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INSIGHT

Suicide Bomber Strikes Israel Again

Aired May 27, 2002 - 17:00:00   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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HANNA, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Another suicide bomb attack. Four Israeli dead. And ongoing Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas with the stated intention of preventing such acts of terror.

Against this background of ongoing conflict, the debate rages about reform in Palestinian society; Israel wanting a new Palestinian leadership that will clamp down on terror. Palestinians wanting leaders who will improve the lot of the Palestinian people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After Operation Defensive Shield, many people were speaking about a new kind of Palestinian introspection, a desire for reform, for modifying, changing, the Palestinian security services. We're seeing no evidence of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is a real need to restructure the Palestinian Authority, especially after the Israeli attacks that destroyed all of the institutions of the Authority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNA: Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of INSIGHT. I'm Mike Hanna, in Jerusalem.

Earlier this month, Yasser Arafat called on suggestions as to how Palestinian society can be reformed. Suggestions came thick and fast, and it soon became very clear that different people had different ideas about what reform means.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: He has let the Palestinian people down. He hasn't delivered.

HANNA (voice-over): President Bush says he wants it. P.M. Sharon says he wants it. Yasser Arafat says he wants it. But the strongest call for Palestinian political reform is coming from the man on the street.

Listen to shopkeeper Hassan Awad.

"These reforms must be fundamental changes that benefit the people," he says, "not a response to American and Israeli pressures, because then, reform would be just another concession."

A massive 91 percent of Palestinians polled in a respected survey support fundamental changes in the Palestinian Authority. 95 percent calling for regular presidential and legislative council elections.

And this political science professor in the West Bank city of Nablus is the first to announce that when there is an election, he will run against Yasser Arafat.

Abed Al Sattan Gassem has consistently criticized the peace deals Arafat reached with Israel in the past, saying that they were not aimed at securing a democratic Palestinian state, but were rather intended to guarantee Israeli security through distinctly undemocratic means.

ABED AL SATTAN GASSEM, WEST BANK PROFESSOR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) getting independence, and also some Palestinians, he started to arrest Palestinians in defense of the Israeli security. I believe this is a shame. My people are not satisfied with the situation.

HANNA: Called into question in this mounting debate about democratic reform, the Oslo Peace Accords, reached over a decade ago. The argument now that these accords resulted in a Palestinian obligation to provide Israeli security at the cost of Palestinian democracy.

PROF. ALI JIBRAWI, BIR ZEIT UNIV.: The only concern of them was the peace process, and in the peace process they wanted Palestinians meeting Israeli conditions. Because of that, actually, they didn't want democracy. They didn't want human rights. They didn't want civil society.

HANNA: Democratic reform, then, in this argument, means that Palestinian destiny should be determined by the Palestinian people, rather than by what is seen as a Palestinian elite attempting to hold on to power by satisfying outside demands.

JIBRAWI: The essence of us being able to face the pressures coming from the outside is to have an accountable system, is to have democracy, separation of power, rule of law, because then no one, even Mr. Arafat himself, cannot deliver on his own. He has to consult. No one can hijack the Palestinian political decision.

HANNA: And in some quarters, deep resentment at the way in which Yasser Arafat and his ministers have run Palestinian society, and no real faith in his ability to bring about real change.

Arafat's ideas of reform, says this money-changer, is simply exchanging one set of counterfeit bills for another.

"It's just a change of faces," he says, "because none of this region's institutions are based on democracy, justice or equality."

"I the reform means removing the corrupt officials, then this could be the beginning of a Palestinian state," says this bookshop owner. "If it's just a reshuffle of ministers, then the situation here will only get worse."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): A special focus of those wanting reform are the Palestinian Security Forces, and here in particular there is deep argument as to how things should change.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Police, paramilitary units, various special forces, Palestinian security services that consist of some 40,000 members. A sprawling and wieldy structure that has been consistently criticized by the United States and Israel for not cracking down on terror.

But it's being criticized, too, by Palestinians who say that at times it acts as a compliant arm of Israeli security by operating against the Palestinian people rather than protecting them.

(on camera): Since its inception, the Palestinian Authority has had a myriad of security organizations, some competing with others. But each with its own chain of command controlled by one leader who is ultimately answerable only to Yasser Arafat.

(voice-over): A restructuring of Palestinian security part of a wider process of reform that's underway, and this is the man who is drawing up the new blueprint. Mohammad Dahlan is the head of the Preventive Security Services in the Gaza Strip, a post that he's adamant must be done away with as security organizations are streamlined.

From some quarters, though, the criticism that Dahlan has his own agenda, that in the guise of introducing reform, he's attempting to further his own political ambitions.

This argument, he strongly denies.

MOHAMMAD DAHLAN, PALESTINIAN SECURITY CHIEF (through translator): I want to help President Arafat and present him with the problems of the Palestinian people and their desire for change. I have conducted discussion sessions in the Gaza Strip over the past few days, and I will be relaying these discussions back to the president.

The Palestinian people want real change in the institutions and in the leaders. That is why I don't want a political position, so I am able to speak out freely.

HANNA: Some Palestinians, too, view with suspicion Dahlan's strong ties in the past with various Israeli security chiefs, and in particular his close relationship with the director of the CIA, George Tenet.

In recent weeks, both Israeli and American sources have identified Dahlan as the man who will play a pivotal role in a changing Palestinian Authority. An unwanted endorsement, he says, that could undermine his standing in Palestinian eyes.

DAHLAN (through translator): I am part of the Palestinian people. I do not belong to the American or Israeli interests. I paid a heavy price during my political imprisonment in Israeli jails.

What motivates me is the interest of the Palestinian people. Israel and the United States, by their statements, want to create problems for me personally. But they did not succeed because of the trust the public and the leadership have in me.

HANNA: And certainly at this meeting in Gaza City, there appears only support for Dahlan, where he outlines to a large crowd, including senior security officers, his proposals for reform.

"There should only be three or four security branches," he says, "each unified under one commander who, in turn, would sit on a National Security Council under political direction."

The aim, he says, to achieve improved transparency and greater accountability.

He fully expects that Yasser Arafat will endorse these proposals within a week. But there are other hurdles to overcome in effectively transforming Palestinian security.

(on camera): Throughout this intifada, a constant target of Israeli attack has been offices of Palestinian security organizations. Over here, the Gaza City headquarters of the Preventive Security Apparatus.

The Israeli contention that Palestinian security has been directly involved in attacks on Israeli targets, and in restructuring Palestinian security organizations, the problem is two-fold. Firstly, to rebuild and repair the massive damage to the infrastructure. But, secondly, to convince the Israelis that in ending violence, in fighting terror, the Palestinian security organizations are part of the solution, not part of the cause.

(voice-over): And in this, the role of the Americans, some of whom are escorting Mohammad Dahlan here through an Israeli checkpoint, will be critical.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Mohammad Dahlan, now waiting to hear whether Yasser Arafat will act on his proposals; proposals, the security chief told me, that are in the interest of the Palestinian people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAHLAN (through translator): We will continue with reform in order to strengthen ourselves internally, in order to enter any peace process from a position of strength and not one of weakness. We will not fulfill any Israeli conditions when it comes to reform.

Reform is a Palestinian need, and we will take the positions that will comply with the Palestinian need only.

As for protecting Israel, we are first and foremost in need of international protection of the Palestinian people. We do not have the ability to protect anyone.

HANNA: In the past, you've arrested people without trial, in the interest of the peace process. Is the peace process itself compatible with the type of democratic reforms that we've been talking about?

DAHLAN (through translator): First, we're still under Israeli occupation. We are not an independent state to be able to fully respect the rule of law. We have political obligations and commitments, that is true, but we carried out those arrests to protect the peace process.

At the time, the peace process was advancing and we were getting back land Israel was occupying. But after Israel attacked and destroyed the Authority, we don't see ourselves obliged to carry out the agreements, since Israel, under the leadership of Sharon, tore up these agreements.

HANNA: In the past, you were able to stop attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Is it a case of you're not able to now, or that you don't want to?

DAHLAN (through translator): We are unable to do that particularly, with the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli army, whether by humiliation or killing without reason.

In addition, the security apparatus has been destroyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Six of my seven offices have been destroyed. The officers have become targets of the Israeli military. They aren't able to show up at work. There is no guarantee for their security.

At the same time, Israel demands that we fulfill our commitments.

HANNA: There's talk of George Tenet coming to the region to discuss the question of security reorganization. What do you think that Tent and the Americans can offer in the field of security reform?

DAHLAN (through translator): The United States and George Tenet are not involved in the restructuring of the Palestinian security apparatus.

We have the ability, the knowledge and the skills to conduct the restructuring in accordance with our national interests.

These are rumors that Israel has spread. It is not true. We don't allow anyone to interfere in our security institution. We don't mind if the United States helps us in supporting the security institutions, or any other institutions. But for it to interfere in the organization, that will not happen.

HANNA: For years, Palestinians have argued that democracy, reform, are not possible under Israeli occupation, and yet, now, it seems the argument, beginning that democracy and reform are a way of ending the Israeli occupation.

DAHLAN (through translator): We are asked to form a democratic system while we are under complete occupation. This is not rational. This is not realistic.

Israel controls and occupies our streets, our roads, our homes, our cities, and our national institutions.

We cannot conduct elections while Israel imposes its siege on every Palestinian city and village.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HANNA: After the break, the Israeli government investigates the possibility of a Jewish terror cell, and we speak to Israel's justice minister about Israeli democracy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HANNA: The attack in Petah Tikva, another in a series of Palestinian terror actions. The latest person killed, a young girl, barely two-years- old, fueling even further Israeli anger.

And there is concern among the Israeli officials that some radical Jewish groups are planning their own responses, preparing their own terror attacks.

Here's CNN's Jerrold Kessel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Errant weeds, they call them here. The here is Bat Ayin an unusual Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The them, three Bat Ayin members who, for the past month, have been under Israeli police interrogation, suspected of planning a major terror strike against Palestinians.

Last Friday, they were remanded in custody for a further five days.

"Achi (ph)," he calls out, "I'm here. Don't worry. We are strong."

The worry for Israeli officials is that these men may be part of a burgeoning underground of radical settlers who believe in attacking Palestinians, because the Israeli government and army weren't, in their view, acting with sufficient force to curb Palestinian terror.

DANIEL WINSTON BAT AYIN SETTLEMENT SPOKESMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the actions of two or three or four guys. In my mind, three guys does not make an underground. Three guys makes three guys.

KESSEL: It was here, according to Israeli police, right outside this large Palestinian school, and right across the road here from the major Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, that the group planned to setoff a large bomb.

They were intercepted on route in a vehicle that was already primed for the attack.

Since the Palestinian intifada erupted 20 months ago, there have been 9 attacks on Palestinians, like the bomb set at the entrance to this school. Attacks for which Jews have taken responsibility. Seven Palestinians have been killed in these incidents.

None of these other cases have been solved, but Israeli police tell CNN the Bat Ayin group is not thought to be linked in any way.

In the settlement, they denounced the actions, but they say there should be absolutely no question of collective guilt.

WINSTON: Collective guilt by association is neither Jewish, nor American, nor Israeli. And I refuse to accept it as the standard by which we here should be judged.

The actions of the few don't reflect on the moral status of the many. The actions of the few, reflect on the few.

KESSEL (on camera): When, in the past, Israelis from the Jewish settler community in the West Bank undertook actions, or accused of undertaking actions that amounted to taking the law into their own hands, people in the communities from which they came felt that they were under pressure, being challenged. They were on the defensive.

This time, here, there is very little of that.

(voice-over): What dominates, rather, is suspicion of outsiders.

This is the first time since the arrest they've allowed TV cameras into their settlement. Still, they refused to allow us to photograph students, many of them from abroad, in the Yeshiva, the religious seminary, the kind of place in many settlements where ultra-nationalist Jewish sentiments are fostered.

And when we drove past the nursery school. The teacher, spotting our camera, shouted sarcastically from amidst a clump of three and four-year- olds, "Yes, take our picture, to show how dangerous we are here."

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, the settlement rabbi, is originally from New York. He was among the founder members 13 years ago.

(on camera): When you first heard the allegations, were you horrified?

RABBI DANIEL KOHN, BAT AYIN SETTLEMENT: Yes. Yes.

KESSEL: It came out of Bat Ayin.

KOHN: Yes.

KESSEL: And so, doesn't that require a soul search for Bat Ayin?

KOHN: It requires renewed effort, perhaps, to clarify distinctions between what is moral and what is not.

Look, when someone who's close, and who's someone you've been living with for many years, does something, as wrong as it might be, and it is, I think there is a natural human tendency to try to explain and justify.

KESSEL (voice-over): Israeli leaders say they'll pull no punches against Jewish terrorists, but one reason perhaps why here they feel little reason for self-examination is that there is little pressure from the rest of Israeli society, feeling still embattled for such a soul-search.

One of the unusual things about Bat Ayin is that though strictly orthodox Jews, most of the people here wee originally nonreligious. Some are converts to Judaism.

Perhaps, say observers, that explains why they never felt the need for rabbinic sanction.

The settlement is spectacularly located in the Judean (ph) Hills, overlooking Israel's coastal plane down to the Mediterranean. The name Bat Ayin, literally the pupil of the eye, taken from the Bible, from the Book of Psalms.

"Keep me," the scripture reads, "as the apple of the eye. Hide me under the shadow of thy wings."

But in what they insist is a war of self-defense for Israel, divine intervention may not be sufficient.

KOHN: If someone were coming into your home and attacking, so you would respond. And one of the great challenges, I think, for a person who, naturally and almost instinctively responds in that way to a threat, to learn that in the vantage point of a nation that is currently under attack, so the response has to be national.

KESSEL: This improvised swimming pool in a natural spring, used, they say, to be an ancient ritual bath. Here Biblical claims Jewish Biblical roots means no questioning about heritage. No doubt either about the morality of the battles that now rage around the West Bank, or their place in that battle.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Bat Ayin settlement in the West Bank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HANNA: Israel has always prided itself on its democratic system, but it's acknowledged, too, that in order to protect its people, it sometimes needs to suspend the rule of law.

It's a delicate balance, and one, says Israel's justice minister, that the Palestinians are still to learn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MEIR SHETREET, ISRAELI JUSTICE MIN.: The problem with the Palestinian Authority is they have no democracy, no law, no justice. In a place in which they can lynch people, hang them on the electrical columns, drag them in the streets behind cars, there is no justice. And there is no law.

That's our problem to negotiate with, because when you are negotiating with a different country, that country has kinds of rules of law. There are sometimes commitments, that when a country makes commitments towards you, you expect them to honor it.

In our case, we give everything we should to the Palestinians, so many opportunities. They're not honoring their own commitments.

Time after time, we give them so many chances. Arafat is lying without shame, to everyone. He is not doing anything to protect terror attacks against Israel, so we have to protect ourselves.

We're trying to, at the same time that we have terror, not to hurt the right of the human being. I think there must not be a contradiction between the two, between preserving the security of Israel and between protecting the right of the human being, as far as it is possible. But when we have a threat of the life of our people against other people, of course we have to choose our people.

HANNA: What would you like to see, in terms of Palestinian reform? What do you think is the most important element to reform and change Palestinian society?

SHETREET: I expect that the Palestinian Authority will adopt any law -- they can choose: the English law, the Israeli law, Jordanian law, whatever -- some law should prevail. Today, there is no law, no prevailing law over there.

There is very strong corruption in all of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. They have to organize themselves, if they want to have an estimation to be a state, like a state, like a state in the way, to have law, to have justice, to have democracy; that Arafat will honor the decision of the Palestinian Council, which he is not.

He is doing whatever he thinks. If, today, we are facing a leader of the Palestinian people who doesn't care about law, about justice, he does whatever he wants, it's not only having an influence about his own relationship with Israel, but also having an influence over his own population.

I feel sorry for the Palestinians, because they're stuck in the middle. They can do nothing against Arafat. They have no elections. They cannot impeach Arafat. They cannot vote against him. They can do nothing, as a matter of fact. And anybody who raises a voice could be finishing his own career, by Mr. Arafat and his own regime.

I believe that democracy will prevail over there if they will have justice prevail over there. It will change all the attitude of the Palestinians. Most of the Palestinian people in the Palestinian Authority would like to live in peace, I believe, like we do. Every mother has the same pain when her own children are hurt. It doesn't matter if they are Palestinian or Israeli.

We expect very much to arrive at a time in which the Palestinian can live with us, alongside of Israel, as a democratic Arab state.

But I am sorry to say that Arafat, not only that he has not prevented terror, but sometimes the Palestinian Authority supported it, financing it, sometimes even planning it and executing it.

That is not somebody who wants to make peace with us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HANNA: Arguments about democracy, debate about reform, but the cold harsh reality on the ground is one of ongoing conflict, ongoing death, ongoing terror, that ideas alone appear unable to contain.

I'm Mike Hanna, in Jerusalem, good night.

END

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