DATE May 16, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Journalist Scott Anderson discusses traveling with
a platoon of elite Israeli commandos into the West Bank
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
During the Israeli incursion into the West Bank, known as Operation Defensive
Shield, which began in late March, there was a 24-hour curfew, and even
journalists who were spotted outside were fired on by Israeli military. Yet,
my guest, journalist Scott Anderson, managed to spend the second week of the
incursion traveling with a platoon of elite Israeli commandos in the West Bank
town of Atil. His report was the cover story of last Sunday's New York Times
Magazine. Anderson also spent time with the Palestinians in Ramallah after
the Israeli offensive and in Bethlehem before and after.
Anderson has reported from several war zones, including Bosnia and Chechnya.
He's the author of several books about war zones and is a frequent contributor
to The New York Times Magazine. I asked him to describe the Israeli commando
unit that he traveled with.
Mr. SCOTT ANDERSON (Journalist): I was with a platoon of elite commando
reservists. These were men who, during their compulsory training, from the
ages of 18 to 21, had been chosen to form a--kind of the Israeli equivalent of
our American Special Forces. With the reserve system in Israel, these men are
called up periodically, usually about a month out of every year. So the unit
I was with, they ranged in age from 22, they'd just come out of compulsory
service, all the way up to the early 40s. So it was 125-man unit, and
spanning 20, 25 years in age, and a wide range of occupations.
GROSS: What was their mission?
Mr. ANDERSON: This unit's particular mission was to operate in and around the
West Bank city of Tulkarem. Tulkarem has a reputation of being a real center
of Palestinian militancy, quite a few suicide bombers have come out of there,
including the suicide bomber who did the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya that
was the final spark to the Israeli offensive. Their mission was to go in as a
vanguard before the regular army, into Tulkarem, to seize the choke points
around the town. And then once Tulkarem was secured, which took place very
quickly, it was in the first day of the offensive, this unit then was
operating--going into Tulkarem and the surrounding villages to try to grab
Palestinian militants who were wanted by the security forces.
GROSS: And how are they supposed to find them?
Mr. ANDERSON: It--they have a real array of intelligence. It's--they do
aerial surveillance from planes. They have human intelligence from
collaborators. And also they have a system in Israeli army of soldiers who go
into the West Bank disguised as Palestinians and often will spend months, even
years, living within the community and watching who the leaders are. So it
was on the basis of that that they identified who they felt were the leaders
of the extremists within the Tulkarem area. The problem was--the offensive
got started--is that there was a real prelude to the offensive so a lot
of--most of the people they were looking for had gone into hiding.
GROSS: The Israeli commandos that you were traveling with established a base
in a home, a Palestinian home, at the edge of town. How do their--can you
describe how that process works, why they do that, how they choose which
home to take over, how they take it over?
Mr. ANDERSON: Mm-hmm. The first thing, I should say, is that all these towns
were under blanket curfew. That in--blanket curfew means 24 hours a day
people are inside their homes, they're not allowed out. What the Israelis
were doing periodically, usually about every third or fourth day was opening
the curfew for about three hours just to let people go out and get food and
stuff. So when you come into these villages, it's like coming into a ghost
town. You don't see anyone on the streets. What the Israeli army does is
they have this policy of when they're going into a town like this they want to
be able to be in a command position so they can see what's going on in the
town. The only way to do that, in their view, is to take over a house. And
what they tend to do is to take over a house that's quite spacious, because
there's--they need room for a lot of soldiers--that has a commanding view of
the surroundings, so usually a two- or three-story building. And ideally that
there's not a lot of other houses around it. Because they want to have kind
of a secure perimeter, room for their armored personnel carriers to be out
front and occasionally tanks. So they tend to seize houses from the wealthy
or the upper middle class.
The particular house I was in, they had--we had first been in a wedding
banquet hall at the edge of this town of Atil. And after two days it was
clear that it wasn't a very secure location. There were a lot of other
buildings that could--that had a view into it. And so they started looking
around for a new command post and they found a house on the other side of the
village, three-story house. I wasn't there when they--the first scouting
party decided to choose this house but the way it works is they literally just
come up, knock on the door, the family answers, and they ask to see the house,
the Israelis. They walk through it and if they decide that it's a secure
location and there's enough room, they tell the Palestinian family to leave,
usually for two, three, four days, so rarely much longer than that. Because,
again, these sorts of units, these commando units, don't like to stay in one
place for very long. Sometimes they will just move the Palestinian family
into one corner of the home. That wasn't the case with the unit I was with.
They forced the family to just leave. They usually give them a half-hour, an
hour to gather up whatever they want to take, and then they just go.
GROSS: So the Israeli commandos are using this house as their base. It's a
14-hour curfew aside from these three hours every few days in which
Palestinians are allowed out. So every time they say a Palestinian, the
Palestinian is a suspect immediately because they've broken the curfew.
Mr. ANDERSON: That's right.
GROSS: You give a very good example in your piece. There was a Palestinian
family, a whole family, that went up on a rooftop.
Mr. ANDERSON: Right.
GROSS: I think this was at night?
Mr. ANDERSON: No, that was during the day.
GROSS: It was during the day.
Mr. ANDERSON: What happened in this one incident, we were in the Palestinian
house on the edge of Atil and about 300 yards away at a house, a Palestinian
family came out onto a rooftop, breaking curfew, even by going out on your
roof. Within the house, it's a very strange existence, because all the
curtains are drawn. You have snipers throughout the house watching the
surrounding buildings, the surrounding roofs. So one of the snipers saw this
family come out on the roof and because they were too far away to shout at
them, they couldn't do a warning shout, this sniper fired a warning shot at
them, and probably the first shot was about 20 feet away from them. The
family didn't respond. He kept firing closer and closer to them. Ended up
firing, I believe, seven times until he actually--he shot out their rooftop
water tank and their satellite dish. He winged the top end of the satellite
And it was very clear at a certain point, probably after about the second or
third shot that the family knew that the warning shots were being fired at
them. And it was very clear that they knew it was directed at them. But it
was this kind of act of defiance and just of resistance, of--shown any way
they could. And then finally that family went back inside. But what was
happening periodically in--both in this first wedding hall that we were in and
then in the Palestinian house--was that the people on the street, usually
teen-age boys or men in their 20s, would break curfew and approach the house.
And this was--usually would happen--almost always would happen during the
daytime and it was this kind of taunting, testing thing of approaching the
house, getting the Israeli soldiers to fire warning shots at them, and, on the
one hand, it could have just been this kind of act of defiance, but what made
the Israelis very nervous is that that's also a sort of classic technique
for--if there's a sniper on the other side to figure out where the Israelis
are in the house, you know, which windows they're hanging out in. So it's...
GROSS: To intentionally draw fire.
Mr. ANDERSON: Right. And so that then there--a gunman in the background
who's watching the house can see where--which windows the Israeli soldiers are
shooting from. And then in--try to pick one of them off.
GROSS: Did you speak to Israeli commandos who fired at Palestinians
approaching the palace, or who fired the warning shots at the family on the
rooftop, and talk with them about their attitude toward firing at the
Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, I did talk with them. Among this platoon of 125 men, it's
composed in many smaller units who are periodically going off on raids, and
sometimes you won't see them for two or three days. So the group I ended up
being with was the kind of headquarters unit, and it was this hard core of 25
men. I had talked with them quite a bit about that, and two things sort of
came across in my conversations with them, and really the fascinating thing
was that it spanned the political spectrum among these guys. Some of these
guys were quite left wing, others were quite right wing. And the two
quandaries that everybody talked about were first the military quandary, and
second kind of a moral quandary. And the military quandary being how do you
fight a war like this, you know, looking for certain specific people among a
civilian population where that civilian population pretty much universally
despises you, doesn't want you there, sees you as occupiers?
And the problem they face on the military side is that every tactic they use
to try to look for these men, you know, inside the West Bank, inside the
occupied territories, whether it's taking over Palestinian homes or operating
checkpoints or doing raids on houses at night, each of them have the ultimate
effect of inflaming the Palestinian population that much more. One thing the
Israeli army does at checkpoints now is any male between the ages of
15--probably even younger now--to 50, they're forced to lift their shirt and
then lower their trousers to show that they're not wired with a suicide bomb.
Now from the Israeli standpoint they see this as just--I mean, this is just
necessary in the age of the suicide bomber. Of course the Palestinians, they
see this as a tactic of humiliation. And there is a recurrent pattern of the
tactics that the Israelis use which they feel completely justified in using,
but have the effect of just inflaming the local population that much more.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Scott Anderson. We'll talk more about
traveling with a platoon of Israeli commandos during the military offensive in
the West Bank after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Scott Anderson.
He's reported from many war zones. From March 24th through the end of April,
he was in the Middle East. During the second week of April he traveled with a
group of Israeli commandos as they tried to rout out Palestinian militants who
were on the Israel military's wanted list.
You've told us a little bit about what it was like when the Israeli commandos
saw Palestinians who had broken the curfew. One day you went them as they
raided a house that they believed to be the hiding place of a local commander
of the military wing of the Fatah, Arafat's party. Why did they suspect that
a local commander was in this house?
Mr. ANDERSON: I wasn't privy to why they targeted this house in particular.
I gather that it was from intelligence they had gathered out of the village,
probably from aerial surveillance, also. And the thing about this platoon is
that almost all their operations--because they're behind--well, you know,
they're in hostile territory, virtually all their operations are done at
night. So this raid on this house was done at probably about 2:30 in the
morning, and we approached the house from about a half mile away, we came up
in armored personnel carriers and then hiked into the village. The soldiers
surrounded the house and banged on the door. A man came to the door, and it
turned out that it wasn't the man they were looking for, but it was his
brother. So it clearly was a house that was in the family.
It's a very tense situation because you have one whole group of soldiers who
are surrounding the house that's being raided, but you have a whole other ring
of soldiers outside watching all the surrounding houses for a sniper to
appear. And they want to do these operations as quickly as possible, but also
as thoroughly as possible.
So what happened was they had the man in the house bring out his family and
his family was--it was his wife and his mother and seven or eight young
children. And they brought them out and they stood them out on the terrace of
the house. They used the father, the man of the house--they put him in front
and made him walk first into the house; they were going to search the house.
But first, in Arabic, the deputy commander said, `Everybody's out of the
house,' and the father said, `Yes.' And the platoon commander said, `Because
you understand if there's anyone in the house we're going to shoot them.' And
the father said, `Yeah, yeah. No, everyone's out.'
So with the father leading the way into the house, the soldiers just went room
to room at gunpoint, you know, their guns raised and poised to fire, searching
for the man that they were looking for. About the fourth room they
approached, and the house is all dark, the deputy platoon commander, who's in
the lead right behind the father, all of a sudden sees this shadow moving in
the room. And rather than fire, he just hesitates a split second, he moves
up against a wall and draws a bead on the figure moving in the dark. And he
hesitates long enough to realize it's a boy of about eight or nine.
Apparently the father forgot--despite being asked repeatedly, he'd forgot that
there was still one, you know, kid inside the house.
And to me what was amazing about that incident--I've been with other military
units around the world, and in any other situation where I've been in like
that, with another military, that kid would have been absolutely killed;
including with the American military, that kid just would have been killed.
These commandos were so well trained, and the soldier in particular who was
the lead coming into this room, just, you know, hesitated for split second,
and probably against his own training, in a way--I mean, when you're a soldier
and you get in a situation where you perceive danger, your first response is
to fire--but by not doing so, of course, like averted kind of a tragedy.
So I was very impressed by the particular platoon I was with. These guys were
incredibly cool and very level-headed. You know, do they exemplify all of the
Israeli army? No, I don't think so. I mean, these guys were extremely well
GROSS: What was the father's reaction when he realized that one of his sons
was still in the house and that he'd left his son in enormous jeopardy?
Mr. ANDERSON: Well, there was a moment of sort of panic and, you know, the
soldiers were shouting at him, and they grabbed the kid and thrust him in his
father's arms and, you know, told him, `Get him out of the house.' The
interesting thing was, I talked with the soldier who was outside guarding the
family, outside of the house--all the children and the mother and the wife had
all been kept out on the porch--and he had been keeping all these kids at
gunpoint throughout this whole search, and the search went on for about a
half-hour, and this man was a father himself, he has two young children, and
he said, `You know, the thing that was so strange, you know, here it is, these
kids, some of them are four and five years old, they've got a soldier with a
gun pointed at them, and they just weren't scared at all.' At times they were
joking, they were giggling. It was just like no big deal to them. And the
soldier, who's name was Yaniv, he said to me, `You know, I was imagining my
own children in that situation, and they would have been petrified. They
would have been crying.' And for these kids, it was just like no big deal.
And even then, when the boy came out and joined the rest of the family, they
were sort of joking about it. I mean, they were kind of laughing like, you
know, `How could you be so stupid as to sleep through this,' or, you know--and
what Yaniv, the soldier, saw was just the gulf of experience between, you
know, what's happening in Israel and what's happening among the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are just not intimidated.
GROSS: What was it like when the Israeli commandos gave up the house that
they had occupied to use as their headquarters?
Mr. ANDERSON: It's kind of funny, they take it almost as--it's a very kind of
quirky pride. And again, it's this particular unit, because, you know,
certainly there are cases, and well-documented cases, during this offensive
where Israeli units went into houses and just completely trashed them. This
unit, they were under strict orders, `You do not touch anything of the
family's. You don't use their soap. You don't go into their refrigerator.
You don't even take, you know, bottled water. You don't use anything of
their's.' Everything we ate, everything we drank was stuff that we brought in
in the armored personnel carriers.
And when they leave houses, some of the last soldiers out of the house, they
actually clean it. I mean, they find the vacuum cleaner or the mop and they,
as much as possible, kind of tidy up the place. I mean, no matter how gentle
they treat it, you have anywhere from 25 to 45 soldiers with their equipment
trooping in and out of a house at all hours for several days. I mean, there
is going to be some damage. But the interesting thing in this house we were
in is that there's a framed photograph of the patriarch of the family, a man
probably in his 60s or early 70s, and in one corner of the frame was a smaller
picture of a boy, presumably this man's grandson, a boy wearing, you know, a
Palestinian mujaheddin uniform and clutching a toy Kalashnikov. And this rule
of not touching anything is taken to agree that the Israeli soldiers would
look at this photo, and they'd shake their heads. But no one touched the
photo, no one destroyed it, and it just stayed there during the whole time we
GROSS: Scott Anderson. We'll talk more in the second half of the show.
Anderson's article about traveling with a platoon of Israeli commandos during
the military offensive in the West Bank was the cover story of last Sunday's
New York Times Magazine. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, more with journalist Scott Anderson about traveling with a
platoon of Israeli commandos in the West Bank. Also, linguist Geoff Nunberg
on creating the language for things that exist only on the Internet.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with journalist Scott
Anderson. During the second week of Israel's incursion into the West Bank,
known as Operation Defensive Shield, Anderson traveled with a platoon of
Israeli commandos in the West Bank town of Atil. The platoon's mission was to
locate and capture key leaders of Palestinian militias. His article about the
platoon was the cover story of last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
Anderson also spent time with Palestinians in Ramallah after the incursion and
in Bethlehem before and after.
Did the Israeli commandos that you traveled with ever accomplish a part of
their mission in the week that you were with them?
Mr. ANDERSON: During the week I was with them, they didn't grab any of the
people that were on their target list. They did catch a couple of men on
what they call ambushes. They'll send small units out and lay beside a road
up to a day, up to 24 hours, and they did manage to catch a couple of men
coming down this road who were wanted, but rather low level. Before I joined
them in the initial push in Tulkarem and the surrounding area, they had
managed to get, I believe, three or four fairly high-level people they were
looking for. And all told in the operation, they got about 20 people who were
on their target list. But the majority of people they were looking for had
either, you know, moved into the interior or gone up and were hiding in caves
up in the hills or just, you know, had hiding places within Tulkarem or the
It really resembled a very expensive and very dangerous police operation,
ultimately; all movements done in armored personnel carriers, everything done
at gunpoint, living inside these seized houses with the lights out because you
were worried about sniper fire coming in. At least with this particular unit
and what they were doing, it was this odd thing of an offensive being carried
in this state of sensory depravation.
GROSS: The Israeli commandos that you traveled with ranged in age from their
20s through their 40s, because they're reservists. And they also had a wide
range of opinion politically about the incursion, about the future of Israel
and the Palestinians. Can you just give us a sense of the two extremes that
you heard among the commandos?
Mr. ANDERSON: Mm-hmm. Well, from the left to the right, you know, I would
say the left very much mirroring the left of Israeli society. They feel that
the solution to the problem is a return to the '67 borders and a Palestinian
state. On the right, there was a feeling of--that the only thing the
Palestinians understand is force, that first we need to sort of `crush them,'
to use the words of Ariel Sharon, and then talk peace.
The interesting aspect of this call-up for this offensive was that everybody
from the left to the right felt that this offensive was necessary at this
time, because there had just been so many suicide bombings and so many people
had been killed that something had to be done. And among the leftists, the
feeling was, you know, `Even if this isn't the right thing, even if it has the
effect of pushing peace further away, we have to do something.'
So there really was this--I wouldn't say--well, yeah, support for the
offensive in the short term. But at the same time, looking at the kind of
endgame, what was remarkable was that among both the left and the right, there
was this universal--among the soldiers I was with--this universal feeling that
this offensive was not really going to solve anything, that it certainly
wasn't going to militarily destroy what the government calls the terrorist
infrastructure, that the only way out in the future is for a negotiated
settlement and for a Palestinian state.
Now there was a lot of disagreement of what that Palestinian state would
actually look like, you know, whether it includes the settlements and what
happens to Jerusalem. But it was really astonishing to me to see that even
among the soldiers who'd called themselves right wing, there was this
acceptance that the only way out of this situation was an independent
Palestinian state. And in some ways, I feel that this platoon I was
with--they were a military vanguard, but I think in a certain way, they're
also almost a political vanguard of Israel, because I think they're ahead of
the curve in Israeli public opinion of how you go forward. They're the guys
who are out there facing--risking their lives each day and facing a
Palestinian population, and I think they have a much better sense of what
Israel is up against than people sitting in Tel Aviv and saying, `Oh, you
know, we should do this, we should do that.'
GROSS: What were the reactions to the possibility of having to go back, you
know, in another six months or a year and do another incursion into the
territories if this isn't effective, or if negotiations don't really happen in
the next few months?
Mr. ANDERSON: Again, in looking at the sort of political spectrum of this
unit, I would say that among the rightists, there was this feeling of, like,
`Well, you know, if we get called up again, we'll have to come back.' Among
the leftists, a lot of whom who had deeply grappled with the issue of showing
up this time--for moral reasons, they feel they shouldn't be in the West Bank.
A lot of men on kind of the peacenik side of the Israeli society that I had
talked to--this had been a real struggle for them to come back this time. And
what several of them said to me was, `You know, what we're doing with this
offensive is we are, hopefully, creating this peaceful space for the leaders
of both sides to talk. And if they waste that space that we're creating,
we're not going to come back. You know, if we feel that, you know, we're
being used in lieu of any sort of political or diplomatic process and if our
government is just using us to, like, periodically, you know, throw us against
the other side, you know, we're not going to put up with it.'
GROSS: How did you get to travel with the Israel military? They don't strike
me as being that open to press coverage.
Mr. ANDERSON: No. Well, in fact, I was the only journalist who was able to
travel with them during this offensive.
GROSS: This is a period when Israeli military men were actually firing on
Mr. ANDERSON: Yes. Well, I think it was a matter of good timing. I had
gotten to Israel. I had been working on this story for awhile. I had been
fascinated for several months now of what was happening within the Israeli
military, because as you--throughout this winter and the spring, as the
situation in Israel was deteriorating, it seemed that the political parties
were very much hardening on both sides. And I was curious what was going on
with the Israeli reservists who are actually being put out in these situations
where--and the Israeli army has always prided itself on being one of the best
armies in the world. But what they've all of a sudden started to face with
the Palestinians in the last year is an actual growingly formidable fighting
force. More and more reservists have been killed at checkpoints. Several
times, their armored personnel carriers have been blown up and a lot of
soldiers killed. And I was curious, going back in February and March,
of--from a military standpoint, what are these men now thinking? You know, do
they now feel that they are getting into a situation where militarily, they
can't control it anymore?
So I had approached the Israeli army, I think first back in February, about
this idea of going in and spending some time with the reserve unit near the
front. And so it had been somewhat set up. And then when I got to
Israel--and then, of course, everything blew up, and my getting out in the
field with these guys got delayed a little bit. But it just took a lot of
pressing, and finally, they put me with the unit.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Scott Anderson. We'll talk more about
traveling with a platoon of Israeli commandos during the military offensive in
the West Bank after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is journalist Scott Anderson. In April during the second
week of Israel's military offensive in the West Bank, Anderson traveled with a
platoon of Israeli commandos in the West Bank town of Atil. His report was
the cover story of last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
Were you able to spend much time with Palestinians? Not with the Israeli army
but just seeing what the Palestinian experience was like during the incursion?
Mr. ANDERSON: Yes. Immediately before that I was with the commandos, I was
based in Jerusalem for the first week of the offensive and made several trips
into Bethlehem, tried to get into Ramallah. And then when I had left--being
in the field with the commandos, I was back in Jerusalem, and at that point,
the offensive was winding down a little bit, or it was easier to move around.
There weren't as many Israeli army checkpoints around, so I went back both
into Bethlehem and Ramallah.
GROSS: Now I know you went to the home of a 15-year-old boy who had killed
himself on a suicide bomb the day before. What did his family and neighbors
have to say about the suicide bombing?
Mr. ANDERSON: Well, to me, this is the real fiction that the Israeli
government, the Sharon government has--they're going to have to open up to.
You know, the whole idea of this offensive is to `smash the infrastructure of
terrorism,' in Ariel Sharon's words. When I went to this house of this boy
who had killed himself the day before--and this was--and I'm sorry. I can't
remember the exact date it happened because there was a suicide bombing every
day around Jerusalem in late March, and so they kind of blend together. But
it was a 15-year-old boy who had walked up to, like, an ambulance office in
the outskirts--right near Jerusalem and had blown himself up. And he had
wounded, I believe, it was six medics. He didn't kill anyone. He killed
I went to his house the next day, and the father was holding court out in
front of the house. The women were in another house. The mourning is done
separately among Palestinians. The neighbors, friends, family were all kind
of coming up and congratulating the men on the martyrdom of his son. I talked
with a next-door neighbor of this house, and the man I was talking to, he had
a 15-year-old son who was a classmate of the boy who'd killed himself. And
this man, who was educated--I believe he was an engineer--said, `You know, I'm
really opposed to the suicide bombings, and I've told my son this so many
times. But I have no idea of what's going on inside his head now. There's so
much rage and despair among the children that, you know, would it surprise me
if my own son became, you know, what they call a shahid, a martyr?' And he
said, `No, it wouldn't surprise me.'
And what is happening--and again, going back to this idea that--this fiction
of an infrastructure of terror, the way the suicide bombings are being done
now is literally high school kids. And not just boys now, girls deciding they
want to martyrs and going up to the village square. And in the village square
in Palestinian towns, the Tanzim militia guys hang out there, the Hamas guys
hang out. And it's a matter of going up and talking to the militants and
saying, `You know, I want to be a martyr. Can I get a belt?' and of sort of
being chosen. It's a very informal process.
And another thing about these belts is it's 500 shekels to make a suicide
belt, which is about $120. So, you know, the Israeli government was talking
throughout this offensive of how many suicide belts they captured. Well, you
know, if a suicide belt costs $120 to make, it doesn't really matter how many
you capture because, you know, they can very quickly be replaced.
So I think the really horrifying thing from the Israeli standpoint that
they're facing that there is just not much infrastructure of terror to break.
It is--and as one of the soldiers I was with said, you know, the
infrastructure is now in the minds of the teen-agers. And, you know, how do
you fight that? And I'm not sure there is any way to.
GROSS: You told us that there was a lot of political diversity among the
Israeli commandos that you traveled with. Left, right, center were all
represented. What about among the Palestinians you spoke to? Was there a lot
of political diversity there?
Mr. ANDERSON: I would say less so. I think that there is much more of a
unanimity of feeling among the Palestinians that it's time for them to have
their own state and it's time for the Israelis to leave. There is a political
diversity among the tactics of how you get there. You know, from the extreme
of, `We have to do it through bleeding the Israelis and with suicide
bombings,' to the other end of the spectrum of, you know, `We need to do it
through peaceful means.' But that end of the spectrum, of approaching it from
peaceful means, I think, is getting smaller and smaller all the time among the
GROSS: After having spoken both with Israeli military commandos and with
Palestinians, did you see attempts on either side to really understand,
humanize, find some empathy for the other side?
Mr. ANDERSON: Somewhat. You know, these are both very sophisticated
cultures. So, yes. I mean, I think there'll always be this sort of element
of the society that tries to bridge the gulfs between the two people. But I
have to say at this particular time, the overwhelming sentiment that I felt
on both sides was just the opposite, more of a demonizing sentiment that was
going on, which often happens in a war situation. You demonize and you
dehumanize the enemy. And I think both sides are doing that right now. And,
unfortunately, I think a lot of it is coming from even the governmental level.
GROSS: Did you get a sense that Israelis and Palestinians were hating the
policies or the policies and the people? In other words, were the people
themselves being demonized, or is it just the policies?
Mr. ANDERSON: Well, you know, it's an interesting question because it's very
hard--what I found was this--I think these two peoples are actually--they have
an awful lot in common, and a lot of people, both Israelis and Palestinians,
will say that. You know, their cultures are quite similar, and even
linguistically, there's--they have a lot of words in common. And they've been
living amongst each other for a very long time. So there is this element of
almost a shared history.
Against that, though, is--you know, the level of violence on both sides has
gotten so severe, I think, on both sides, and especially maybe less educated
on both sides. There is this feeling of looking at the other side as just
bloodthirsty monsters. But going to this idea of this sort of shared culture
or shared view on things, I was thinking when I was there, and especially
during this one week where there was a suicide bombing every day, and I was
thinking what would happen in the United States if that had been the case and
if there had been, say, a particular ethnic group or a religious group who
were doing these suicide bombings. And I think that in this country, you
would have very, very quickly seen vigilantes going after this group. I think
you would have seen a lot of violence against the group, just sort of
That didn't happen in Israel. And I think that because these two societies
really are just so intermingled, among most people there's not this tendency
to lump everybody in as one, because they have, like, daily connections with
them, which also, of course, perversely--and everything in Israel is
ultimately perverse--it makes it that much harder to see how you ever separate
it. You know, there's now this talk of actually just putting up a wall and
separating the two peoples. But these two cultures are so intertwined at this
point, I don't know how you ever really achieve a separation. And if you
don't have a full separation, then you're always vulnerable to attacks from
one side to the other.
GROSS: Did you find yourself trying to do the moral calculus of both sides
and see which side could take the moral high ground in terms of living under
occupation or living with suicide bombings?
Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, I did. I think everybody does when they first get to
Israel. You know, the awful thing--and I think even the Israelis would admit
this--the awful thing is that terrorism--and if you want to call suicide
bomb--I think most people would agree that suicide bombings are a form of
terrorism--terrorism can often work. And I think--maybe not to what you want
at the endgame, but at a certain point, it works. And it--I mean, this awful
reality is that because so many Israelis have been killed by suicide bombs,
especially in the last four or five months, it really has propelled--well, of
course, it provoked the military offensive by the Israelis, but it really has
helped bring about a change in the Palestinian status in the world.
And I mentioned earlier this--you know, what I was really amazed by among the
Israelis was the lack of talk now about the creation of the greater Israel, of
just annexing the West Bank and kicking the Palestinians out and making the
whole thing part of Israel. And I believe that, that change in Israeli public
opinion has come about because so many of them have been killed. They realize
that they are against an implacable enemy, and they know now that the price of
not making a deal with the Palestinians--it's no longer facing rock-throwers
and Molotov cocktails and the occasional, you know, drive-by shooting. It is
these suicide bombings where 25, 30 people are killed in the blink of an eye.
And that's not going to change. If anything, that's just going to get worse.
GROSS: Scott Anderson, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. ANDERSON: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Scott Anderson's article about traveling with a platoon of Israeli
commandos was the cover story of last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on creating names for things that exist only
online. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Commentary: Evolutions of naming things that only exist online
TERRY GROSS, host:
A couple of months ago, our linguist Geoff Nunberg did a piece of blogs;
that's short for Weblogs, Web sites where people record daily comments and
link to other sites. Some people aren't happy with that word, but Geoff says
it's the wave of the future, the way we will name things in the digital world.
Shortly after my piece on blogs ran, I got an e-mail from somebody who
objected to my use of the word, particularly when it's used to describe the
records that people post on the Web of their daily thoughts and doings. I
should have called them e-journals, she said. I could see her point, but
`blog' is a syllable whose time has come. Who can resist that paleolithic
pizazz? It's the tone you hear in a lot of programmer jargon, in words like
`kluge,' `mung' and `scrog.' That's how insiders demystify the technology.
It sets them apart from the digital parvenus who laid their speech with
technical-sounding language. When we use `blog,' it's as if to say, `We're
all geeks now.'
Anyway, it's gotten old, the whole business of naming online phenomena by
tacking a qualifier onto the name of some predigital category. First, there
was `cyber,' which had its efflorescence in the first half of the '90s. Those
were the salad days of cyberspace, not the noirish locale that William Gibson
had in mind when he coined the word, but more like something out of C.S.
Lewis; an enchanted kingdom on the other side of the screen where everything
and everyone has an ethereal cybercounterpart--cybercrime and cyberpolice,
cyberpoetry and cybernovels, cyberpets and cyberhippies.
`Cyber' connoted a place that was freed from the trammels of materiality and
distance, where people would slip on new identities as easily as they changed
their shirt. You think of the caption on that widely reprinted cartoon that
Peter Steiner did in The New Yorker back in 1993: `On the Internet, nobody
knows you're a dog.'
By the mid-'90s, though, that cybertalk was sounding hopelessly naive. The
Net was becoming crowded, noisy and, above all, lucrative. And it was turning
out to be anything but anonymous. It was more like, `On the Internet,
everybody knows what brand of dog food you buy.' After 1996, the word
`cyberspace' became less frequent in the press. The gold rush was on and
people migrated to the new prefix `e,' which seems to have been short for El
Dorado. The e-prefix had a prominent beginning. In 1998, the American
Dialect Society voted it the new word that was mostly likely to succeed.
Like a lot of the predictions that people were making back then, that one
would turn out to be overoptimistic just two years later. When you track the
frequency of E in the press, in fact, its fortunes almost exactly parallel the
Nasdaq Index. By 2001, it was 60 percent off its peak. And `e' isn't likely
to make a comeback even when the tech sector re-emerges, no more than most of
the companies whose names begin with it. It'll stick around in e-commerce
and, of course, e-mail the way `cyber' is still around in a few words like
`cybersex,' maybe the last thing in digital life that has a touch of intrigue
But we've left off thinking of the online world as a remote or separate place.
For the time being at least, the new economy is going to be just a
neighborhood of the old, and one with a higher vacancy rate at that. Anyway,
a lot of those distinctions were always unnecessary. What was the idea behind
the word `cyberessay' and `cyberpoetry'? Are essays and poetry really
transformed once you no longer have to send them to the printer? Ditto
`e-statements' and `e-bills,' not to mention all the increasingly desperate
names that were coined with `i' and `k' as companies started to switch
prefixes as rapidly as they were switching business plans. For that matter,
what's the point of virtual bait shop so long as the crawlers are real?
Of course, a lot of the things that have emerged online are genuinely novel,
but then why strain to find their off-line counterparts? That's the beauty of
blogs. You could call these things virtual journals, e-clipping services or
cyber-Christmas letters. But why can't they just be unique in all their
We go through this every time a new technology emerges. It took a while
before people could stop talking about horseless carriages, electric iceboxes
and electronic brains. But in the end, those hybrid names always wind up
sounding quaint, and so will all those compounds with `cyber,' `e,' `virtual'
and the rest. If we were smart, we'd drag them all to the trash icon of
history right now. But that isn't likely to happen. They'll end their days
attached to useless computer accessories and get-rich-quick schemes the same
way the suffix `omatic' migrated from the names of all those proud postwar
Fords and Buicks, to the tacky gadgets they sell on late-night TV.
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a researcher at Stanford's Center for the Study of
Language and Information, and he's author of the book, "The Way We Talk Now."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Today is the 36th anniversary of the release of The Beach Boys album "Pet
Sounds." We'll close with an outtake from the album's song "God Only Knows."
(Soundbite of "God Only Knows")
THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) If you should ever leave me, though life would
still go on, believe me. The world could show nothing to me, so what good
would living do me? God only knows what I'd be without you.
God only knows what I'd be without you. God only knows what I'd be without
you. God only knows what I'd be without you. God only knows--God only knows
what I'd be without you. God only knows what I'd be without you. God only
knows what I'd be without you. God only knows--God only knows what I'd be
without you. God only knows what I'd be without you. God only knows what I'd
be without you. God only knows what I'd be without you. God only knows---God
only knows what I'd be without you.
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