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NEWSROOM for February 5, 2001

Aired February 5, 2001 - 4:30 a.m. ET


TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: Peace is a fleeting proposition in the land called Israel. But with every election, with every negotiation, the stakes are high and the world holds its breath for a sign, some sign that peace in the Middle East may finally come.

Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM's special report, "Jason's Journal," a personal chronicle of a region in turmoil.


Israeli voters head to the polls Tuesday to elect a prime minister. Opinion polls show Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak trailing far behind hard-line opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who led Israel's invasion of Lebanon back in 1982.

Prime Minister Barak's strategy of forging a peace deal with the Palestinians has failed to this point, causing his political prospects to suffer.

Mr. Barak has lost support since his 1999 campaign when he vowed to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians. Despite ongoing peace talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mr. Barak has not been able to fulfill his promise of peace, and many of his former supporters feel betrayed.

Peace prospects deteriorated in September. That's when Ariel Sharon visited a Jerusalem shrine holy to Jews and Muslims. After that visit, Palestinians began violent protests. Since then, about 375 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in the fighting.

Peace negotiations have continued. However, Mr. Barak and Chairman Arafat have not been able to get past certain sticking points. Two of the biggest hurdles are deciding whether to give Palestinian refugees the right of return to Israel and resolving claims over Jerusalem and its holy sites.

After years of fighting and bloodshed, it's easy to understand the desperate need for peace. A little later, we'll tell you about the history of the Middle East conflict and how it all began.

First, I want to introduce you to two young men from both sides of the battle line. We begin in Israel, where three years of military service for men and two years for women is mandatory.


BELLINI: I think when people watch on TV, they see kids throwing stones and they think, ah, you know, how dangerous is that, kids with stones, you know?

AVIV DERTELEH, AGE 20, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE: I knew you were getting to that. And you know what? I'm glad you got to this kind of question.

BELLINI (voice-over): This was the kind of question Aviv Derteleh wanted to answer for me the day I spent with him. At the heart of the answer, the image of the Israeli soldier.

DERTELEH: You expect to feel like someone, you know, like a giant, I don't know what person, you know, with muscles and like, you know, with a killer look in his eyes and stuff. And like, first of all, we are people like everyone else.

BELLINI: He's well aware that people around the world see battles like the one he's sometimes in and they often think Israeli soldiers are excessive in their use of force. He himself has seen the images of young Palestinians dead and injured, of children with stones facing his army's tanks and machine guns.

DERTELEH: Before people would, like, start to judge us, you know -- it's not that we are killers in, you know, green uniforms and we're going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that I'm not a killer and none of my friends are killers. Like, in a big demonstration that has people throwing stones, we have like two people that has a weapon and they started shooting. So the soldier, especially IDF soldiers, doesn't give, you know, weapons for no reason.

BELLINI: These days, it's not uncommon for Aviv's base to come under fire. Random attacks lead to wild goose chases. It's nearly routine.

DERTELEH: I fire a couple of bullets going around whistling, you know, around during today, so that's OK. You know, I feel quiet. But if like you or like someone that don't know the area and they would come here and say, oh my God, like, looks what's going on here. It's like the wild, wild West or something, you know.

BELLINI: Aviv is a machine gunner. When specific flare-ups of violence aren't threatening the West Bank settlements he protects, he patrols the area around his base.

DERTELEH: My mission, in one sentence is to keep all the people that live and go around this area safe, and no matter what.

BELLINI: But Aviv wanted me to see that his work as a soldier is not the only thing he does, that his life centers on his friends, not his gun.

DERTELEH: Look, I have posters on my wall. We have like a stereo here. We have a PlayStation. We have a VCR. We have TV. We have everything to have a normal life. BELLINI: All those things he wants us to see because he wants more people to understand that the pictures on television, pictures he himself could be in, don't tell the whole story.

DERTELEH: You get in the middle of everything. You know, the person in the middle of everything is always, you know, the poorest person, you know. In this case, it's us.

BELLINI: Sept. 28, the day Israel's Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Muslim holy shrine the Al-Aqsa mosque, the day the Palestinian uprising began in response, and the day Mohammad al-Wahidy got shot.

MOHAMMAD AL-WAHIDY, AGE 22, PALESTINIAN (through translator): I was holding a stone like that and carrying it like that so I was hit right there. I only went to see what was going on. I never thought it would escalate into this.

BELLINI: That first episode landed him in intensive care for three months, he says. So Mohammad, who's 22 years old, knew better than the other, younger kids that throwing stones is no joke, making him a perfect person to ask the question, why do it?

But it was actually another Mohammad I was planning to ask that question. Plan A was to follow up with a 16-year-old whom CNN reporter Fionnuala Sweeney profiled back in October.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He dares the Israelis to shoot him as he races across the road to place his flag on the compound fencing. Four of his friends are injured in the clashes before he, too, is shot in the left leg.


BELLINI: Road blocks place by the Israeli military throughout the Gaza Strip foiled my plans to meet him. They were in response to a bombing on an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv the night before, an attack that wounded 14 people.

So on to Plan B: find a young stone thrower at a location where, over the last several months, violent demonstrations erupted frequently. Many young people were there, but it was a little too noisy to do an interview, definitely time for Plan C.

But I had no Plan C, so we asked around Gaza City for someone who'd been injured during the conflict. In no time, we met Mohammad, who lives near the sea.

BELLINI (on camera): What do you do better, swim or throw stones?

AL-WAHIDY (through translator): We really do not want to throw any rocks, but we have to. Of course, swimming is much better and we like it more. BELLINI: Better swimming?

(voice-over): Back to my original question: why?

AL-WAHIDY (through translator): I throw stones because that's the only way I can express myself to get my rights back.

BELLINI: Mohammad wants the Israelis to leave Gaza and the West Bank entirely, creating a Palestinian state.

AL-WAHIDY (through translator): Fighting is the only solution we have now. We have tried everything and all have failed.

BELLINI: But he recognized throwing stones thus far has cost many Palestinian lives and yielded few positive results for his cause.

AL-WAHIDY (through translator): If you think about it, the Israeli soldier is walking with all the protection he needs. What will I do? He probably has only a 1 percent chance to die. But with me, if I keep doing this, I have probably 99 percent.

BELLINI: Mohammad says he's never seen Palestinians shooting at Israeli soldiers during a demonstration. But eyewitnesses, including CNN reporters, have seen such shootings during this intifada. Even so, Mohammad says he won't avoid the fire to throw stones.

AL-WAHIDY (through translator): This is what jihad in war is all about, that we do not fear death.

BELLINI: For now, Mohammad is taking a break from facing off against Israeli soldiers, unsure about his next move.

AL-WAHIDY (through translator): I want to finish my university studies. I'm thinking that I'll not get married. I would not have children. If I did, I would really be worried about them all the time.

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: A lot of focus placed on what the politicians say and what the politicians believe, but it is about the ordinary people. They are the people who ultimately have most at stake in this process because they are the people who are most directly affected by the ongoing, swirling diplomatic debate that is going on, and of course by the ongoing, swirling violence that is going on.


BELLINI: You've heard a lot about the conflict in the Middle East, the conflict even older than Israel. Israel didn't become a nation until 1948, and right away it was attacked by its neighbors. In the fighting that followed, Israel took over more territory. But as it gained more Arab land, it also gained an angry Arab population.

Over the years, fighting continued, especially over areas such as Gaza and the West Bank, territories that are home to more than 1 million Palestinian Arabs. Jerrold Kessel traces the history and the tension.


JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was 53 years ago, Nov. 29, 1947. The United Nations General Assembly votes for the division of British mandate Palestine into two states.

In the war that followed, the promised Jewish state came into existence on part of the land. Neighboring Arab states took over the balance of the land and the promised Arab state within the land of Palestine never came about.

Palestinians and Israelis each took pains to deny the existence of the other. And it would take almost half a century until the Oslo peace declaration gave real hope the conflict between Palestinian and Israeli could be ended. With this historic White House handshake seven years ago, it seemed Palestinians and Israelis had finally ended their struggle for mutual recognition.

And each agreed, in principle, to accept the others' right in part of the land they shared. For the first time, each began to acknowledge the other side's historic pain and suffering: understanding of the Israelis' fears after the holocaust and the sense of fragility of the Israeli state; understanding of the Palestinians' sense of loss in their catastrophe when Israel was created.

Still, the recognition extended only as far as the political. And despite years of detailed negotiations, basic claims remained unresolved: the Palestinians still seeking the principle of a right of return to Israel for their refugees; Israel seeking permanent control over parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Israelis had built settlements. It is still, say Palestinians, about Israel accepting a Palestinian state.

HASSAN ASFOU, PALESTINIAN CABINET MINISTER: Logical the Oslo agreement. It was acceptance to gradually the withdraw of the Israeli forces from the Palestinian territory, which occupied in '67. This is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Oslo. We are ready to continue in our process. But we need to find the other partner at the ready to accept the Palestinian nation and their homeland, which we agreed as '67 borders. If they want to play here, we can offer only fight.

KESSEL: Perhaps the reopening of all the painful issues back to 1948: For Israelis, whether in 1948 or today, the issue is the same: their need to feel secure, even as Palestinian demands are addressed.

EPHRAIM SNEH, ISRAELI DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER: This was the historic decision of Yitzhak Rabin to put an end to this war through agreement. And if this war continues, we shall fight. But we still want to put an end to the war by agreement between the two nations here in Israel: the Israelis and the Palestinians. And it remains our strategic goal. But we will never compromise our security. Our security comes first.

KESSEL: Old fears are brought back to life, resurrecting the historical arguments about who has what elemental rights in historic Palestine.

AZMI BISHARA, ARAB POLITICAL SCIENTIST: If this conflict goes on and the people cannot agree on a historical solution, from both sides I think there is a possibility that the conflict collapse into its elemental components: about liberating Palestine. And by the other side, it was about settling on the whole of Palestine or annexing all of Palestinian.

RABBI YISRAEL MEIR LAU, CHIEF RABBI OF ISRAEL: The question is not territories. The question is the very existence of the Jewish people in his old homeland. This is the issue. We are still in a long battle for the independence of the state of Israel. The Jewish state's independence has started at the 29th of November, '47. But it didn't finished yet.


BELLINI: The bitter Middle East conflict profoundly affects Israeli settlers and Palestinian refugees. Older Palestinians cling to dreams of returning to homes on what was once Palestine. And they pass that dream on to the younger generations. Many Jewish settlers have had to adapt to a life enveloped with soldiers and gunfire.

Here's a closer look at both, beginning with the Jewish settler.


BELLINI: You have one of the nicest views around, it looks like.

SHOSHANNA ROZENZWIG, JEWISH SETTLER: You know, we hear all the shooting. When they shoot, it's a way of living that you get yourself used to in a way because, you know, you believe very strongly in what you're doing.

BELLINI (voice-over): To live in a place like Sego (ph), especially now, you've got to have some pretty strong reasons not to turn tail and move somewhere else. A barbed-wire fence surrounds her entire neighborhood. Soldiers with heavy weaponry protect you. Your family has a pager for alert messages when for bullets are flying and it's not safe to go outdoors.

S. ROZENZWIG: The buses are bulletproof.

BELLINI (on camera): Have they come under attack?

S. ROZENZWIG: No, so far, not.

Have you been shot at?


BELLINI: You were shot at one time?


BELLINI: What was that like? M. ROZENZWIG: What?

BELLINI: What was that like?

M. ROZENZWIG: It was -- they do send me afraid.

BELLINI (voice-over): Shoshanna moved to Sego from the U.S. seven years ago, bringing her four children. By living here on uncontested land, she feels her family is giving strength to the controversial position that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza should never be compromised for peace.

S. ROZENZWIG: We have to protect our country. We have to fight for our country. There's no way out of that. We're Jewish and we're destined to fight for what we believe in.

I love you. Have a great day. Bye.

BELLINI (on camera): Have you ever met any of the kids who live down there?


BELLINI: No? Would you want to?


BELLINI (voice-over): But Matanya does know just about everyone in Sego. And even those he doesn't, he still trusts.

(on camera): What happens if you miss the bus?

M. ROZENZWIG: I go traveling.

BELLINI: (voice-over): To go traveling mans to hitch a ride. All you have to do is wait on the corner. And usually, within minutes, someone passing by will offer you a lift. Mantanya missed the bus today, but it was no reason to panic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw them twice.

BELLINI: The previous night, Matanya's neighbor took me out on a typical after-dark shopping run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard them? You want to see? Come from here. Come. You see all the houses? So they're shooting from there.

BELLINI: Matanya, waiting for his mother to come pick him up, was occupying himself back at the neighbor's house, more interested in a GameBoy than whatever war games were going on outside. The danger, after a while, I'm told, loses its shock value.

M. ROZENZWIG: Why is they shooting?

BELLINI (on camera): Yes, why are


M. ROZENZWIG: Because they want to live here. They think if they shoot at us, we going to go.

BELLINI (voice-over): He won't let them because, all politics aside, this is the only home he knows.

(on camera): Is this a fun place to live?

M. ROZENZWIG: Yes, it's fun.

BELLINI: It's a fun place to live?

M. ROZENZWIG: Yes, it's far from everybody. It's quiet.



BELLINI: Except for when you hear...


BELLINI: Except for when you hear gunshots.


BELLINI: Then it's not quiet.


DIYAN DAOUD, PALESTINIAN REFUGEE: No. I thought this was Acmed (ph)?

BELLINI: Acmed. And where is Acmed?

D. DAOUD: One minute.

BELLINI (voice-over): Try not to bother Diyan when she is chatting on the Internet. But if you have to, try not to ask dumb questions.

(on camera): Did you meet people from other camps on here?

D. DAOUD: Yes.

BELLINI: Yes? What do you talk about?

D. DAOUD: About the life and about school, I think.

BELLINI: Can you find a boyfriend on here?


BELLINI (voice-over): Around 10:00, Diyan and her sister Iman leave the cultural center at the Dehiju (ph) refugee camp and head home.

(on camera): Have you lived here your whole life?

D. DAOUD: Yes.

BELLINI: And your father, he lives here, too?

D. DAOUD: Yes.

BELLINI: His whole life? You grandfather lives here, too?

D. DAOUD: He came here.

BELLINI: Not by choice. Not because he wanted to.

(voice-over): Eleven-thousand people live in the Dehiju refugee camp: Even though it's where they've lived their entire lives, they consider themselves refugees because the land they identify as their real home is in Israeli territory and off-limits to them. Palestinian refugees around the Middle East dream of a return to the villages that they say belonged to their families prior to 1948.

The mystique of grandfather's village has been passed to Diyan and Iman's generation. It fills their imagination, offers them hope, especially now.

(on camera): That's your brother. OK.

D. DAOUD: Yes.


BELLINI: And these are his friends.


BELLINI: And what are they doing out tonight?


BELLINI: Does your brother ever go out there when they do the demonstrations?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes when he goes, fight off his mother.

BELLINI (voice-over): Their mother, catching wind of the conversation says: "I don't want him going to the demonstrations. The Israeli soldiers sit up high and could shoot any of them.

Diyan and Iman share a bedroom. Their father lets them dream about a bigger house where they each have their own room.

HALET DAOUD, PALESTINIAN REFUGEE (through translator): My father lived comfortably in the Welaga (ph) village. Now I live in a small space just 100 square meeters. I refuse to live in a refugee camp for the rest of my life. I refuse to become the price for a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I. DAOUD (through translator): I agree totally with what my father says. And whatever he's teaching me and he taught me, I will treat my children, which, on their side, they will teach their children -- and so on.

BELLINI: In all likelihood, she'll be teaching those values right here. Israel's leadership has said that the right of refugees to return to the land that they claim was theirs before 1948 is simply out of the question. Diyan and Iman don't just sit around waiting for it to happen. They're busy teens involved in dance and dance instructing, involved with their family, their religion, the community they love. But they think life would be so much better on the plot of land that's real on the map and mythical in their minds.

BELLINI (on camera): Do you think a lot of the Israelis have Palestinian friends?


BELLINI: No? Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they don't go to school together. They don't live together. So how will they meet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's very difficult to be friends, especially in this situation and this time. Before that, it was -- maybe it was easier.


BELLINI: So now you know the history. And you've heard from kids living in the region. Where do we go from here? We'll meet young Palestinians and Israelis who went to camp together over the summer to try to understand each other better. We'll see how friendships from the summer have fared after returning to a region in conflict.

First we visit a haven of hope, where Israelis and Palestinians are living together side by side peacefully.


BELLINI (on camera): What's it like living up here?



MARK: Yes, it's -- we have nothing to do here. But it's nice. No mall.

BELLINI: Where I come from, we put our dogs on leeches.

MARK: No, here you can -- we trust our dogs.

BELLINI: So what is this place all about? Explain to me: What is Neve Shalom?

MARK: Our families and Jewish families live together. And that's it.

BELLINI (voice-over): Reni and Naomi are best friends. Reni is Palestinian, Naomi Israeli. To them, their friendship is no big deal, even though they know outsiders are intrigued by it. They grew up together in Neve Shalom, a community built around the idea of cohabitation between Israelis and Palestinians.

RENI BAULOS, PALESTINIAN: Every place in Israel, you have the Jewish and Arab live together.

MARK: But they didn't choose to.

BAULOS: But they didn't choose it.

MARK: Yes, they didn't like...

BAULOS: You're just stuck with it.

BELLINI: Their entire lives, people -- sometimes famous people -- have come to their small village of around 40 families to discuss the same question: Can Palestinians and Israelis get along?

MARK: They're talking about politics.

BELLINI (on camera): Talking about politics?

BAULOS: Yes, they are Jews and Arabs inside there. Boring.


MARK: I mean, they come and they look on.

BELLINI (voice-over): And sometimes they encounter people looking for an argument, tempting them to get into it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct me if I'm wrong.

MARK: We will. Don't worry. OK.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of a political statement in it, right? It's radical (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BAULOS: If we had time. We don't have time. Have to go.

The whole idea from this village is not to pay attention to politics. And it's really


MARK: Just to live


BAULOS: To live peacefully.

BELLINI: Naomi and Reni can't deny just how different and political things are outside their village. In Neve Shalom, all kids go to school together up until the sixth grade. After that, they leave the nest. Palestinians and Israelis usually go to separate schools.

MARK: Every time that I protect the Palestines, so my friends, like, they have the same, same answer -- the same. They tell me (OFF- MIKE). Yes, they tell me like: Yes, we know that in your village, you have a great Palestine. And they're very good. But you have to see all the Palestines in the news.

BELLINI: Reni and Naomi and their friends in Neve Shalom, when they're home together, don't spend much time thinking about Palestinian-Israeli relations. They've got other things they would rather think about.

MARK: I hate talking about Jews and Arabs because I'm sick of it.

BAULOS: Yes, this is the same thing with us.

MARK: Yes, we love each other. I know to speak Arabic. She knows to speak Arabic.

BAULOS: I know I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We love each other.

MARK: Best friends.


ARIEL TAL, ISRAELI: When I'm watching the news, I'm very disappointed from the Arab people. I keep thinking to myself: Why are they throwing this peace away? I'm watching the riots and the people throwing rocks. And I think: Why should I cry for them? Why should I apologize for someone who's going to kill a soldier? And he's throwing rocks to kill someone. Why should I cry for him if he die?

BELLINI: Over the summer, Palestinians and Israeli and Seeds of Peace camp in Maine didn't always agree or see eye to eye on everything. But they got along. They became friends and got closer than they ever expected they could.

TAMER SHABANEH, PALESTINIAN: We used to know them as a gun soldiers on checkpoints. We know them as settlers and whatever. And now we see them. We're friends. The stereotypes break in the first few days.

BELLINI: That was the whole point of the camp, which brought a select group of Israelis and Palestinians together to learn what they shared in common, to become the hope for the future.

MICHAL TEL-AL, ISRAELI: We ran after the mascot.

BELLINI: When she got back, Michal, who's Israeli, planned on maintaining her friendships with her new Palestinian friends, mostly through e-mail, but also over the phone and in person on occasion.

TEL-AL: These are all people from Seeds of Peace.

BELLINI: For several weeks, she did just that.

TEL-AL: I was looking forward to, like, having them over and having my friends over and then for my school friends to meet my Palestinian friends.

BELLINI: Then intifada started and all bets were off. Optimism and good feelings from the summer gave way to anger to and disappointment.

TEL-AL: In the beginning, I was just so upset and I was so -- I was -- I was so angry: "I can't believe they're doing this to us."

BELLINI: Quickly, the tone and seriousness of e-mails change.

TEL-AL: "These days, I find myself putting off reading SeedsNet more and more. To be completely honest, I am as confused as you are about the stuff going on in these days."

BELLINI: Michal's father Elli (ph), a filmmaker by profession, decided, when the conflict broke out, to begin recording interviews with Michal and her friends.

ELLI TEL-AL, ISRAELI FILMMAKER: I decide that I am going to follow her and her friends and to see how they're going to understand this crisis.

BELLINI: The two of us decided to collaborate and try to reach together Michal's friends from the summer who were on the Palestinian side. Tamer and his friends live in Hevron, an area where some of the most violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians broke out.

SHABANEH: You see here every day, five, four Palestinians are killed. Then you see what is happening from the Israel soldiers. Then, at the same moment, you're starting to remember those days in the camp.

BELLINI: Seeds of Peace camp taught them they do have things in common. They can be friends. There's hope for peace. The intifada showed them just how complex their own emotions are. It hit Ariel after he got word that a well-liked Palestinian Seed had been killed.

TAL: My first question was: "Did he throw stones?" And they said "Yes." So I said, "OK, then he deserves to die." And, after that, I realized it wasn't like that. And it really made me think about what I said and about how I reacted to that.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BELLINI: I want to send my thanks to the people you met in this special for allowing me -- for trusting me -- to step into their world to try to understand their perspectives, for lots of Palestinian and Israeli young people have been shaped deeply by growing up in a region in conflict. They certainly all had a lot to share.

I'm Jason Bellini. Thanks for joining us for this CNN NEWSROOM special edition.



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