolished and was thinking of my children. I had someone take my children to a safe place and I cried as I watched my house smashed into rubble.

HANNA: The latest home of the Abu Loz family, now in a block of tenement buildings, which also bears scares of conflict despite being more than a mile from the nearest Jewish settlement. It's a massive social upheaval leaving in its wake, say psychiatrists, emotional trauma, which puts immense strain on relationships within the society's tightly knit family structure.

ABU LOZ: There is constant shouting in the house. My wife and I are very tense. She shouts a lot and so do I. Sometimes I can't take it anymore. I lose my mind and I hit my children. One day, I opened up the gas canister and told my children "we will all die now." I just lost my mind.

HANNA: Jalal Abu Loz decided to seek counseling and he allowed CNN to accompany doctors from the community health project to one of their now regular visits to the family.

DR. NIMER ABU ZARDA, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: He feel useless. He feel he cannot offer support and he cannot do anything for his family, because he has seven children. And then his wife brought nine (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from his family.

HANNA: Jalal is a Palestinian authority policeman that says he cannot face going to work anymore. His wife, Fatima, arrives home from the nearby hospital where she works as a nurse.

FATIMA ABU LOZ, JALAL'S WIFE (through translator): My husband walks and talks to me in his sleep. He shouts. I let him get out everything he wants to say. He's of course sleeping, unaware of what he's saying. In the morning, he doesn't remember anything. The children are very nervous. He is violent and will not listen to anything I say. I cannot control him anymore.

HANNA: Dr. Nimer Abu Zarda recently returned to Gaza from London where he was studying forensic psychiatry. But it's his personal experience, he says, that enables him to emphasize with the trauma of this family.

ABU ZARDA: This is the effect of one bullet.

HANNA: Dr. Nimer also has a home on the frontline. And as the fighting raged, his family was also forced to leave, to move in with relatives.

ABU ZARDA: Myself, really I am a survivor. I live in my house. I -- my house is affected, as you will notice. My children are -- also my two daughters, they suffer and I try to help them as much as I can here also. But this a problem, which the neighborhood people here, suffer from.

HANNA: But while the majority may suffer psychological trauma, it's very few who actually acknowledge the fact. To do so, say the doctors, would be perceived as a weakness in the face of Israeli aggression.

DR. IYAD SARRAJ, GAZA COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER: Very few people express depression in psychological terms. I have seen over 15,000 cases of depression in this Gaza Strip. None of them said, "I feel depressed." But all of them said, "I have a headache. I have a chest pain. I have a burning sensation in my skull. I have a threatening sensation in my throat." And so the expression would be always in psychosomatic forms and in behavior of people.

HANNA: This behavior among old and young, sometimes taking the form of violence.

ABU ZARDA: When the children start to play you, for example, which is all children and they fight with each other, they more - I believe that they are more aggressive, more violent. They sometimes play with each other by throwing the stones for one to another.

HANNA: Here two doctors from the Community Health Project interact with a group of young girls, aged between seven and 10. They're attending a summer vacation camp.

DR. SAMI UWEIDAH, PSYCHIATRIST: In this case, we'd like to lecture in -- by expressing their emotion, for example, talking, talking about what do they feel, what they do they feel when they -- when it has happened the first time chilling.

HANNA: At first, the children, distracting perhaps by the camera, appear shy, unwilling to express themselves. But as the doctors talk, the children open up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Our house was shelled and we went to my grandparent's house. We slept there two nights. But when we went back home, I was still terrified. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our school was attacked with helicopters. Nobody goes there now because a person was injured. Now, they've changed our school and we go to one near the sea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I felt like I was getting a pain in my head all the time.

SARRAJ: We thought to engage the children in so many constructive ways. First, to allow themselves to express themselves and second, to engage in constructive ways of thinking of the future and about their life and the kind of hope. We try, simply, to instill hope.

HANNA: "We must talk about these fears," Dr. Sami tells the girls, "talk about our dreams, talk to our mother, our friends. If we talk about it, we won't be scared." And at the end of the counseling session, a song in which the children confront these fears.

"Oh mother," the girls sing, "they placed me in a big prison and then they put guards all around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRAZIER: Mike Hanna reporting again. And he says hope of a peaceful solution to this seemingly endless conflict appears to be in short supply among Israelis and Palestinians, particularly in this week that saw so many people killed. There's an increasing fear that those of goodwill, intent on forging a peace are losing ground now to those willing to kill.

If you're looking for more information on the conflict in the Middle East, you can visit our Web site. Imagine if we all had a screen this big at home -- some 10 days from now -- 10 years from now, we probably all will -- you can find a detailed history of the region there, a timeline of recent events and profiles of leaders and political groups in the region. All that at CNN.com, or you can use AOL keyword, CNN.

Thank you for joining us on this special on the conflict in the Middle East. I'm Stephen Frazier.

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