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Palestinian rights advocate: 'I don't feel like I've betrayed anybody'

Adam Shapiro
Adam Shapiro  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- During the siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah on the West Bank, one American citizen caused quite a stir.

Adam Shapiro, who is Jewish and who works as an advocate for Palestinian rights, wound up spending a night inside Arafat's compound after delivering food and medicine there. His actions caused outrage among some American Jews and led to death threats against his family in New York.

Shapiro recently returned to the United States after living in Ramallah for six months. From Washington, he talked Tuesday with CNN's Bill Hemmer about his experiences and the situation in Israel.

HEMMER: Tell us what it's like to be back and tell us what kind of reaction you've gotten from either Jews or Israelis, not only here but also overseas.

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SHAPIRO: It's very good to be back and, at the same time, a little bizarre. As I walk around the streets of Washington D.C. and you see life and movement, it's a stark contrast to what the situation was like in Ramallah, where I would be the only person walking on the street, trying to deliver food and medicine. And the only people or cars passing me were tanks or armored personnel carriers.

HEMMER: Some people say you're a traitor. Do you think you betrayed the Israelis on this?

SHAPIRO: I'm an American citizen. I don't feel like I've betrayed anybody. The work we are doing with the International Solidarity Movement is to try to bring about peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe the best way to achieve this is by ending the occupation and establishing two independent and free states.

HEMMER: Is your family still receiving death threats?

SHAPIRO: They have been receiving death threats and they still have police protection outside their home.

HEMMER: What are you doing in D.C.?

SHAPIRO: I'm here, I've been invited to speak to a few different groups, Jewish and non-Jewish groups, about my experiences and what I've seen on the ground over the last month and what international civilians -- Americans and Europeans and others -- can do to try and help this situation.

HEMMER: When you were inside that compound, the six men the Israeli government wanted to apprehend -- where were they, and where were they in relation to Yasser Arafat?

SHAPIRO: That, I don't know. When I was in there I was only in there for 24 hours and I did not see those men inside. That's not to say that they weren't there, but I just did not see them.

HEMMER: What does it suggest that the military operation -- although not completely wrapped up from the Israeli perspective -- there have been no suicide bombings in about two and a half weeks, if you look at the calendar. What's the suggestion there?

SHAPIRO: The suggestion is that overwhelming military force can force a population down a certain number of levels of development, of livelihood. People have been locked in their homes as prisoners -- all people. And so, yes, if there is a military occupation of every inch of Palestinian territory, I would expect that it would be very difficult to carry out not just suicide bombings, but life in general.

HEMMER: Do you think it might also suggest that it was just strictly bad public relations in the Western world for the Palestinian suicide bombings to continue?

SHAPIRO: I think, first and foremost, it should be condemned, the suicide bombings, and all acts of terrorism, be [the condemnation] by actors, individuals, groups or states. I do think that, unfortunately, the suicide bombings confuse the issue for the rest of the world in that the Palestinian cause for freedom and for rights is a just cause. Suicide bombings are not a good way to go about achieving these rights and it should be condemned at this point.

HEMMER: What do you think Yasser Arafat will do once he obtains that freedom?

SHAPIRO: I hope Yasser Arafat goes out and continues to be the leader of the Palestinian people and shows his people the way forward in a very difficult and traumatic -- a time of great loss. And I hope he can provide some hope for his people. And I hope that [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon can find a way to provide hope for his people, also.

HEMMER: I asked you about your family before. How have they felt about your activity in Ramallah?

SHAPIRO: My family understands that I'm doing it because of what I see for myself. They've been to the region, both to Israel and to the West Bank and Gaza, and they've seen for themselves. And they support me because they believe what I'm doing is ultimately right. I'm working for peace and co-existence and security for both peoples, and helping people. At this time, the humanitarian work we're doing is really helping people survive.

HEMMER: Are you going to go back?

SHAPIRO: Yes, I plan on going back.


SHAPIRO: Sometime in June, provided that I'm allowed back in. Unfortunately, Israel controls all the borders, and so it's not possible to enter into Palestinian territory without getting Israeli approval, basically, to enter through one of the airports.

HEMMER: How did you get out?

SHAPIRO: I left through the airport. I was searched like anyone else, just a regular security check. I answered their questions and was allowed out.

HEMMER: Did they know who you were?

SHAPIRO: [laughs] I'm not sure.




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