Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Return to Gaza
The sweat trickled down my back. I was pulling a cart full of television gear and flak jackets, had a heavy rucksack with my laptop and a jumble of cables on my back, and a camera and two helmets in my free hand. Most of the sweat came from the intense heat, the clinging humidity and the exertion, but part of it from a tinge of tension. We were passing through the Erez crossing, from Israel in to Gaza.
I hadn't been there since January. The kidnapping of the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston on 12 March had made the strip a no-go zone. That had kept us away, plus the vicious rounds of factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah, during which it was virtually impossible to report from Gaza in a meaningful way.
But Hamas' stunning victory in the final round of fighting, which ended on 15 June, had changed everything. Fatah had been roundly defeated, and my sources in Gaza told me we could return.
On the Israeli side of the crossing we had a bit of a wait, for reasons that weren't altogether clear—they rarely are. The scene once we passed through the final gate, remotely controlled by Israeli border security, was surreal.
Around a hundred people—mostly young men with a smattering of women and children, were huddled by the sides of the concrete corridor. There was a strong stench of sweat, urine, human excrement and rotting garbage. The people were mostly members of the defeated Fatah security services and their families, desperate to get out of Gaza.
When CNN Jerusalem cameraman Adil Bradlow raised his camera to capture the scene, many of the young men shouted for him not to film. Others covered their heads. But a few did speak with us, and let us film them, and told us Hamas was rounding up Fatah members and executing them.
Bilal Jaradan, a man in his late twenties, had served in Force 17, a Fatah security body. "Tell Abu Mazin (the nom de guerre of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), to help us, to pay attention to us, to take care of us. We’re stuck here. We can’t go back because of Hamas, and if we go any closer to the Israeli gate, they'll shoot us." He had been in the passageway for six days, kept alive by food and water provided by the Israelis.
A bit further on, I met Khitam Ahmed, a young woman with three children, including a four-month-old baby who had a sickly, pale face and a strange, fixed stare. Her husband was also with Force 17, from the southern Gaza town of Rafah. She didn't know where he was, however, didn't have any contact with anyone, and like Bilal, begged me to get a message to Mahmoud Abbas to help them leave.
As I was speaking with Khitam, a crowd of boys, ranging between 9 and maybe 15 years old, began to gather around us. They asked the usual questions - "what network are you from?" "Where are you from?" "What is your name?"
I tried to ignore them, but they were oddly giddy. I asked one where he was from, and he said Beit Hanoun, a village on the border with Israel near the crossing.
As we left the stranded Fatah refugees behind and headed down the passageway, the boys tagged along with us. They were sticking close to us, and suddenly I saw that they were probing our defences, trying to open the zippers of my backpack, reaching for our mobile phones.
The usual Palestinian security forces that manned the crossing had abandoned their posts. Authority, law and order, had disappeared. I heard a loud banging of metal on metal. I looked overhead. A young man was trying to remove the metal beams that had held a plastic tarpon in place. Looters. Others had banged their way through the cement floor and were trying to pull up electric cables.
I was reminded of Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. All semblance of authority had vanished. Everything was for the taking. Kids who normally would be kept in line by adults were free to steal whatever they liked. And the young looters saw the moment of chaos as a chance to profit.
Erez is a mess, I thought. How will the rest of Gaza be?
Once we passed through the first checkpoint manned by Hamas gunmen, the atmosphere changed. There was order. And the deeper we went into Gaza City, I was struck by how calm the place was. There weren’t as many cars and people about as usual, but I could hear no gunfire, and some stores were open.
After dropping off the gear at our office, our first stop was the Saraya, the old security headquarters for Gaza built by the Israelis after 1967, taken over by Fatah-dominated Palestinian security forces in 1994, and captured by Hamas during the fighting. When we entered, I saw a man in uniform tinkering with the engine of an armoured personnel carrier. This was just a fraction of the mountain of weaponry, equipment and ammunition captured by Hamas.
Inside, we met briefly with Islam Shahwan, one of the leaders of Hamas' Executive Force. He was in a buoyant mood. "You’re welcome," he told me. "You are free to do whatever you like."
"And what about Alan Johnston, will he soon be released?" I asked.
"Any day now," he replied, his buoyancy evaporating. "We are working hard to win his freedom."
Alan, who I’ve known since he moved to Gaza three years ago, is believed to be held by the Daghmoush family, a powerful Gaza clan notorious for its criminal activities. Hamas has issued a string of deadlines for Alan to be released. So far, all those deadlines have passed.
Sources tell me the Daghmoush want guarantees that, if they release Alan, they will not be harmed. Hamas has promised not to punish them, but they don’t trust Hamas, and so continue to hold on to Alan.
Next we passed by the villa of Mohamed Dahlan, once Fatah's Gaza strongman, now residing in Ramallah on the West Bank. Dahlan was Hamas' arch-enemy, a man who, when he headed Palestinian Preventative Security, had mercilessly cracked down on Hamas during the 1990s, and was believed to be the point man in Fatah's attempt to scuttle the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
The villa's was a shambles. Doors and windows had been stripped, wiring yanked out from the walls. Everything that could be carried away was long gone. Three teenage boys were busy loading up a donkey cart with the marble flooring. Nothing better symbolised the utter humiliation of the men who were once the ruthless masters of Gaza.
What happened here is a revolution. For the first time in modern Arab history, a militant, revolutionary, Islamic movement has successfully and decisively overthrown the established Arab order. It was made possible by a variety of factors, including direct and indirect assistance from Syria and Iran, and by a single-minded determination to crush Fatah.
But the victory wouldn't have been possible if Fatah hadn't done such a miserable job of managing the affairs of Gaza in particular and the Palestinians in general over the years.
When the leadership of Fatah returned to Gaza and the West Bank after decades in exile following the Oslo Accords in 1993, they seemed more determined to profit from the new era than create a viable Palestinian entity.
Their rule was characterised by blatant corruption, mismanagement, heavy-handed oppression and nepotism—all the ills that have plagued the modern Arab world. They're the same ills that the Islamic movement—whether it be the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan or Hezbollah in Lebanon—has been able to capitalise on. Hamas proved its political power and popularity when it trounced Fatah in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. And it has matched its political prowess with military might by crushing Fatah this month, even though Fatah outmanned and outgunned Hamas.
But Fatah's security force—charged with protecting the established order—simply didn’t have the conviction or the will to stand their ground and fight.
Most of Fatah's leadership in Gaza had long ago fled to the relative safety of the West Bank, leaving junior officers and their men to face a foe that believes God is on its side. Not surprisingly, almost every regime in the Arab world is terrified by what happened in Gaza, and is scrambling to do whatever they can to shore up the bruised and battered leadership of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. They see themselves in Mahmoud Abbas, and know that the forces that bolster them could, if faced by a determined, focused, well-organised, and well-armed Islamic opposition, crumble just as easily.
That's the big picture. For many Gazans, the return of order is a positive change, or at least a relief after more than a year of sporadic and intensifying factional fighting.
“It's better now,” Ahmed, an old friend, told me. “The fighting has stopped. We feel much safer. The problem is no one knows what will happen next. We don’t know if Israel will allow food in. We don’t know if Israel will continue to provide petrol or electricity. Today things are fine. But tomorrow? We just don’t know.”
And that seems to be the worry of most people in Gaza. The future only gets foggier. It’s a tiny, overcrowded patch land that always seems to be going somewhere, but never arriving. One period of uncertainty is followed by another, and another and another.
From Ben Wedeman, CNN Jerusalem Correspondent
Monday, June 25, 2007
Chilled by words of hatred
I thought it was a joke when I first got the e-mail. CNN's Jakarta producer contacted me to say that the recently captured Indonesian terrorist suspect, Abu Dujana, was willing to do an interview. I felt like saying "Yes, well let's see if Osama's available too, and we can see if we can get them on Larry King as a double act."
But she insisted the police had sanctioned a face-to-face meeting with Jemaah Islamiyah's military commander, at a secret location somewhere in Java. We scrambled to the airport and less than 24 hours later I found myself nervously pacing up and down an empty, echoing corridor of a police building, waiting for a convoy carrying the most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia.
He appeared in silhouette initially. He was dressed in white and flanked by armed plainclothes police officers. As he approached I could see a slightly built, wiry man, who looked younger than the 37 years old police said he was.
He smiled as the officers took off his handcuffs. I was alarmed at the apparently lax security. The door was a few feet away and there was no one guarding it. I thought for a moment that he might make a run for it.
But he didn't. He seemed resigned now to his fate. He is facing the death penalty if convicted on terrorism charges.
The police think Abu Dujana was involved in some way with just about every major terrorist attack in Indonesia in the last five years, rising through the ranks of Jemaah Islamiyah to become the pre-eminent military commander.
He is a veteran of Afghan terrorist training camps and even boasts he once met Osama Bin Laden.
Our interview was conducted in a conference room. As the camera crew made final adjustments to the shot, I tried to make small talk with the alleged mass murderer sitting in front of me.
It was difficult. What do you chat about with someone who has dedicated their life to an organization that believes in indiscriminate mass murder? The weather? The price of rice? The latest football results?
In the end, I explained that he could talk in Indonesian, but my questions would be in English, that he should look at me, not the translator and that he should try to stay still in his chair.
He seemed affable, but had piercing brown eyes. He exuded a calm disdain for me. A gentle, inner mocking resonated from his face, which frequently cracked into a broad smile. He spoke softly and with obvious intelligence.
He was careful not to implicate himself directly in any attacks, claiming they were carried out by a splinter cell, which had become alienated from Jemaah Islamiyah.
But on broader philosophical questions, he was unremittingly nihilistic. He believes in the utter supremacy of Sharia law, and that hard-line Islamic rules should be imposed on everyone, regardless of the faith.
Abu Dujana sees Americans as legitimate targets, because of the United States intervention in Iraq and backing of Israel. He laughed as he said I, too, was a legitimate target simply for being British. He seemed unconcerned about his own life or those of his wife and children, saying God would make the only judgment that mattered.
After 40 minutes, I was getting increasingly irritated by his fascistic nonsense and he too was also growing weary with reciting dogmatic answers. He said he had to pray, and the interview ended.
He was led away to a small office to face Mecca. I waited in the corridor outside. When his conversation with God over, he was handcuffed and gently escorted to a waiting car, leaving me chilled by his words of hatred -- words that were often said with a smile.
Watch the interview
From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent
Friday, June 22, 2007
Visiting neglected orphans in Baghdad
I tap 14-year-old Saddam on the leg.
He doesn’t move, he doesn’t even blink, no reaction at all. Saddam just sits on his bed.
Saddam is one of 24 disabled children that U.S. soldiers saved from a Baghdad orphanage. The children were neglected and abused. Some of them were forced to lie on the floor with no clothes on, others were simply tied to bedposts.
Now they are recovering at a different branch of the same orphanage and all of Baghdad is asking how could this happen?
One staff member tries to explain, that the orphanage was understaffed, that they had no electricity, and that they had to tie the mentally disabled children to a bed post to keep them from moving around and hurting themselves.
All this may be true. Simply existing in Baghdad is dangerous. Working here and trying to run an orphanage is a massive challenge, especially with insufficient funding and staffing.
But the fact is that these children were malnourished, some of them too weak to even move and lift their heads as U.S. troops raided the house to save them. Sure these children are difficult to deal with. They scream, they cry and moan. But even under the worst circumstances there can never be a justification for tying children to bedposts and denying them food, water and clothing.
As I talk to the staff member, little Saddam simply topples over and falls into his bed. He's just lying on the bed, just looking at the ceiling. My producer Mohammed whispers in my ear: "My God I feel so sorry for them."
From CNN Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in Baghdad
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
High drama at high altitude
Exhausted, my heart pounding, a throbbing headache that painkillers would not shift, and unable to sleep. I was feeling very low. I was, however, high up a Himalayan mountain in Tibet at 4,300m (14,100ft), and where I was now struggling with the effects of the altitude.
Getting up here had been no easy task, riding up the steep mountain path on horseback. The horses were small but strong, with wooden saddles and colourful Tibetan blankets. We were guided by a group of tough Tibetan horseman. My camera equipment packed in bags and secured to the packhorses along with the camping gear. I carried my camera over my shoulder.
I have been filming with Richard Quest on an expedition with China's foremost explorer Wong How Man. High above us was our goal the remote Nienguo Monastery, where we were probably the first Westerners ever to visit.
Filming from horseback would be challenging in a normal situation, let alone at altitude. I frequently had to dismount and run ahead to film Richard and Wong How Man coming towards me on their horses. To keep a steady picture I try to control my breathing or even hold my breath for the duration of a shot. With less oxygen, this was becoming impossible. Instead of recording the sound of horses hooves on the rocks, I worried my deep gasps for air were instead being picked up by the camera microphone.
The views from the mountain were getting more spectacular and the route the horses took more treacherous. I tried to forget the steep drop inches from the horses hooves. Suddenly one of the packhorses bolted back towards us, knocking over the producer Matt Percival and causing his horse to bolt off as well. He was bruised but able to walk. Our guides went after the horses. A little shaken, we continued our exhausting ascent on foot.
Out of breath we arrived at the monastery, and the heavens opened, hail stones bounced around us. I felt it was a sign we were not worthy to visit such a redeemed and holy place. We ran for cover in a Tibetan Stupa, with old prayer wheels, and adorned by prayer flags. Once I had caught my breath and took in the serenity and beauty of the monastery, the hail gave way to glorious sun. The friendly monks, unaware we were coming, welcomed us and let us pitch our tents.
The whole experience was breathtaking - literally. In fact there is 30 percent less oxygen at this altitude. By the end of the day I was exhausted, just picking the camera up sent my pulse racing and head throbbing. I felt I had pushed myself further than I probably had done before.
The next morning I was looking forward to returning to a more comfortable altitude. But this was not without incident. Strangely, at the same point as the day before, the same packhorse bolted. Our Tibetan guide thought it must have seen a ghost on the path. The horse disappeared off the edge of the mountain path, tripod and camping equipment still attached. I decided riding Tibetan horses was not my style, and walked back down to the valley.
I had poetic visions of the expensive CNN tripod one day ending up on a Tibetan mountain with prayer flags attached. But later one of the horsemen discovered it and brought it down. The last we heard the horse and camping equipment had not been found.
Watch Richard Quest's report
From Neil Bennett, CNN International Cameraman
Monday, June 18, 2007
Don't mention the "B" word!
It’s a big day for Bollywood – or “The Indian Film Industry” to use its proper name and thereby avoid annoying the stars. It’s the launch of the keenly-awaited Bollywood (sorry, but it’s difficult not to) blockbuster-to-be, “Jhoom Baraba Jhoom” starring some of the top names in Bol…er, The Indian Film Industry: the legendary Amitabh Bachan, Abishek Bachchan (son of the legendary Amitabh – a good way of making progress in The Indian Film Industry), Lara Dutta (the former Miss Universe – a sure-fire way to enter The Indian Film Industry), Preity Zinta and a quick appearance from the legendary Shah Rukh Khan (if you want to start a fight among the most tranquil members of Mumbai society simply ask whether Bachchan or Khan is the more legendary of the two legends).
I’m privileged to be among the first people to see such a prestigious film on its premiere in the movie capital of India. Once inside the The Sun City Cinema I discover it’s indistinguishable from any modern establishment in the west end of London, furnished with comfortable seats sporting cup-holders ready to accommodate a litre cup of cola and excellent quality sound. Only the snacks on offer suggest we’re not at The Ritzy in Brixton. Popcorn is here in abundance but instead of the ubiquitous hot dog the most popular alternative is a little packet of samosas – infinitely more stimulating on the palate in my view. But when the film starts I’m instantly transported back to London as the main plot of the movie is acted out at Waterloo railway station. The narrative is in Hindi with the occasional English expression tantalizingly thrown in. A three minute dialogue might suddenly feature an outburst of “Oh my Gaaaawd! I thought I would die!” Then before my hopes are raised too much it’s straight back to Hindi. This concentrates the mind on the body language, the expressions, the intonation – in fact the acting itself and I think I managed to follow most of the plot. Every now and then my limited comprehension is blown out of the water by an incomprehensible song and dance sequence. But oh, what a song and what a dance!
It might begin in unpromising circumstances on the forecourt of Waterloo station but will soon cut to the Tower of London, The London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and a virtual A-Z of London tourist hotspots in the company of 80 freaks dancing in unison to an east-meets-west masala of dhol drums and breakbeats – with a catchy hook that only the deaf or dead could ignore. Dialogue resumes for another 10 minutes then, taking the cue from an actor staring wistfully into the middle distance, we’re whisked off to Paris for another spectacular number. You’d think a 100-strong line-dance troup giving it their all under the Eiffel Tower would make a director pretty satisfied wouldn’t you? But repeating the same feat under the Arc De Triomphe, at the Sacre Couer, Notre Dame Cathedral and on the banks of the Seine would surely be - sorry but there’s no other word for it – insane. Or at best showing off. Amazing! This beats the Kids from Fame breakdancing on a couple of cars in New York hands down. I haven't yet seen a scene set in India but somehow that doesn't seem to matter.
The lingering afterburn of the chilli from my samosa is continuing to stimulate my tongue, the roof of my mouth and anything I touched since with my hand but just when I think the on-screen stimulation can get no greater I encounter one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema. There in front of me, at this Mumbai movie-house, is the street next to mine back home in south London. The heroine (played by Preity Zinta), it seems, is living in Streatham and I have unknowingly passed her house on a daily basis for the past four years without any indication – although there was the kerfuffle one week when the side street was shut off by a film crew but the word on the street was that that was a Keira Knightley film.... A rather dim light bulb switches on in the back of my brain. I nudge my companion and try to express my incredulity – but it’s too late, the bhangra beats have begun and we’re off into another throbbing dance number featuring the inimitable Mr Bachchan confirming his legendary status, this time as a kind of Jethro-Tull-meets-Jimmy-Page character sporting a twin-neck guitar, jeans tucked into boots and ostrich feathers in his hat as he bursts into song and leads the Kids From Fame in yet another jig. Try to imagine Clint Eastwood or Robert De Niro doing that. No, on second thoughts, don't try it.
Then a peculiar thing happens: half of the audience stages a walkout! Has some part of Amitabh “the Big B” Bachchan’s routine offended his adoring fans? No, it’s just a couple of minutes fom the interval and this is the advance guard setting off in pursuit of popcorn and packets of samosas. The interval! I’m old enough to remember that ancient feature of British cinemas. I recently had a nostalgic hankering for an interval during a screening of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie when the plot failed to distract me from the customary consequences of two pints of cider and a bottle of water.
Sadly, seat 23M was left unattended during the second half of "Jhoom Barabar Joom" as we had to move on to another shoot. I heard a review on CNN’s Indian partner CNN-IBN next day saying that the film was a big disappointment due to its fragmented and senseless plot – but that merely serves to show that it's possible to enjoy a film even if you’ve lost the plot – that’s another thing my Mumbai movie experience had in common with Pirates of the Caribbean.
The second half of the day offers the prospect of a very different cinematic experience. So we set off from the suburbs into the centre of the city. Two hours later our driver has beeped his horn 1,357 times and the speedometer is still failing to reach 7 miles per hour.
While I’m taking for granted the air-conditioning of our little van outside the local inhabitants are relishing the relatively cooler weather brought by the monsoon – just days earlier the mercury was tipping a scorching 37 degrees Celsius. On reaching our destination I failed to relish the relatively cooler climate of a mere 32 degrees with what seemed like 200% humidity. Humidity breeds humility as I discovered when my freshly laundered shirt dissolved into a limp dishcloth and the once-crisply-attired CNN producer trickled into the venerable Edward Theatre – one of the oldest and last remaining single-screen cinemas in Mumbai. In past times the venue had hosted rallying calls by Mahatma Gandhi, urging passive resistance to the aggression of my imperial ancestors. As recently as 90 years ago it had become a cinema, playing first silent movies then talkies and now stood as a bastion of defiance to the wave of multiplexes sweeping over the city’s cinematic landscape. This is where some of the poorest labourers and migrant workers come to watch their films. There’s no AC here but instead an astonishingly beautiful array of fans from the ceilings above the third floor balcony down to the giant fans placed above the old orchestra pit, projecting a convincing jet of warm air over the first three rows of hard-backed wooden seats. The audience arrives, led by a man who turned up on a lateral bike pedalled by his hands. He scoots into the cinema on two hands and one leg and hauls himself into the best seat in the house in the middle of the front row. He’s followed by a steady stream of singles and families; girls in grubby but colourful saris giggling and nudging, running down the minutes until show time. Others simply collapse into the seats and fall asleep, weary from the strains of the day’s labour.
The assistant manager Sanjay Rasawa has been here since the week of his birth. The cinema has been in the family for three generations and he was brought up in a little room behind the screen. He played here, he watched films daily and now he’s assisting the manager, his father, who has held the job for fifty years.
He says: “The people who come here are very poor. They earn daily and they spend daily. They don’t think about the future. They never see the future. They can’t get rest outside. They can’t sleep on the road so they come here and enjoy the movie. A good movie teaches something and it keeps the mind fresh.”
The gigantic ancient projector whirrs into life and the lights dim in a ceremony which has been continued for almost a century. For the multiplex crowd The Indian Film Industry is changing – there are shorter films, fewer intervals and more sophisticated plots. For the crowd at the Edward Theatre their hope is to dream – a three hour movie which takes them far away from their daily lives and into the realms of fantasy. A song and a dance in the true Bollywood style.
-- From Neil Curry, Senior International Features Producer
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
YouTube gets Bush scoop
FIAT, Italy’s largest car maker, is known by many in the U.S. as "Fix It Again Tony" because of the performance of its cars over the years.
So you can imagine how Italians reacted when they saw President Bush’s multi-million-dollar gigantic armored Cadillac stalling in the streets of downtown Rome, as he was being driven to the American embassy after meeting the pope at the Vatican.
I first read about it on Italian Web sites on Saturday, and immediately sought clarification with the U.S. TV Pool, the group of reporters following the president every step of the way.
The incident produced a flurry of e-mails between the traveling press, with direct access to U.S. officials, and the reporters back at the workspace, trying to figure out what had really happened.
First we heard the car did stall, but that it started right back and kept moving, and that the president didn’t get out. Then rumors began circulating that he briefly got out, but got right back in. Finally we were told: "It stalled, and then started back again."
A CNN cameraman travelling with the president eventually got a shot of a mechanic working on the car once it arrived at the embassy.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because White House officials tried to play down the length of the "incident," minimizing the risk of a stalled presidential limousine in the streets of downtown Rome. But the car actually stood there motionless for several minutes, the driver unable to restart it.
It turned out that a tourist who happened to be right there filmed the entire sequence with a mini-cam, and posted the video on YouTube. Take a look at it, because it’s the sort of stuff you usually see in movies. But this is actually the real thing.
The secret service agents protecting the president did exactly what they were supposed to do (they created a ring around the president’s car while the back-up limousine pulled up along side.)
The president DID briefly come out, and you can hear bystanders cheering him, while dozens of nervous Italian police officers were yelling: “Indietro, indietro” (“stay back, stay back.”)
Nothing happened of course, but there are two lessons to be learned from this episode.
First, cars, even the most expensive ones, do break down and it always happen at the wrong time.
And secondly, when the president of the United States travels he is followed by dozens of crews and hundreds of reporters. But they couldn’t figure out what happened until a tourist decided to post his seven-minute video on the Web.
I hope my bosses don’t read this blog too carefully.
-- From Alessio Vinci, CNN Rome Bureau Chief
Friday, June 08, 2007
Shooting lions in South Africa
The lions drool as they greedily lick the dead horse, savoring the fresh meat like a special treat. Then they gnaw at the horse's side until the belly rips open and the entrails spill out into the enclosure. I can’t take my eyes off the lions feeding as Joe my cameraman zooms in for a bloody close-up.
I’m on location in Vryburg, South Africa, in game hunting country. Our seven-hour, bum-numbing drive from Johannesburg has been rewarded with stunning video of one of South Africa’s oldest canned hunting operations.
This form of hunting is so controversial in South Africa it's difficult finding hunters who'll talk about it, let alone allow a CNN film crew to come along on a hunt.
On a canned hunt, animals you’d normally expect to find in the wild like, lions, leopards and rhinos are either placed in an enclosed space or bred specially to be hunted as trophies.
Animal rights groups say it's unethical and immoral and are campaigning for an outright ban of all trophy hunting in South Africa. The government hasn't gone quite that far, but they have given hunting industry a deadline of February 2008 for ending canned hunting as we know it today.
But the hunting industry is furious at the threatened loss of millions of dollars in foreign revenue.
Lion breeders make around $25,000 and sometimes more for each lion a hunter shoots. The hunter goes home happy, the breeders make money and the local villages are sustained by selling fresh horses and livestock as lion feed.
The lions at Sandhurst Safaris were beautiful -- all 250 of them. Sleek and golden they lived so close to the lodge that in the evening you could hear them roaring into the night.
Each pride has its own enclosure and lives as a family unit. Separated by wire fencing the pens stretch across a huge area. If the wind blows the wrong way you get a unique waft of raw meat and pungent lion coming straight at you.
When a client books in for a hunt, a lion will be released into the grounds a few days in advance. Then it's up to the hunter with the help of his trackers to find and shoot his trophy.
John Foster, a hunter from Boise, Idaho, said I could join him on his hunt and include him in my story.
Ten minutes after jumping on a truck our tracker found lion prints. It was a small lion the tracker said but John passed on it, he was after a big trophy. Joe the cameraman looked relieved, he’s scared of dogs so I’m glad that we didn’t have to go crawling through the long grass hunting a big cat.
After two days on safari we packed up and drove back to Johannesburg. Sandhurst Safaris sent me a text the next day, John had bagged two lions.
Of course I’m kicking myself for not staying that extra day and getting that footage on tape, but Joe was happy. Filming lions feasting on a dead horse was enough for him.
Watch my report
-- From Femi Oke, CNN International Correspondent
It is easy to feel safe and secure when you are sitting inside the perimeter of the G8 summit. Germany is mounting the largest police operation since World War II to keep the protestors out and the G8 leaders secure. We also are surrounded by large metal barriers that cost almost $15 million to put up.
Yes sir, My colleagues, European Political Editor Robin Oakley, Cameraman Rodney Herbert and I consider ourselves very secure in the White House Pool filing location. We are NOT out there in the middle of the frontlines between demonstrators and policemen like our Berlin correspondent Frederik Pleitgen and his team.
Yup, we are totally safe and sound in here, or so we thought. But last night all three of us almost got taken out in one fell swoop.
As we were leaving our workspace, Robin and Rodney were walking ahead of me,
when all of a sudden a deer bolted out of the trees and tried to run around them, but slipping on the footpath ended up just barely missing them and running into the fence beside them. It stopped near me, looking scared, and tried to figure out where it could safely go.
It was young and beautiful, but big. Not quite fully grown it was probably five feet tall, but it weighed a lot more than me. The deer and I were not quite sure what we should do so we stared at each other for a bit until I said "Hello Bambi." At which point it turned around and fled.
It turns out that in trying to secure the G8 leaders and the media by surrounding them in tall metal fencing, they had enclosed a deer into the space and it is scared.
We are going to keep an eye out for him. And we are going to look for a bucket to put some water out for it to drink. When we first saw the deer we were concerned about our security, but now we are only concerned about the deer's safety. Hopefully the barriers put up to keep the leaders secure, don't further injure this deer.
-- From Todd Baxter, Chief Cameraman/Video Producer
Thursday, June 07, 2007
The march on G8
About 3,000 protesters dressed in funny clothes, listening to Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Punk Bands I have never heard of take on 16 police officers in riot gear, using helicopters and water canons. Who do you think would prevail?
The protesters were out to march on the G8 Summit venue and to try and block all roads leading up to that venue, and we were assigned to march with them. We figured it wouldn¹t be a long walk, with police everywhere, and the protesters not looking like a very well organized bunch.
But then, all of a sudden, they all charged the police lines line at once, and it broke, they were through. Plowing through wheat and barley field, even water canons and special police forces choppered in couldn't hold them up. They marched in, slowly, steadily, unstoppable. It was like the police was an elephant trying to stop swarm of gnats. They had the power, but they just couldn't a hold of them.
We ended up walking about seven miles through waist-high barley crops, the soggy earth making every step difficult. So much for our easy and relaxed work day.
At some points the protesters managed to block every road leading up to the G8 venue. Delegations and the international press had to be taken to meetings by boat, because of the lockdown. Some protesters even managed to reach the eight-mile long security fence.
How could such a disorganized, colorful bunch create such chaos just by walking? Not even us who were with them can really explain that.
-- From Frederik Pleitgen, CNN Berlin Correspondent
Man tries to jump into the Pope's vehicle
What was he thinking? I mean the Wednesday general audience is a weekly opportunity for pilgrims to come up close and…. personal with the pope. But this was clearly too much for Vatican security officials.
The 27-year-old German turned out to be a mentally ill person who wanted to attract attention to himself… He certainly did that – the world’s media jumped on the story just about as fast as the assailant jumped at the pope’s car.
The pontiff’s security detail consists of a number of Swiss guards, dressed in black suits for the occasion, rather than in their historic colourful uniforms, running next to his popemobile pretty much the same way the secret service runs besides the Cadillac of the US president. A wider perimeter, known as “cordone” or cordon, is set by other security officials who are the ones in charge of actually preventing anyone from coming too close to the pope.
They run next to the ‘popemobile’ pretty much the same way the Secret Service runs beside the US President’s Cadillac. A wider security perimeter, known as ‘cordone’ is set by other Vatican security officials who are in charge of preventing people from getting too close to the pope.
Judging from the video the young German man managed to pass through this first outer cordon before being wrestled to the ground by the Swiss Guards.
Nothing really serious happened because the man was unarmed and his intention, according to Vatican officials, was not to harm the pope. Indeed ever since the late John Paul II was shot in that very same square in May 1981, security measures are by far tougher now, and anyone entering St.Peter’s square on the day the pope shows up goes through a strict search, including a metal detector. But there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of pilgrims each week, and there is always a chance someone with ill intentions could slip through security.
This was not the case this time, but I’m quite sure Vatican security officials tonight are asking themselves a simple question: HOW could someone get so close to the man they are assigned to protect?
-- From CNN Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Hebron's settler movement
Every Saturday evening at around 5 p.m., Israeli soldiers lead the way in an unusual tour of Hebron’s Old City.
Just before the sun sets, Jewish settlers walk the winding alleyways, visiting sites in the Old City of Hebron -- areas that are normally the preserve of the city’s Palestinian residents.
The streets are largely empty. Most of the shops have closed for the day. But from behind barred windows and cracked open doorways, Palestinian neighbors watch with hostile stares.
Hebron has become a flashpoint in the controversial movement by Jewish settlers to inhabit the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
Hebron's first settlers attempted just months after the war's end. Under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a small group of families arranged to spend the Passover holiday at the Park Hotel in Hebron owned by Palestinian Yusra al-Qawasmi.
At first they were happy to have paying guests, recalls the Yusra, now a 70-year old grandmother.
"After a week, they brought in some desks. They said they wanted to have a school here." She says gesturing to the empty rooms of the now shuttered Park Hotel. "We told them: We accept you here as visitors. This is not your house. There will be no school. We didn’t understand what a settlement was. We didn’t understand that they were coming to occupy the place."
The settlers were forced to leave and transferred to a nearby military compound that eventually became the settlement of Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron. But the door had been opened.
A few days after the Park Hotel incident, a group of settlers under cover of night slipped into Beit Hadassah - an abandoned hospital in heart of Hebron’s Old City. Despite protests from the Israeli government and military, the settlers were not removed. They have lived there ever since.
For those who settled in Hebron, like Noam Arnon, the 1967 war was more than a military victory: It was a divine act.
"This is the minute when the people of Israel, the residents of the state of Israel first really met with their history, really met the homeland and met the opportunity to reunite with their history and faith."
Muslims and Jews have lived together in Hebron for centuries. The claim to Hebron for both communities is the Tomb of Abraham -- patriarch of both Judaism and Islam. It is now divided for both faiths into a mosque and synagogue. But neither community is happy.
"What the Arabs say is the Jews penetrated to this country and this is a colonialist settlement," says Noam Arnon. "What the Jewish people say is: No, sir! We have the right for this country because our fore fathers were here thousands of years ago and this is our land this is our country this is our city this is the place of our history."
Today, hundreds of Israeli soldiers are here to safeguard the settlers, effectively separating them from the Palestinians. Hebron’s Old City has paid a high price.
Under Israeli control, according to human rights group B'Tselem, 42 percent of the houses have been emptied out. Seventy seven percent of the business shut down. Twenty seven percent of those closed under military orders.
Khaled al-Qawasmi, Yusra’s son, heads the Palestinian council to restore Hebron's old city. He says Israel's policy of separation is forcing Palestinians out in favor of the settlers' claims.
"They have to be checked when they go to their homes, when the come back, when they go to school," He says as residents behind him wait at a military checkpoint. "They are not pushing them out. They are making it harder for them to live in the area."
Streets leading to settler neighborhoods are barred to Palestinian traffic. Only residents with special permits are allowed through. Palestinian homes adjoining settler areas have been taken over by the military. The result: A tense and eerie calm. Settlers say it is the only way to guarantee security.
"The army decided to protect this small Jewish community," explains Noam Arnon. "So that the stores in the street would not bring thousands of people and among them some terrorists can hide."
Harrassment on both sides is routine. Qawasmi shows us where Jewish settlers live above as Palestinians shop below. A metal netting has been stretched across the marketplace but it sags in places, weighed down by garbage and rotting food.
"We put metal nets to protect the Palestinians on the street from the thing the settlers are throwing on them." Khaled gestures down the street: "Trash, sometimes stones, sometimes dirty water, juice and eggs."
Ironically, the Hebrew name for the city "Hebron" and the Arabic name for the town "Al-Khalil" share the same linguistic root: The word for friend.
But Hebron’s streets are anything but friendly. As we followed the Jewish tour group through the empty alleyways, a small rock came whizzing down from above.
It made a terrific smacking noise as it hit the cheek of Ramzi, a young Palestinian boy who had eagerly offered to carry our camera gear. He looked up surprised holding his jaw where a large red welt was beginning to bloom.
The soldiers bristled and pointed to a young Palestinian family peering out from the bars of their home. But nobody claimed responsibility.
"This is my house!" the father shouted down to the soldiers, holding his son in his arms. "You can’t come in here."
The soldiers looked at each other and decided to ignore the incident, ushering the tour group forward. A few girls in the crowd with American accents giggled as they watched Ramzi stare up at his Palestinian neighbors, perplexed.
-- From Atika Shubert, CNN International Correspondent
The Battle for Jerusalem
Forty years is a long time in a lot of places, but not in Jerusalem, where history--recent and from the distant past--stare you in the face everywhere you go
It was forty years ago this week that the Six Day war broke out. Within those six days, Israeli forces seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank (then under Jordanian rule), the Syrian Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip (then under Egyptian control), and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
This week Jerusalem marks 40 years since the city was made whole, and we are focussing on that, and those who were witnesses to those dramatic days.
I met Abraham Rabinovich, an American journalist who covered the war, on a hot afternoon on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City.
Rabinovich arrived in Jerusalem in the days before the war, and recalls an eerie atmosphere of fear and anticipation. And while he was busy covering the lead up to the war, the morning it broke out he was occupied with far more mundane matters.
“I was at the dentist in downtown Jerusalem getting a tooth pulled,” he recalls. “As I was leaving, sirens sounded. It wasn’t clear what that meant. There was no sound of artillery. About 20 minutes later on the radio, someone said the Egyptian army is moving toward the border, there are serious battles raging.”
Shimshon Cahaner was a major in the Israeli paratroopers, and was down near the border with Israeli preparing to be dropped in the Sinai. But plans changed. The Israeli armoured columns cut through the Sinai like a hot knife through butter, so in the middle of the night they were flown to Jerusalem, where artillery exchanges between the Jordanian and Israeli armies presaged the opening of a new front.
He was among the troops that stormed through Lions Gate, at the eastern edge of the Old City. In preparing this story my producer, Mike Schwartz, and I found old footage of Cahaner at the scene. His beard is now grey, and he still walks with a slight limp from an old war wound, but he recalls that day like it was yesterday.
“The high point was when I crossed through the Lions Gate to the Old City. I ran inside with my gun and I touched the wall, the stones of the wall of Jerusalem, and I felt something I can’t believe,” he recalls.
Abdallah Budairi, now 85 years old, was nearby, serving with the Jordanian Army. I spoke with him in his ancient house, built into the walls of the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Holy Sanctuary.
He recalls an army that was completely unprepared for war. “Why did we get into a war?” he asked me. “If that’s what you want to do, you need a plan. There was no plan. They had nothing. It was a one-sided war, in which Israel did as it pleased.” There were individual acts of bravery by lone soldiers, but a complete breakdown among the officers.
He was captured by Israeli troops, and taken to the Temple Mount, where he waited his turn to be interrogated.
“An Israeli officer came up and told us, Jericho has fallen,” he told me.
The whole experience was devastating, and he’s never really recovered from it. “If I told you I cried, yes, I cried,” he said, shaking his head in disgust, as if it had happened yesterday, not forty years ago.
Abraham Rabinovich was also on the Temple Mount, and saw the prisoners sitting on the ground. When he spoke to some of the soldiers there, relaxing after the battle, he heard the same debates that would reverberate through Israeli society over the occupied lands for decades to come.
“Some said…we should give everything back except for our holy city, some said we should give nothing back. There was a great difference of opinion.”
Sari Nusseibi runs Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University, the premiere Palestinian educational institute in the city. He was sixteen years old when the war broke out, and takes the long view of the war.
While Abdallah Budairi described the day Jerusalem fell as “the blackest day of my life,” Nusseibi sees within Israel’s stunning victory the seeds an Israeli defeat.
Under the trees on the university’s campus in the northern Jerusalem suburb of Beit Hanina, Nusseibi, told me in June 1967 Israel “found itself actually bringing together the bits and pieces of the Palestinian people that had been divided for the previous 20 years: the Palestinians from Israel, the Palestinians from Gaza, the Palestinians from Jordan.” Suddenly, “it was possible for the Gazan Palestinians, for instance, to come and pray at the Holy Mosque. Now this was a strange twist to Israel’s victory in 1967.”
From his perspective, in June 1967, Israel won a battle, but the war—not the six-day war but rather the decades-old war between Israelis and Palestinians in this small sliver of land, is by no means over. “It must be depressing for [Israel] that it can’t really do what it wants with a people like us, untrained, uneducated, without anything, with no equipment, with no background, nothing.”
Shaking his head with a bemused smile, he adds, “I actually feel a little bit of sympathy for my oppressor.”
That the conflict isn’t really over is clear. Israel calls Jerusalem its eternal and undivided capital. Although the barbed wire and mine fields that divided the city from 1948 until June 1967 are gone, invisible barriers still exist. If you want to take a taxi from Israeli west Jerusalem to a Palestinian neighbourhood in the east, ask the driver first. More often than not, Israeli taxi drivers will refuse to take you. You are unlikely to find an Israeli strolling down the main Palestinian shopping district on Salah Al-Din Street.
Likewise, there is nothing “eternal” about Israel’s control over Jerusalem. While they might not agree on a lot of things, no Palestinian faction would ever advocate relinquishing the Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem. All the while, the growth of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem far outstrips that of the Israelis.
And even Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is its capital is one most countries on earth have problems with. Almost all embassies—including that of the United States—are in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, and recently there was an uproar when the American ambassador (along with most others) declined to attend ceremonies here to mark the city’s reunification in 1967.
The battle for Jerusalem, and the Six Day War, were a decisive defeat for Egypt, Syria and Jordan, but there was nothing decisive about the aftermath. The West Bank and the Golan are still under Israeli occupation. Palestinians still reject Israeli control of east Jerusalem. Israel controls all access to the Gaza Strip. And violence is still a daily fact of life.
Israel and the Palestinians are still at war, 40 years after the Six Day War.
-- From Ben Wedeman, CNN Jerusalem Correspondent
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Ten minutes in an anti-G8 riot
I knew it was a bad idea to get close to the rioters at the anti-G8 protests in Rostock, but I went anyway. And there they were, throwing rocks and bottles at the police, some of them chipping away at the pavement to form more projectiles.
All of a sudden a masked individual drops a huge piece of pavement right in front of my feet. "Don't just stand there ... we need more amunition," he tells me in a bossy voice.
So I decide to just go back to our satellite live vehicle, when I hear from behind:
"He's a cop, a rat," and sure enough, there's three masked guys pointing at me.
"I'm not a cop," I tell them.
"Get outta here, or you'll be next!"
At that moment ... a loud boom ... smoke fills the air. The police have shot tear gas at the protesters and now everybody is running away.
I can't really see, my eyes are tearing, and my nostrils and mouth feel like they're on fire, but I run away as well.
After about five minutes I make it back to our live truck only to find a large police watercanon vehicle approaching fast.
The truck unloads on our camerawoman Claudia and me as we try to find shelter in a telephone booth with protesters throwing rocks over our heads and the watercanon truck inundating us from the other direction.
Oh, and the truck's water is also filled with tear gas.
After about another minute of mayhem, the truck turns in the other direction, the rocks stop flying, but the protests kept going on for hours.
A pretty exciting day, and the G8 Summit hasn't even started yet.
From Frederik Pleitgen, CNN Berlin Correspondent
ABOUT THIS BLOGHear from CNN reporters across the globe. "In the Field" is a unique blog that will let you share the thoughts and observations of CNN's award-winning international journalists from their far-flung bureaus or on assignment. Whether it's from conflict zone, a summit gathering, or the path least traveled, "In the Field" gives you a personal, front row seat to CNN's global newsgathering team.