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CNN NEWSROOM

Gaza Ground War Could Be Imminent; Israel Massing Forces Along Israel-Gaza Border; Judge Orders Woman to Hold "Idiot" Sign; Englewood Four Sue Chicago Prosecutors, Police; Israeli, Palestinian Military Strength

Aired November 17, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Don Lemon here, you're in the NEWSROOM. Listen very closely because as we go on the air tonight, Israeli soldiers are gathering on their nation's border with Gaza. A land war could be only hours away.

A CNN crew shot this video in Gaza city, look to the right of your screen there. It is really air strikes hitting targets. They say the buzz of drones overhead is nearly constant. Eleven people were killed today in Gaza. Hamas is trying to strike back. But Israel sophisticated Iron Dome defense system is making it hard, knocking most rockets out of the sky well before they hit anyone. People are running for safety.

The Iron Dome can only do so much, though. When the sirens sound, Israelis scatter, looking for shelter, listening for a rocket, finding its target. And no site is as ominous as this one. Some of the 30 thousand Israeli soldiers mobilized along the border. Egypt is trying to prevent this from getting any worse by spearheading talks aimed at ending the violence. If negotiators hoped want to prevent a ground war, they'll have to act quickly. Because Israel looks ready to rule now.

Let's get to our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman as he joins me now from the border between Israel and Gaza. Ben, it looks like everything is in place. Are we about to witness a ground war here?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is difficult to say when the actual decision will be made to launch such a ground war but certainly everything you see here in the border area points to intense urgent. It seems Israeli preparations for the possibility of a ground war. We've been seeing a lot of tanks coming by, a lot of armored personnel carriers. There are a lot of soldiers in this area. So clearly Israel is going ahead with preparations. Obviously, this is highly dependent on all sorts of diplomatic contacts at different levels.

I just heard a large blast, could have been outgoing artillery from the Israeli side. So, we have contacts between Hamas and Egypt. Egypt and the United States. The United States and Israel, we know those contacts are going on, on an almost constant basis. But there have been persistent reports this evening in the Israeli media as well as the Arab media suggesting that a negotiated cease-fire is in the works. However, I spoke to a senior Israeli spokesperson who said that it is simply not true. Now maybe retrospectively, when all these intense contact are over, they will come out and say yes, we have arrived at a cease-fire. But at this point, it is only context as far as we know -- Don.

LEMON: OK. Ben, we could hear that as well, probably not as loudly as you. How often are you hearing that? You said it is possibly outgoing artillery from the Israeli side. How often are you hearing those blasts?

WEDEMAN: Well, we're hearing -- Don, it is not just from, you know, the outgoing artillery, it is occasionally, every half hour, 45 minutes or so. We are also hearing, we heard earlier what sounded like an incoming mortar, we heard a red alarm going out from a nearby Israeli base. The possibility of incoming missiles. We are watching huge flumes of flames coming out from Gaza City behind me. And it is about ten kilometers or seven miles from here. But you can feel an intense shock wave when that reaches us so far away. So it is a pretty noisy place here, or at least it has been for the last few hours -- Don.

LEMON: Ben, you know this area as well as anyone does. Do you think that this was inevitable? Do you think that a ground war is inevitable, as well?

WEDEMAN: It certainly points in that direction. Obviously, the United States, for instance, is probably not enthusiastic about a ground war because that will result in far higher casualties. Up until now it is about 50 people killed in Gaza, three on the Israeli side. If there is a ground invasion, there will be much higher casualties. So I, for instance, I was out in the west bank, and there were clashes going on there today.

People -- Palestinians protesting against the Gaza operation. So sort of nerves are on edge, many people expect this to happen. If you look back at the experience of four years ago when Israel had its so-called caste-lead operation, we saw an almost identical series of events, air bombardment, sea bombardment of Gaza. Israeli softening of targets and then going in. So far it looks in many ways like a repeat. But we know that there are many people working to try to prevent any sort of ground incursion -- Don.

LEMON: Ben Wedeman, stand by. Thank you very much for your reporting. If something warrants it, we will get back to Ben as soon as possible. We have been down this road before, and whether Israel based Gaza or not, this probably won't be the last time we see Israelis and the Palestinians fight each other.

For analysis now, we're joined by Fouad Ajami, he is a senior fellow at Hoover Institution, and he joins me from New York. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

Just very quickly, as we went on the air tonight, I said there were possibly going to be a ground war on the brink. When you look at all of the people who are being put in place here, 30,000 Israeli troops on the border, are we about to see a ground war?

FOUAD AJAMI, SR. FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I think the exchange you had with Ben Wedeman who as you said, one of the most experienced reporters when you hear this caution. Israel has in place the material, the man, and the forces for a ground operation, but who knows, at the end of the day, is in Israel's best interest if you will to pull back. Because once you go into Gaza, you're doing street warfare.

You are going into the most densely populated piece of earth. So, and the Israelis have been there before. They've done this war, both again in Gaza, in operation Caste Lead in 2008, 2009, they also had a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. And those wars tend to be inconclusive. So, I think caution is the order as we look at the equation today.

LEMON: If there is a ground war, you know, of course, everyone wonders whether or not the U.S. will get involved with troops, what have you. But that is much further down the road here, right?

AJAMI: Well, I think whether there is an invasion or whether there is not, I think we have to go back and re-examine the diplomatic setting, if you will. People will be pushed to say look, we can't afford to ignore this region, we can't afford to ignore this conflict because we look back on the last four years and the indifference, if you will, to the Obama administration on what is happening on the West Bank and Gaza, and I think we are, there will be pressure.

This will be pressure from Egypt. There will be pressure from turkey. There would be pressure from Qatar. These are the three countries that are most sympathetic to Hamas, they'll be pressure to produced some kind of settlement, some kind of ceasefire. And I think Don, your own skepticism is warranted. Because in the end, it is not the first or the last time we will see this encounter between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas is leading the Palestinian people to ruin. Hamas must be understood in Gaza to be a rogue regime. Because the legitimate Palestinian government is under Amala (ph), under the Palestinian national authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

LEMON: Yes. I want to go back to something you said, you said about the President's indifference. Do you think it would behoove the President to get involved and trying to solve this crisis? Is it even possible to find a solution in the next four years? That question has been asked really of every president.

AJAMI: Absolutely. And I think you're right. From Truman, I mean, if you really want.

LEMON: Right.

AJAMI: Kind of the sordid history, from Truman to George W. Bush, people talked about setting the conflict. President said that they have a solution. And in the case of President Obama, he actually kind of turned away from that region, he actually turned away from the conflict. But now there is noise to the fact that he would be able to do in the second term what he was not able to do in the first term. LEMON: Yes.

AJAMI: The Middle East always tests American presidents. It always frustrates American presidents. And it's the realities remain as they are. And again, this introduction of this Hamas, as an element, Hamas armed by the Iranians. And Hamas granting Iran at Beachhead in the Mediterranean. That has really made a terrible conflict...

LEMON: Hey, Mr. Ajami, I have to go. But I want to ask you this. I found it very interesting yesterday, when I was speaking, somebody who knows the region very well, our very own Jim Clancy, he's been covering since the '90s.

AJAMI: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: And he said that Israel basically the strategy is antiquated, that there is -- the way that Israel is proceeding with this conflict, no one will reach a resolution with this.

AJAMI: Well, I don't think I would put it this way. I think when the government, when the government is facing a rogue organization and the government is living under rockets and living under missiles from Gaza, there is no choice but to do -- but to have these encounters and to have these incursions. But we must go back and look for fundamental settlements between Israel and the Palestinians, the world ignored it for the last number of years. And I think we have to look back at it once again.

LEMON: Fouad Ajami, I appreciate your time. We'll be talking to you a lot over the coming days, coming hours and days, thank you very much.

AJAMI: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: All right. Millions of people in the Middle East now living in fear of course. What is the long term affect? Can you imagine living with the threat of rockets and bombs above your head every day? I'm going to talk with human behavior expert, Wendy Walsh, about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Thirty thousand Israeli soldiers, mobilized along the border. Israeli air strikes hitting targets and the threat of an all-out ground war ever-present. People on both sides now live in fear on just how close the attacks will come. Listen to one man in Gaza last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Israeli civilians, I might as well -- (noises).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yes, that was actually Thursday night. But what is it like to live like this, amid escalating violence? Can you imagine prolonged over time?

Wendy Walsh is a human behavior specialist and she's in Los Angeles, how does this affect people? What is the psychological impact here, Wendy?

WENDY WALSH, HUMAN BEHAVIOR EXPERT: Don, I want to take you back to the weeks following our own 9/11. Do you remember the rumors, and the fear, that maybe terrorist were renting crop dusters, they were going to drop anthrax, that anthrax were being mailed, that they're going to put chemicals in the water, that more terrorist attacks were going to happen on more buildings. Do you remember the terror we all felt in those weeks and months following?

Now, I want you to imagine that everyday people in Israel and Palestine who are taking their children to school, who are shopping, are feeling this on a daily basis. It's not the first time for them, unfortunately it may not be the last time. But it starts to grind on someone, it really starts to grind and wear and be a kind of chronic inter-generational stress.

LEMON: Yes, and even people here who have loved ones, possibly in harm's way there, it affects them, as well.

WALSH: You know, when your guest you had on a while ago talking, you had footage underneath of a family who had to get out of their car. And they were consoling their toddler baby. And I thought oh, my goodness, can you imagine you're just driving to work or taking her to daycare, and the official say, no, there could be bombing over here, pull over. And you could see the fear on the child's face because she was reading her parents' fear. And of course, that is the hardest thing when you live in this kind of stress weather, in this country and consoling someone from far away, is to try to contain yourself, so you don't pass it on to the babies and the children, because that is when it becomes lifelong terror.

LEMON: Unbelievable. OK, what about the children, let's talk more about families and specifically the children? What kind of impact does war have on children?

WALSH: Well, of course, war can be traumatizing, and everybody reacts in a different way. You know, some children come out of awful situations, and come out relatively unscathed and functional as adult, and other people can have major personality disorders, chronic depression anxiety, relationship issues, trust issues for the rest of their life. War is not good. Did we get that yet? War is not good. It's psychologically, can be psychologically disabling.

But this kind of, you know, this countries who have suffered so much war and so much conflict and I'm talking about the average people, they're prepared for it in the sense that most of the population has to serve two years in the military, certainly in Israel. But even preparing for it is also re-establishing that the threat is there, that the danger is there. And they're being reminded constantly of it. This kind of stress can be debilitating, can be very hard on families. LEMON: I don't know if you saw the picture, of the BBC reporter holding the little baby who had died. It is just heartbreaking, it's just heartbreaking to watch. And to think that they're a ground war is coming soon possibly, not possibly, probably.

WALSH: We hope not. We hope this is a show of defense and we hope it won't turn into that.

LEMON: Thank you, Dr. Wendy. We'll have much more on the developing story in Israel, plus we'll going to get you up to speed on the other headlines. There are some stories happening here in the U.S. and other stories internationally we want to tell you about. What would you do if you saw this crash happen right in front of you? The cars reeked of gas and could catch fire at any second. Well, there is a baby crying inside. We'll going to introduce you to the hero who rushed in to save her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're not going to go far away from the impending war in the Middle East. But now, some other headlines for you this weekend. President Barack Obama should be landing in Thailand in about nine hours. He is on a three day journey to Asia where he'll attend that East Asia Summit. The President will also stop in Cambodia and Myanmar also known as Burma. His visit to Myanmar where welcome signs are already up. Will be the first ever visit by an American president.

The fiscal cliff is just 45 days away now. President Barack Obama in Congress must cut a deal, otherwise massive tax hikes and spending cuts will kick in on January 1st. Democrats and Republicans seemed more in a mood to compromise after yesterday's series of meetings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I know these challenges won't be easy to solve but we can do it if we work together. That is why on Friday, I sat down with Congressional leaders to discuss how we can reduce our deficit in a way that strengthens our economy and protects our middle class. It was a constructive meeting and everyone agreed that while we may have our differences, we need to come together and find solutions and take action as soon as possible.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: For too long, partisan bickering has paralyzed Washington preventing members of both parties from reaching across the aisle to find common ground. That must stop. Washington can't keep ducking the tough decisions, and the fiscal cliff were headed toward provides an opportunity for both parties to change our country's irresponsible spending path.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well, both sides may have to give ground to get a deal over the finish line. The White House and Democrats have pushed for increase in income tax rates on the wealthy. Republicans have preferred to focus on closing tax loopholes and eliminating deductions and tax credits.

President Obama had some fun with members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnast team this week. Look at that. He posed with silver medalist McKayla Maroney, mimicking her famous not impressed look. Well, during the medal ceremony in London, the gymnast was caught within un- impressed face which quickly went viral as you might remember, a little fun there with the president.

A 20-year-old man is charged with plotting a mass murder at a screening of the latest Batman movie in Missouri, his mother alerted police. Blaec Lammers is accused of buying assault rifles and more than 400 rounds of ammunition for an alleged plot that mimic the Colorado Theater shooting this summer. His backup plan allegedly targeted a local Wal-Mart. His mother went to police Thursday and said, her son had loaded up on weapons similar to those used in the Colorado attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARIN CHAPPELL, BOLIVAR, MISSOURI ADMINISTRATOR: Any time you have a family member that feels concerned enough that they alert the Police Department, they know their loved one better than anyone else. And when they're concerned enough to alert the Police Department then we have to take that very, very seriously. Given the nature of the concerns that were addressed, there were just no questions that the Police Department acted responsibly in taking these individual into custody for his safety but also for everyone else's as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Court document show the suspect had stopped taking medication for a mental condition.

You got to take a look at this surveillance video which captures a crash so violent and so loud, there it is, neighbors could hear it inside their homes. Neighbors rushed into action. And one jumped into a demolished car to rescue the people inside. It's a good thing too because I want you to listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHICO QUINONES, RESCUED BABY FROM CAR: I found a little baby just hanging on her car seat. And that got my attention immediately. I had to work with her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He was able to carry that little girl to safety. It is hard to believe but everyone else in this crash only had minor injuries. The blistering air attacks on Israel and Gaza are stoking fears of an all-out war.

Millions of people could be in harm's way. We're breaking it down for you right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Israel is mobilizing 30,000 troops, who will wait for word to cross the Gaza border and turn their conflict into a ground war. The last time we saw this was four years ago, operation Cast Iron, a grueling three week campaign. And the numbers from that war are striking, are staggering. Thirteen Israelis killed, versus 1400 Palestinians who died. For now, all the key people in the Gaza area can do is listen for the missiles, watch the border and hope for the best.

CNN's Sara Sidner is there with them -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today, just like the last few days, we have been hearing a chorus of drones overhead and a symphony of air strikes. We've also seen plenty of rocket fire coming out of Gaza towards Israel. We witnessed several times, several rockets at a time heading over towards Israel. Also, we need to tell you about what is going on with the potential cease-fire. We were hearing from the Arab League that they were perhaps in negotiations of between Gaza and Israel.

But Israeli officials are denying that there is talk of a cease-fire that they're involved in, anyway. We do know that we're expecting a delegation coming over from several countries out of the meeting that they had in Cairo, to show up here in Gaza, perhaps tomorrow. We are waiting also to hear what is going to happen when it comes to the ground troops that Israel has amassed on the border.

Now, right now we're hearing the sounds of planes. And that usually only means one thing, that there will be air strikes that follow. And it is this time of night and into the wee hours in the morning that usually things get very, very intense with lots of glass of air strikes. But also, we know that there have been some blasts coming from the Israeli ships in the sea. We ourselves have experienced some of the loud booms and bangs that were coming from the sea, we're right on the water there.

So a lot of concern the civilians are not on the streets. Most people have hunkered down in their homes. Most of the businesses have been closed. We know that more people have been killed here, including militants and civilians. And many people have been injured today. Sara Sidner, CNN, Gaza City.

LEMON: This is just unbelievable to see. People have seen this photo of a BBC staffer, holding his baby son killed in Gaza. His 11-month old son. His name is Omar. He was fatally burned over his little body, that's according to published reports. Baby Omar was a son of a BBC staffer in Gaza. He is just one of several children killed since this intensive, this intense Israeli bombardment begin on Wednesday. A 10 month-old was also killed, as well. The missiles hit his family home in Gaza City shortly after Israel's shattered that -- fire.

Eleven people by the way were killed in Israeli air strikes in Gaza today. Forty six have been killed since Israel's military operations began.

Understanding the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza means keeping in mind just how many people could be in harm's way.

I hate to lead into you with that very sad story, but that picture really tells us the story.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the thing, I mean, every one of these images that were seeing on both sides is incredibly heartbreaking, and we do see a lot of these images, it's so powerful and so sad. And what I want is to take a couple of minutes to do here is the bombs, we see this sort of air strikes. I want to zoom this out to give the big picture of how many people in this region are effect and now living in some kind of fear right now.

So, I'm going to start with this map right here. I want you to see, what we marked that West Bank of Israel. We'll going to zoom into Gaza, take a look here, Gaza is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C. And in this area you have squeezed into that area, a population of about 1.7 million people. So, there are many areas in Gaza, that have very high densely populations. And I'm just using an example here of Gaza City, we're assuming, and even as assuming, you can tell, that Gaza City is one of the areas that is very dense populations. In Israel's actions, the attacks from Israel, they're focusing on the terrorist infrastructure and can hit various areas.

Here's the Israeli side of that. 7.6 million people in Israel. Israel is only the size of New Jersey. You heard Israeli officials talk many times how people have been living under fear of rocket attacks and under actual rocket attacks. Some of those are in southern Israel. And part of this area you're seeing here. But these Hamas rockets, according to Israel and according to some things we have seen, have been able to reach farther and farther, including into some major cities. We saw one the other day that was able to land in the greater Tel Aviv area, down near Rishon LeZion. I've also market a city called Hertolia (ph). This is just a sign of how many densely populated cities there are in that area.

One more really important thing to keep in mind, Folks, as you follow this. The West Bank is run by Fatah, which is a different Palestinian faction. Ad it is Gaza that is run by Hamas.

Now, that is just Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Think about the broader implications for the region.

First, listen to Tony Blair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The rockets have got to stop coming out of Gaza and then the Israeli military action cease. We can try and find our way forward. But I don't think we should be in any doubt at all that if this situation continues and escalates, it is going to be really serious and tragic, not just for Israelis and Palestinians but actually it will cause a huge amount of upheaval in the region, and this is a region, as you know, that doesn't require more upheaval right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEVS: Doesn't require more upheaval right now.

Take a look at some of the examples I want to show you here, the surrounding nations. First of all, Egypt, we have been covering this. The upheaval of getting a new government. Also, Egypt has been battling militants in the Sinai, up near Gaza. Jordan, meanwhile, have been having protests, especially economic protests. This is to the east side. And recently, some Jordanians clashed with police and took on the king in their protest. Very unusual. Up here in Lebanon, there's been violence recently. An intelligence chief was killed in a bombing. And over next to it, to the east in Syria, we have that war that has been going on since March of last year. And according to the latest estimates from the opposition, nearly 40,000 people killed in that conflict.

So you have the concerns also, Don, about how what is going on between Israel and Gaza could create even more instability in the region, something absolutely nobody on earth would want to see.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Josh. We appreciate it.

LEVS: All right. Absolutely.

LEMON: Israeli shatters a tenuous ceasefire. And now they are mobilizing their troops, as many as 30,000 troops along the Israel- Gaza border. We'll take you there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: If you need anymore evidence that Israelis and Palestinians is closer to a ground war in Gaza, there is word that Israel is sending 30,000 troops to the border.

CNN's Fredrik Pleitgen witnessed the buildup first hand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: We're in an area very close to Gaza, only about three kilometers away from the Gaza Strip. And what you see right behind me is the forward position from the Israeli defense forces. This is basically a reconnaissance unit that is keeping an eye on the Gaza Strip.

Now, as you can see, the guys have set up very close to a line of trees. And one of the reasons for that, they fear they could take fire from Gaza. Keep in mind that in the past several days several targets that have been outside the Gaza Strip have been hit by rockets. They have been hit by anti-tank missiles, including a patrol of the Israeli defense forces.

Signs that the Israeli defense forces are amassing both troops and hardware near the border with Gaza can be seen in many places. For instance, here, we see one of the many collection points near the border area where they're collecting armored personnel carriers, bulldozers, of course, tanks, as well. We have been to several of these places in this area. And all of them, we can see a lot of movement going on. Of course, we also know the Israeli forces have called up tens of thousands of reserves, which many people believe could be leading to a ground offensive in the coming days or coming weeks.

However, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry was not willing to say when there would be a time line of when it could begin.

JOSHUA HANTMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: I don't want to go into defense military strategy on television. However, it is a possibility. It is an option that is being considered in order to restore that calm to the south.

PLEITGEN: Israel's government and the military say that the operation in Gaza is continuing at a very high pace. However, they also say they're both willing and capable to put their foot even more on the gas and increase the scope of the operations.

Frederik Pleitgen, CNN, near the border with Gaza.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right, Frederik, thank you.

A judge in Cleveland comes up with a unique sentence for a woman who decides to take a detour around a school bus full of children -- hold an "Idiot" sign. Did the judge go too far?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Quick look now at some of the other headlines of the day.

Coast Guard patrol boats and helicopters still searching for -- a 1400 square-mile section in the gulf, looking for two missing workers. They have not been seen since Friday when an explosion tore through the oil platform where they were working. 11 workers were hurt in the blast. The spokesperson for Black Elk Energy, which runs the platform, says the fire is out now. Federal authorities are still investigating the cause of that. We'll update you.

And NFL legend, Mike Ditka, has suffered what has been called a mild stroke. The former coach and Hall of Fame player told the "Chicago Tribune" he feels good and it is not a big deal. Ditka is currently an ESPN analyst and will not work any NFL shows this weekend. We wish him the best. He's expected to be back on the air though soon.

And a Texas girl's life was changed forever last year when a car accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. But the sentencing for the convicted drunk driver, who hit her, Chilli Vasquez had a chance to read him the letter she had written, bringing the courtroom to tears.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The smile on Chilli Vasquez's face is so big, you would never know the nine-year-old is unhappy. She is missing some things.

XITCLALLI "CHILLI" VASQUEZ, DUI VICTIM: Like fighting with my brothers.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER OF CHILLI: She is in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down. She is dealing with it, but it still causes a lot of hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER OF CHILLI: A year and a half ago she was walking. I think that is what hurts the most.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: In July of last year, the truck hit the family car head-on. Chilli's spine fractured. Jeremy Solis, the 10-year-old driver who caused the wreck, had a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit. When he reached a plea deal last week, Chilli was given the chance to say something, and the bright 4th grader took it.

VASQUEZ: They took me to x-rays every day, fed me through my G- button. I had tubes through my mouth and nose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: The local district attorney's office has adopted the Vasquez family for the holiday season. Medical bills for the nine-year-old have already topped $1.6 million. KTVT reports the driver who caused the accident received 10 years behind bars.

It is a judge-ordered punishment that you have to see to believe. And there it is. A woman in Cleveland was ordered to stand on a public street corner, and holding an embarrassing sign saying, "Only an idiot would drive around a school bus." According to CNN affiliate, WOIO, Sheena Hardin drove on the sidewalk on a daily basis. During the potentially dangerous situation, the bus driver captured the act on cell phone, and contacted police. Officers waited for Hardin and caught her in the act. While serving her sentence, she was not too happy about the crowd of spectators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEENA HARDIN, SENTENCED FOR DRIVING ON SIDEWALK: What I don't owe, I don't know none of these.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing.

HARDIN: And I'm not giving it to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm saying apologize for the kid, not him.

HARDIN: And I'm just giving it to him. I'm not giving it to him.

(CROSSTALK) HARDIN: I'm just going to serve this sentence and get on with my life, like y'all should have do a long time ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Sorry. Holly --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Everyone is like talking -- I'm -- I'm flabbergasted at that attitude.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Holly Hughes is here. She's a criminal defense attorney.

I'm speechless by that.

HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER PROSECUTOR: I understand.

LEMON: How did she do it. And should she learn from that? I'm sorry. I don't mean to judge this woman.

HUGHES: Right.

LEMON: But first of all, you know you don't drive around the school bus, everybody makes a mistake. But then when you do it, you say, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done it, not --

HUGHES: Right.

LEMON: -- everybody should mind their own business. I mean, what is this?

HUGHES: Not only that, but you don't drive up on the sidewalk to go around a school bus. And this is something that happened repeatedly on a daily basis.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Lady, I hope that you see this tape and this story, and you are embarrassed by it. It is crazy.

HUGHES: Well, you know what, Don, I hope she saw the story we just covered of the little girl who was paralyzed from the chest down --

LEMON: Exactly.

HUGHES: -- due to an accident.

Now, this woman is not alleged to have been drunk, this Hardin woman, but she created a dangerous situation for all those children on the bus. The judge ordered her to stand out there with a sign. But here's the thing --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Is this too harsh, though?

HUGHES: Are you crazy? No, it is not harsh enough. It didn't say, I'm the idiot that drove around the school bus.

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: That could be a public service announcement. That could be a concerned parent standing out there, saying, only an idiot -- you know, you see the "Safe children" signs all over. No, this is not too harsh.

LEMON: Is this a first. Are there other examples that -- I have heard of stories similar to this.

HUGHES: Of judges ordering something like --

LEMON: Yes.

HUGHES: Yes, there is a phenomenal judge in Texas, Judge Poe, and he will make you stand on the courthouse steps with a sign around your neck, like one of those big sandwich boards. He is tough on people who commit domestic violence. He will say, yes, I beat my wife. I've been convicted of family violence, battery. Yes, you know what, it's part of your sentence. Here's the deal. You can sit in jail if you don't want to do that.

LEMON: Embarrassment. That is probably a really good sentence for a lot of people.

HUGHES: Yes.

LEMON: Let's change the subject. Four men who were cleared last year of the 1994 rape and murder of an Englewood woman, filing federal lawsuits, claiming they were framed by Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors. Their lawyers -- I remember this story -- say the men known as the Englewood Four, believe the police ignored evidence in the case. This has been going on in Chicago forever.

HUGHES: Yes.

LEMON: What kind of case do they have?

HUGHES: They actually have a good case. This offense happened in 1994. This was DNA evidence in 1996 that said it is not linked to any of these four young men.

Now, I will say, let's be fair in our reporting. There were confessions, but what we're hearing now is they were false because there was coercion, beating, physical intimidation. There was violence, very long durations of bringing these young men in, and basically saying you're not free to leave, and pushing them until they confessed. So what will be interesting, if these four young men who are now grown men, they spent 17 years behind bars for something they didn't do. So their chances are very good, if they can prove that these tactics that happened. And hopefully, somebody at the police station, if these allegations are true, will kind of man up, as we say, and tell the truth, and say, yes, they were there for a long time. I did hear them hollering for help. I did hear them saying I didn't do it, I didn't do it, for the first three hours, and then suddenly, we have these confessions.

LEMON: The truth always comes out in the rinse. The truth always comes out.

HUGHES: Yes.

LEMON: Let's hope it comes out sooner rather than later.

HUGHES: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: And you know, it is a terrible thing. Let's say this. There are hundreds of thousands of very good law enforcement officers out there, Don. But if these guys did what they're alleged to have done and coerced these kids, they need to be held accountable.

LEMON: You know what they say, one bad apple.

HUGHES: Yes.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

When two sides go to war, it is about the boots on the ground and the weapons. How does Israel and the Palestinians stack up here? That is next.

But first, I want to tell you this. College, of course, is there to further a student's education. But in today's "Smart is the New Rich," Christine Romans points out you first should be educated about choosing and paying for college.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this high school fair, high school junior, Veronica Woodly, is exploring her options.

VERONICA WOODLY, HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR: Finding schools that have pre med and I can major in biology and become a dermatologist and also minor in Spanish

ROMANS: Picking the right college is a high-stakes decision with a high price tag. Average tuition per year at a public college is more $22,000 for in-state students, a private college, more than $43,000. Community colleges cost $15,000 a year.

Not all kids borrow for college, but those who do, graduate with $27,000 debt on average. With prices like that, college choice is a careful investment that depends on a student's talents and finances.

(on camera): Most important, you need to graduate in four years, no more five years. And you have to pick the right school. If you haven't saved money, you can't pick the super expensive school and graduate five years later.

And you say there is a certain rule of thumb, Carmen, for paying for school.

CARMEN WONG ULRICH, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: Here's the thing. If you're a parent paying for school, I don't know how and why you think you have to pay for the whole thing. Don't try to save the full price tag. Basically, try to save a third, go for scholarships and grants for the other third, and borrow a third. It's much more manageable and you can do it.

ROMANS: And that means part of the burden is on the kid, but part on the parents. Carmen, a lot of people are not saving.

WONG ULRICH: Exactly. Listen, if you can't save, if things are too tight to save, I always say to parents, take care of yourself first. Your child has a lot more time to pay of loans than you do. And stick with federal. More flexibility when it comes to repayment. If they can't pay, they have more ways to refer it, forbearance, income-based repayment. So look at those loans first.

ROMANS (voice-over): Christine Romans, CNN, New York.

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LEMON: As Israelis and Palestinians move toward a possible ground war in Gaza, each side flexing its military muscle, their strengths are quite different.

Our Tom Foreman looks at the advantages each of these enemies has.

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TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Globalfirepower.com has called Israel the tenth most powerful military in the world. Let's break that down and see why. They have compulsory military service, meaning every young person must go into the military for a while. 176,000 active troops are available and they have about a half million that they can call from reserves very quickly. Ground forces also impressive, some 3,000 tanks. If you count all the artillery pieces and mortars, you have about 12,000 units that can operate on the ground. And their air force is formidable, about 800 aircraft, including some 200 helicopters. This is largely what they have used to have these strikes within Gaza. Now, if you look at Hamas, their forces are much smaller in terms of their official forces. If you look at people really in uniform, soldiers, police, whatever you want to call it, about 12,500. Of course, they have nothing like the weapons the Israelis have. However, Palestinian militants do have lots and lots of rockets. And I want to bring in a model of one of them here. This is a Qassam 2. You have probably heard about this a bit. These rockets are popular because they're cheap, easy to make out of steel tubes. They only weigh 70 to 100 pounds. And they're fueled by essentially by commercially grade fertilizer. They can pack quite a punch. They're not very accurate, but if you fire enough, they don't have to be accurate. If you go beyond this to some of their more robust and better targeted rockets and missiles, you start talking about range. In this conflict so far, we have reports of weapons fired from Gaza traveling as much as 50 miles to hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In fact, Israeli officials now believe as much as a fifth of the population of Israel is subject to the rocket attacks. That's something they say they will not tolerate anymore. That's why we keep hearing this all this talk and speculation about a ground invasion of Gaza.

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LEMON: Tom, thank you very much.

We'll have much, much more on Israel coming up.

But first, a story that will make you smile. Forget the Super Bowl. It's the best halftime show ever.

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LEMON: For today's "Welcome Home," we're spotlighting troops coming home for the holidays. It was last week, during halftime of the Jaguars/Colts game, with his family on the field, a video message was played from Petty Officer William Cook on the third -- his third tour in Afghanistan.

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WILLIAM COOK, PETTY OFFICER: Joy, there are no words that can express my thanks for the sacrifices you have made for our family in the past year. Have fun tonight. I love you and miss you, and promise I'll be home soon.

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LEMON: But the halftime show was definitely not over.

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LEMON: Petty Officer Cook sprinted onto the field, much to the delight of the Jaguars crowd and his stunned family.

Now to the story of Navy Reservist Justin White, of Wichita, who just made it home in time for his son's fifth birthday party. Only Aiden didn't know it was his dad he just beat in a light saber duel.

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#; And for more of these heart-warming "home for the holidays" videos, logon to CNN.com/video and click through the "Welcome Home" collection.

Those get me every time, right?

I'm Don Lemon at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. See you back here in just a moment with the latest in the possible ground war in the Middle East. It could happen in a matter of hours.

Meantime, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.