Palestinian Human Rights Lawyer Raja Shehadeh
Shehadeh is the author of the new memoir When the Birds Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege. His previous book is the memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine. Shehadeh is a founder of Al-Haq, a pioneering, nonpartisan human rights organization.
Other segments from the episode on October 28, 2003
DATE October 28, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Raja Shehadeh discusses his new book, "When the Birds
Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Today we're going to look at the Middle East. A little later we'll speak with
David Horovitz, the editor of the Israeli news magazine The Jerusalem Report.
First, we're going to hear from Raja Shehadeh. He's written a new memoir
based on the journal he kept when his town Ramallah was occupied by the
Israeli Army from late March to late April of 2002. This was part of a larger
Israeli military operation to root out terrorists in response to suicide
bombings. Shehadeh's new book is called "When the Birds Stopped Singing:
Life in Ramallah Under Siege." His previous memoir was about growing up in the
West Bank. Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer who co-founded the human rights
organization Al-Haq. In 1991 he was a legal adviser to the Palestinians at
the Middle East Peace Conference. He's been out of public life for the past
nine years, concentrating on his legal practice and his writing.
Your new book, "When the Birds Stopped Singing," is about life in Ramallah
starting in the spring of 2002, when the Israelis occupied Ramallah. Are
there liberties that you feel you still don't have that you lost during that
Mr. RAJA SHEHADEH (Author, "When the Birds Stopped Singing"): Oh,
absolutely. All aspects of my life have been made more difficult. Movement
in and out of Ramallah is hazardous and with long delays. And the possibility
for leaving Ramallah and just visiting family or going to the university or
going to work in Jerusalem or in Bethlehem or in Nablus, as my work requires
me to do, has become extremely difficult, very time-consuming.
So--and at the same time the fear, the fear of living in a place where you are
literally at the whim of the soldiers who can come in at any time, blow a
house, arrest people, throw a missile at the car where you might just as well
be standing and therefore lose your life or people you know lose their life,
all of these things make it very difficult to live in the occupied
territories. It makes us feel that we are--it's a question of time before our
life will be completely destroyed.
GROSS: I'm wondering what your opinion is of a peace plan that was drawn up
by a group of prominent Palestinian and Israelis working in an unofficial
capacity, so this is an unofficial peace plan, but I think the idea is it can
be a prototype for an official peace plan. The idea was, `Let's prove that we
can reach some kind of compromise, and then move on from there.' And this is
a model for one way of dividing up the land, forming a Palestinian state and
dealing with the contested mosque in East Jerusalem and the Western Wall.
Does this peace plan have your confidence?
Mr. SHEHADEH: I've read the plan, and there are some details that I'm not so
happy with and some details which need to be there that are missing. But I
think it's an extremely important step. I think it proves that there is a
possibility for arriving at peace. I think it reflects what the majority of
Palestinians and Israelis want, which is peace based on a territorial
compromise, on a division of the land between the two people. And I think it
makes it clear that the Israeli government, which is saying there's not
possibility for peace through compromise, is not telling the truth. So it's a
very important political statement, and I hope it will have the impact and the
support of the United States and other countries in the world.
GROSS: One of the parts of this peace plan that I imagine is controversial
among a lot of Palestinians is how it deals with the right of return. It says
that any Palestinian can move to the new Palestinian state, but they would not
have the right of return to Israel. How does that play with you?
Mr. SHEHADEH: Well, I am of the position that this question of the right of
return is often used, especially by Israelis, to indicate that as long as the
Palestinians call for the right of return, they are not really serious about
peace with Israel. What they really are after is destroying Israel. Now I am
a person who stands for a two-state solution, who is comfortable with the
continuing existence of Israel side-by-side along a Palestinian state and the
occupied territories, including Jerusalem. And at the same time, I believe
that the right of return is the right that must not be given up so easily. It
doesn't mean that the right of return means the actual physical return of
every Palestinian to where they were in 1948, because that is, well, nigh
impossible. But the right of return must be recognized. No one speaks about
the right of return in the absence of the recognition of Israel. So once the
Palestinian state recognizes an Israeli state and vice versa, then the
sovereignty of the Israeli state is also recognized, and therefore, any return
of any number of people is going to be under the terms and under the laws of
Israel, and therefore, the possibility of destroying Israel by the return is
not on. So this is one thing.
The other thing, everybody knows that the largest number of the Palestinian
villages that were in existence in 1947 have been utterly destroyed. So the
possibility of actual return is not on. So I am thinking that first of all,
the Palestinians need that recognition that they were harmed, that something
very terrible was done to them by Israel. No peace can come without that
recognition. And then I think a formula must be found for the majority to
return to the Palestinian areas, of course. And some--I don't know what
numbers; I don't know what proportion--return to Israel as a symbolic action,
which Israel is comfortable with. In the negotiations in Camp David, they
were comfortable with this. And then, of course, compensation would have to
be paid as well.
GROSS: It sounds like you're saying although you're glad that this new
unofficial peace plan exists, you couldn't really back it, because it doesn't
have any right of return.
Mr. SHEHADEH: No, I can back it, because I think they have very important
aspects of what I think needs to be there as elements for the peace. And I
don't think the right of return is one issue that should spoil any peace
agreement, because I don't think that there is such adamant determination by
the Palestinians to insist on full return, and it's certainly not my position.
So I'm very close to what is in that document, but I think this is only an
initial document, and of course, there needs to be more details fleshed out,
and perhaps the question of the right of return and what sort of compensation
and what sort of numbers we're talking about needs to be fleshed out. But the
principles that are in that document are the principles that I agree to as the
basis for the peace.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Raja Shehadeh. He is a
Palestinian human rights lawyer who has also participated in some of the
earlier Middle East peace talks. He has a new memoir called "When the Birds
Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege."
The suicide bombings have really escalated in the past couple of years. Do
you know anybody who was directly connected with that? In other words, how
close have you come to witnessing somebody who has been convinced that they
should blow themselves up in order blow up the people they perceive as their
Mr. SHEHADEH: I don't know directly, but of course two--well, several of the
people, but in the last period, two were lawyers. One was a 29-year-old woman
lawyer who ended up blowing herself. And, of course, I heard of her story.
And when you hear of the story what happened before she took the decision, you
can begin to understand. Her brother and her cousin were killed in front of
her. Their bodies were dragged--I mean, horrific tale, but it's always--my
point is not to compete in the horror and in the tragedy, because both sides
have their share of the horror, and the point is not to compete who suffers
more, but I know victims of these operations, Israelis and Palestinians. And
very often, when I experience some of the things that some of these people
experience, maybe not as severe, I can understand why they are driven to this.
But at the same time, one of the horrors of life in the occupied territories
is to be surrounded by such despair that makes people ready and willing to
give up their life in this manner and arbitrarily destroy, in the process,
civilians. You know, the fact that the Israelis are killing children and
civilians, to my mind, does not justify the Palestinians doing likewise to the
Israelis. So it's not easy to live in a society where all around you are
potential people who would carry out actions of this sort. You constantly
wonder: What is wrong with us? How did we get to this point? How can we
start getting back from that edge? We are really at the edge. We are at the
11th hour, and it's very important for all of us to be responsible.
GROSS: Do you feel that you have witnessed extremist groups manipulating the
despair to try to create an environment where people are willing to blow
Mr. SHEHADEH: Well, I'm sure--you know, I've lived all my life in Ramallah,
and there was no possibility that anybody would do something like this before
1994. The first such operation was in 1994, and it was after this Israeli
settler in Hebron killed worshipers. Before that, it was inconceivable that
something like this would happen. Now, of course, it's partly due to the
events and the practices of the Israelis, but it's also partly due to
religious fundamentalism that is much more apparent now than ever before. So
there is manipulation. At the end of the invasion, the Israeli army entered
my house, and I have been worried from the very beginning. And what I found
were young people who I'm sure were easy to manipulate--This is speaking now
on the Israeli side--who were unable to look me in the eye. I couldn't have
any impact on them. I couldn't begin to speak to them. So yes, there is
manipulation at a certain point by the Palestinians of young people and by the
Israelis of their young people.
GROSS: Tell us more about what happened when the Israeli army came to your
Mr. SHEHADEH: Well, I had been worried all throughout of exactly this. And
you know, the worry is not only because of what physical damage they would do.
It's also a question of: Would I be able to stand it? Will I break down?
Will I be able to do the right thing? You know, there's always self-doubt as
well. So it was early in the morning. I had just woken up. I hadn't taken
my shower. And the telephone rings, and then a neighbor says, `The army are
on their way to your house. They've just finished with the next-door house.
Be ready.' And that was great, because otherwise, I wouldn't have been ready.
So I rushed, put on my clothes. I didn't want to face them with my pajamas.
Put on my clothes and tried to psychologically put myself in the right frame
They rang the bell. Fortunately, I have a gate, and so they cannot bang on
the door. And I hate people banging on the door. So they rang the bell.
They entered, and I found myself confronted by these young people who were
dressed in this huge gear which almost insulated them from everything around
them. They looked at me, they looked at the house, and they were taken aback,
because they found an ordinary civilian house. I'm not a big person, so
again, maybe that disarmed them. And I wasn't angry or hateful, because I was
ready for them. I just looked at them and said, `What do you want?' And they
started searching. They said they wanted to look around. And my wife took
some of them to one side of the house. I took the others to the other side of
the house. And they went around, and I tried to make some contact with them,
you know, human contact, but it wasn't possible, wasn't possible at all.
So I felt some pity for people who are put in that situation, who I don't know
what they're told about us, that every Palestinian hates them, and they live
with this burden.
GROSS: My guest is Raja Shehadeh. His new memoir is called "When the Birds
Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Raja Shehadeh. He's a lawyer and writer, and the founder
of the human rights organization Al-Haq. His new book, "When the Birds
Stopped Singing," is a memoir about life in Ramallah in the spring of 2002,
when it was occupied by the Israeli army in response to suicide bombings.
One of the things under way now is a barrier fence that has the goal of just
physically separating the Palestinians from the Israelis on the border of the
West Bank but also protecting the settlements within that area. How do you
think that barrier fence might affect your life in a direct way?
Mr. SHEHADEH: Very much so. The barrier fence, well, it's not really a
fence. It's a wall. It's an apartheid wall, because it's not going along the
borders. It's going inside the occupied territories and etching a new border.
It's going to affect my life, because once the part around Ramallah is
completed, then I will be surrounded by huge walls, and exit and entry will
depend on the whim of the soldier if he decides to open the gate for me. It's
very strange after all that's been happening in the world. I was just in
Berlin for my book and saw how the wall there is a thing of the past. Israel
is still thinking of walls and encampment and ways that have proven useless as
a possible protection and security. And of course, what it's aimed at is
creating a new border and an unfair border that will include the settlements.
GROSS: You are of Christian background.
Mr. SHEHADEH: Yeah.
GROSS: And I'm wondering, a lot of the most militant and extreme opposition
to Israelis comes from Islamic militias. Are you concerned that if those
militias become the main voice of the Palestinian people that, when there is a
Palestinian state, it will be an Islamic state, and that, you know, your
identity as a Christian or your rights as a Christian might be compromised in
Mr. SHEHADEH: The beauty of Palestine historically has been a place of
tolerance between the three religions, by the way, because Christians, Jews
and Muslims were living side by side. If it ever comes to the point when it's
going to be a purist state, only Jewish on one side, only Muslim on the other
and with total intolerance, then there will be no place for me to live. So my
struggle is a struggle for attaining freedom and for the right values, and the
right values are values of tolerance.
GROSS: Do you feel that that's a dialogue that's actually going on yet within
Palestinian society, the dialogue about what the future of a Palestinian state
would be, and would it be an Islamic state? And if it was, what would that
Mr. SHEHADEH: Yes, there is a dialogue going on, and it's taking the form of
the constitution. The proposed constitution has been under discussion for
years now. And the question of the personal status law, whether it's going to
be that the religious law is the source of all the laws or one of the sources,
has been a question that is under great discussion.
GROSS: A lot of division among Palestinian people about this?
Mr. SHEHADEH: Well, the extremists argue that it should only be religious,
and the others are saying that we cannot allow it to be, you know, religious
law. And at this point, compromises are still possible, but the more we go on
with the present situation of feeling threatened as a society, the more the
extremists win the day. That's the point, you know. That's why it's very
important to find a solution before it's too late. That is why I also think
that if the United States were a true friend of Israel, it would help Israel
make the necessary compromises, because ultimately, the way things are going
in Palestine and in the region is not good for Israel. I mean, Israel will
have a better life in a region that has more tolerance and toleration, and
that's not happening as long as Israel is pursuing the policies that it's
GROSS: Anger in the Arab world at Israel and at the United States,
particularly after September 11th, seems to have opened the door to a more
volatile expression of anti-Semitism. I mean, one example would be the prime
minister of Malaysia who recently said that the Jews control the world. I
wonder how this new expression of anti-Semitism looks from your perspective,
if it's of any concern to you. And I know your main concern is the rights of
Palestinian people, but nevertheless, I'm sure you have an opinion about this.
Mr. SHEHADEH: It's of great concern to me. I do not believe that any attempt
by making it seem that it's one great conspiracy by the Jews of the world or
by the Muslims of the world is good for my cause. Such statements are very
destructive. Also the implication that they have or the false hope or belief
that they might give to anybody on my side in my country that, look, the whole
of the Muslim world is behind us, all of them fighting the Jews of the
world--it doesn't work like that. This is not the basis on which the problem
rests. I mean, I don't see it as Jew against Muslim. It's a national
struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and it should be confined
to that. It doesn't help us to have people in Malaysia say the world is
controlled by the Jews. I mean that's a conspiratorial theory that has always
been harmful to our cause.
GROSS: Raja Shehadeh, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. SHEHADEH: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Raja Shehadeh is the author of the new memoir "When the Birds Stopped
Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege." We spoke yesterday during his brief
visit to the US.
In the second half of the show, we'll hear from the editor of the Israeli news
magazine The Jerusalem Report.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we talk with David Horovitz, editor of the Israeli news
magazine The Jerusalem Report and author of the forthcoming book "Still Life
with Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism." And David Bianculli previews
tonight's season premiere of "24."
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: David Horovitz on continued fighting between Israelis
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
In the first half of our show we heard from Palestinian lawyer and writer Raja
Shehadeh. My next guest, David Horovitz, is the editor of the Israeli
newsmagazine The Jerusalem Report. He also writes a column for the magazine.
Horovitz has lived in Israel since emigrating from England in 1983. He's the
author of the book "A Little Too Close to God: The Thrills and Panic of a
Life In Israel." His next book, "Still Life With Bombers: Israel in the
Age of Terrorism," will be published in March.
We recorded our interview this morning; he spoke from a studio in Jerusalem.
He told me that in Israel fear of suicide bombings is profound and
unrelenting. I asked him if there are places where Israelis feel most safe or
Mr. DAVID HOROVITZ (Editor, The Jerusalem Report; Author, "A Little Too Close
To God"): Well, that's the awfulest. There is nowhere in Israel that is off
limits to terrorism. I've been to funerals where there are security guards.
Hospitals now, in the wake of a suicide bombing, have to upgrade their own
security because of the concern that somebody may seek to profit from the
chaos and blow up the hospitals. For me, the key proof that there was nowhere
left that was a haven was the bombing a little over a year ago at the Hebrew
University campus on Mt. Scopus, for which I have a true fond connection
because that happens to be where I met my wife. There was always an
assumption that nobody would blow up Hebrew U because there are thousands of
Arabs on the campus, and then last July somebody blew it up.
We become almost domestic security analysts. My wife and I have had very
earnest and not particularly emotional conversations about things as banal as
where to do the shopping. You know, `Which is safer this week? Should we go
to the grocery store on the corner, where there's no security guard, but it's
unlikely that it would be targeted because there are not that many people
there at any one time?' And, of course, things like that have been targeted.
`Should we go to the supermarket, where there is a guard?' But, of course,
the guard, if he does his job, may not be able to prevent the bombing. He may
just be killed by the bomber, and that's happened. And it's happened in
Jerusalem. Or, in our case, we can go to Malha, which is this great big
shopping mall in southern Jerusalem, where security is like airport security.
You know, I'm fairly blond, but I'm the least-blond member of my family, and
we all look like sort of recent arrivals from Sweden. And yet when we pull up
at Malha, we'll still get the third degree, and they'll check the trunk of
the car. And, you know, all the things that I've forgotten to take out that
are inexplicable and bizarre get sort of raked over. And that's just to get
into the parking lot. And then you get to the entrance to the mall itself,
and, you know, it's a metal detector gate and a guard with a detector stick,
you know, to make sure you haven't got explosives under your clothes. And,
therefore, when you get into Malha, you know, you sort of heave this sigh of
relief and think, `OK, here I'll be safe.' But, of course, because it's
closed in and because it's crowded, if a bomber did get into Malha, the
devastation would be all the more atrocious.
And you really do, you have quite calm conversations about, `OK, where is it
better to buy our corn flakes and milk this week? Where is the least likely
place to get blown up?'
GROSS: Have the suicide bombers affected your overall feelings about the
Palestinian people, or do you feel like you can contain your anger at the
suicide bombers to the bombers themselves?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Well, I can only relate to the Palestinian people by the
criteria that opinion polls and surveys provide for me. So I would love to be
able to say that, you know, of course, I recognize that it's only a small
minority of Palestinians who are carrying out suicide bombings, which is, of
course, the case--only a small minority. I mean, a hundred plus, quote-quote,
"successful" bombings in three years is a fairly devastating minority, but
it's a minority. And yet, troublingly, of course, survey after survey after
survey shows that most Palestinians are saying they support the suicide
bombers. So that, of course, has to filter into my conception of the
At the same time I'm very aware that, in my opinion, this is a nation of
people who have been horrifically misled by their leadership. I mean, this is
a leadership that came back from a very serious effort by an Israeli
government three years ago to make peace, and the Palestinian leadership told
its people that the Israelis didn't want to make peace. In other words, to my
understanding of how things panned out here, the leaders lied to their people,
told them that the Israelis never wanted to partner them towards independence,
never would prepare to relinquish territory, never wanted viable terms of
peace, all of which I think is a gross and malicious misportrayal of what
happened at Camp David.
And then on top of that, I know, too, they have endured three years of hell.
You know, as we've tried to stop the bombers--well, we've stopped them working
inside Israel, and we've put up roadblocks and curfews and closures and all
the things that we've done to try and keep ourselves safe, and that has
affected ordinary people. So, you know, I think there is a fair amount of
hostility to Israel. I think it's manipulated hostility. I think it's
hostility that could have been avoided. And I know that three years ago it
GROSS: The Sharon government's policy toward Arafat right now is a policy of
removal. Sharon has said the policy is not for assassination; it's for
removal. What exactly does that mean in your understanding?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Well, first of all, I don't know, and I don't know because the
Israeli government doesn't want me to understand and, quite possibly, because
they don't know what their plans do either. You're right that as of a few
weeks ago, Sharon was on an official visit to India, and there were two
suicide bombings within just a few hours of each other, one of them not far
from where I live in Jerusalem and one in Ramallah, not far from Tel Aviv.
And Sharon dashed back from this official trip and passed a resolution in the
Cabinet that said, `Israel has decided to remove Yasser Arafat as somebody
who's an obstacle to peace and somebody who incites terrorism, but we'll do so
at a moment of our choosing.'
Well, since then there have been subsequent bombings, and the Israeli right is
asking the prime minister, `Why has Arafat not been removed?' And the Israel
left is asking the prime minister, `Why did Israel attract all this
international opprobrium and render Arafat very popular again among ordinary
Palestinians and then actually not do anything anyway?' So we're all kind of
baffled and mystified. Just the other day Sharon said Israel's not going to
kill Arafat when one of his deputies had indicated that that was certainly one
of the possibilities. I don't know what the government wants to do with
Arafat. I know that I think most Israelis would like Yasser Arafat to fall
down dead as soon as possible of natural causes without an Israeli anywhere
within range, so that we won't be blamed for it. You know, one wants to wish
people long life, but I don't think one feels that one wants to convey those
wishes to somebody who has plainly been encouraging the murder of civilians.
Arafat's a problem. Removing Arafat in any kind of dramatic way by Israel
would, I think the assessment is, be very counterproductive. It would unleash
violence. It would discredit any potentially moderate successor. None of the
options for handling Arafat are good, and that, I think, is why the Israeli
government still doesn't quite know what to do about it.
GROSS: The Sharon government is in the process of building a barrier that is
supposed to, basically, wall out Palestinians from Israel so that there isn't
a permeable area in which potential suicide bombers could cross over. One of
the controversial things about this barrier is that it doesn't adhere to the
border of the West Bank in Israel. It is twisting around Israeli settlements
within the West Bank to protect the settlers. The development is despised
among Palestinians in the West Bank. Is it controversial in Israel?
Mr. HOROVITZ: It's not hugely controversial in principle. And in principle
there is a wide support in Israel for anything that makes it harder for
suicide bombers to get into Israel. And just, you know, to emphasize the tiny
distances that we're talking about here, I drove very recently along what's
called Road 6, which is a new road that extends along the eastern spine of
Israel. And it runs all the way up to next to Tulkarem. Tulkarem is a
West Bank Palestinian city right on the Israel-West Bank border. And I
then drove east to west across the whole width of Israel to Netanya, which is
a coastal city. And the drive, in other words, from Israel's eastern
sovereign border to Israel's western sovereign border, is minutes. It took me
11 minutes to get from Tulkarem to the entrance to Netanya. And until this
barrier started going up, that meant it was 10-minute, 15-minute drive down
the road for a bomber from Tulkarem to get to Netanya, as tragically several
So there's a huge amount of support, understandably in that context, I think,
for anything that makes life harder for the bombers to enter Israel. But
there's also big disagreement within Israel about how this barrier should
extend. And even though it's being built, some of the route has not been
finalized, and the arguments are continuing. It seems to me that the farther
east it runs--in other words, where it enters Palestinian territory--it
becomes counterproductive because you'll then have, by definition,
Palestinians on the supposedly safe side of your fence. So you're undermining
the whole security imperative.
GROSS: The whole idea of a wall is--you know, walls through history have a
lot of really negative connotations, including the Warsaw ghetto, East Berlin.
What's some of the moral complexity of knowing that your government, your
country, is, you know, responsible for erecting a wall?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Well, you see, first of all, I don't think that my government
is responsible for erecting the wall. I think suicide bombers are responsible
for my government erecting a wall. And, again, you just need to look at very
recent history. There was no great big security barrier between Israel and
the West Bank. There was no desire whatsoever on the part of the Sharon
government to build any such barrier. By the way, I think `barriers' is a
better term than `wall.' It is indeed a wall in some places where Palestinian
residential areas come right up against the edge of sovereign Israel. In most
places, it's a fence with patrol roads and so on, not wildly different to some
borders in between countries in particularly tense areas. But none of this
would have been going up if the bombers weren't coming to get us.
The Sharon government--the last thing it wants to do is be building security
barriers because it doesn't want any borders to be running along anything like
the line that this fence is running along. It's being built to stop the
bombers. So I'm very sorry, really, that ordinary people on the Palestinian
side are going to suffer as a consequence of this barrier in areas where they
are going to suffer. And I say again the solution to all of this is stop the
bombers and have a leadership that wants to stop the bombers and a public that
tries to root out the bombers because then we can settle down to peace talks
and actually erect a mutually acceptable border along the lines that both
mainstream leaderships accept.
GROSS: My guest is David Horovitz. He's the editor and a columnist for The
Jerusalem Report. He's speaking to us from Jerusalem. Let's take a short
break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is David Horovitz. He's the editor and a columnist for The
Jerusalem Report. He's speaking to us from Jerusalem.
There is a peace plan that was written up by a group of Palestinians and
Israelis in an unofficial capacity. These were not government
representatives. Some of them have worked on previous peace agreements; some
of them have not. But this is meant to be a model, something that the
official peace negotiators can look at and say, `Maybe we can borrow from
this.' What do you think are, like, the main couple of points of this peace
plan, and what do you think of the peace plan? Do you think that this is
something that could, in fact, be a model?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Well, I think that the imperative, the motivation, for the
negotiators to do this--part of it stems from the absence of proactive
diplomatic policies by the Israeli government. As I think I've made clear, I
certainly see terrorism as the root cause of the collapse, but I also think
Israel has an absolute self-interest in encouraging Palestinian moderation and
needs to signal that with the same resoluteness that it says, `We will fight
terrorism as best as we can,' that, `We seek peace as passionately as we can.'
And it needs to make clear that if the terrorism were to stop, Israel would be
rushing back to the peace table. And I think that that message perhaps is not
sent strongly enough by this government.
And one of the reasons why I think these Geneva Accords have resonated as
they have, quite widely, in Israel is because I think a lot of Israelis want
to get the message across that they want to make peace and want to know
whether there's anyone on the other side. There are elements of this accord
that are problematic to most Israelis. For example, unlike at Camp David
three years ago when the former prime minister, the prime minister of the
time, Ehud Barak, said no to Palestinian demands for full Palestinian
sovereignty at the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism and site of the
third holiest shrine in Islam, the Geneva Accords do award Palestinian
sovereignty on the Temple Mount. I think most Israelis will be unhappy about
that, to put it mildly.
It seems that there is something of a breakthrough on the refugee issue, which
is encouraging. It may be that in these modern accords the Palestinians are
signaling a readiness to find a viable solution for the issue of Palestinian
refugees that doesn't demographically overwhelm Jewish Israel. If that's the
case, that's positive. It is claimed by the negotiators that these accords
represent the first official, formal Palestinian recognition of Israel as a
Jewish state. Now reading the text, I don't think it quite says that. I
think the Palestinian negotiators here are saying the Jews have a right to
statehood. They don't say that Israel, you know, has the right to exist as a
Jewish state. Now if it sounds like I'm quibbling, these kinds of nuances are
very, very important.
The bottom line, though, is that this is a model accord. It's not binding on
the Palestinian leadership. And I think there's a problem here in that you
have an Israeli self-appointed negotiating team that is, albeit in a model
accord, making concessions that most Israelis, at the moment at least,
wouldn't agree to. And I fear that that might make it harder for a legitimate
Israeli government to make peace on better terms for Israel. I think you're
going to have the Palestinian leadership that's going to say, `Well, in the
Geneva Accords, you agreed to. We want at least that, or we want better than
that.' And if that's the result, then, of course, it will have been the
opposite of what these negotiators wanted. They may actually have made it
harder for Israel to reach a viable agreement.
GROSS: In the Geneva Accords the right of return is dealt with. And what
the Geneva accord says is that Palestinians should have the right to move to
the new Palestinian state, but they would not have the right to return to land
that they once had in Israel. Raja Shehadeh, who I spoke with earlier--and
he's a Palestinian human rights lawyer--said that that plan would fall short
for him. He thinks that there should be some kind of right of return and not
literally the right of all Palestinians to return but the right of some to
return to Israel and then some kind of ratio for compensation for those who
would have liked to return but cannot or that wouldn't be allowed to. What
would your reaction to that kind of ratio for compensation be?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Well, first of all, the notion of compensation, if he means
financial compensation, I think, is something that most Israelis would be very
amenable to endorsing, the notion that people should be compensated
financially. The notion of an unlimited number of Palestinians being given
the option to come and live in Israel is something that most Israelis would
reject because they think it would be used to overwhelm Israel by weight of
numbers. Israel has six and a half million people: five and a bit million
Jews; one and a bit million Arabs. And the maximalist demand for a right of
return is for four million-plus Palestinians. And that, for Israelis who do
the basic math, is tantamount to a call for Israel's destruction.
So any kind of, quote-unquote, "right" that left open the possibility of
millions of Palestinians coming into Israel will never be accepted by most
Israelis or by an Israeli government. And I think most Israelis are probably
so concerned about that issue and so bitter about Arafat's position on that
issue that they would resist, really, even a much more limited entry of
Palestinians into Israel. As far as most Israelis are concerned, Israel
absorbed huge numbers of Jewish refugees from around the Middle East and North
Africa and built a vibrant state on its part of Mandatory Palestine. And
the Palestinian leadership and those who spoke for it, rather than doing the
same, rather than facing up to a division of territory that neither side was
particularly happy about and building their own independent country and
absorbing their own refugees, instead tried to destroy Israel and has
relentlessly tried to destroy ever since. And, therefore, in Israel there is
a very, very, very wide misgiving about any kind of refugee, quote-unquote,
"right of return."
GROSS: What about the Israeli settlements in the West Bank? This is always a
sticking point in negotiations. And the question is: Should Israel give up
all of its settlements? Should it give up some of its settlements? How
should those settlements be protected if they remain? Where do you think
popular opinion is on that now?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Israeli popular opinion has always been and remains incredibly
divided about the settlement issue. There are people who support the entire
enterprise. There are people who believe that there should be limited
settlement around Jerusalem and in areas where Israel is at its narrowest;
there are parts of Israel where the country's nine miles wide. And in those
areas perhaps some settlement adjoining what is today's sovereign Israel would
be vital in the conception of many Israelis. And there are many Israelis who
oppose the whole settlement enterprise in total.
It seems to me that Israel has failed itself in not trying to formulate a
blueprint because, again, there is a consensus in Israel on the need for a
territorial accommodation with the Palestinians. We don't think we can
continue to maintain Israel as an overwhelmingly Jewish state and as a
democracy unless we can find an accommodation with the Palestinians. And
that, by definition, means relinquishing large parts of the West Bank. And
settlements, if they're all over the West Bank, become a hugely complicating
factor in any such agreement.
GROSS: You've said that the way out of the situation the Middle East is in
and the way out of the new restrictions on the Palestinians is to stop the
Palestinians bombings, the suicide bombings. Do you think that there's
something that the Israeli government could alter in its political or military
approach that would encourage Palestinians to stop the suicide bombings?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Look, I think that there are things that Israel can do to try
and reach out to ordinary Palestinians over the heads of their leadership and
tell them that, `We are waiting to embrace you at the peace table. We want to
make peace.' Most Israelis favor territorial separation from the
Palestinians. I think the things that Israel can do are marginal, however.
We can't fix this by ourselves. We have to have a leadership on the other
side. I don't think most Israelis expect the Palestinian leadership to stop
all acts of terrorism, but we are the absolute opposite of that situation. We
have the Palestinian leadership whose most prominent public figure, Mr.
Arafat, is actually encouraging people to carry out attacks.
And, you know, there are things that Israel can do to give a chance for
moderation. But the key overwhelming responsibility and facility for changing
things lies with the Palestinian leaders who the Palestinian public believe in
and identify with, and they have to offer a different tone.
GROSS: Is there a controversy in Israel over the morality of using helicopter
gunships to go after militants and potential suicide bombers within the West
Bank in civilian areas?
Mr. HOROVITZ: Look, there is dismay in Israel when, as a consequence of one
or other of those attacks, civilians are killed. There was a case in Gaza, I
think it was last year, when the Hamas commander in Gaza, Salah Shehada, was
killed in one such attack, but 15, I think, innocent Palestinians, many of
them children, were killed as well. And there was all hell to pay in terms of
the Israeli internal debate and a great deal of condemnation within Israel.
One of the factors that has so alienated moderate Israelis in terms of the
Palestinian leadership is the very fact that we are being blown up everywhere
because if the Palestinian goal was what they want you, me and the rest of the
world to believe, which is they want to liberate the West Bank, Gaza and
East Jerusalem, then the last thing that they should be doing is attacking
West Jerusalem and Haifa and Tel Aviv because what they're doing is they're
telling Israelis, many of whom may not be interested in holding on to those
areas, many of whom would be very ready to relinquish those areas, that,
`That's not enough. It doesn't matter if you give up the West Bank and Gaza.
We want it all. We're terrorizing all of Israel.'
And I think we assume, because it didn't happen, that Israel would survive
three years of horrific terrorist onslaught. But I think the assumption may
have been by those who fostered this campaign that they would destroy Israel.
I mean, how would America have dealt with the proportional equivalent to
100-plus suicide bombings in our tiny country? I don't even know how sky high
a number that would mean in sort of equivalent terms for America. How would
America have dealt with 100 suicide bombings, which is what we've had, with
nowhere being off limits? What would people have demanded, and how would they
have changed their actions, and would they have sought to flee to safer
So I think there was a very deliberate campaign launched here to terrorize all
of Israel. And if Israelis believe this was only about the disputed
territory, they'd probably be much less bitter and much less disillusioned
about the Palestinian leadership. They believe, because they think that's
what the bombers are telling us in bloody red letters day after day, that this
is a campaign to terrorize all of Israel.
GROSS: David Horovitz, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. HOROVITZ: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: David Horovitz is the editor of the Israel newsmagazine The Jerusalem
Report and author of the forthcoming book "Still Life With Bombers: Israel in
the Age of Terrorism."
Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli reviews tonight's season premiere of
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Premiere of "24" in its third season
TERRY GROSS, host:
The Fox Network waited until after it broadcast the World Series to roll out
most of its new and returning shows, including tonight's third season premiere
of the action thriller series "24." TV critic David Bianculli has this
DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:
Last season on "24" Jack Bauer, the government anti-terrorist agent played by
Kiefer Sutherland, died but only for a few minutes. He also saved the day
again, and the days on this show are 24 hours long broadcasting as many
episodes in real and really exciting time. For Jack, the season ended with a
major surprise. President Palmer, played by Dennis Haysbert, was shaking
hands at an impromptu rally when a terrorist agent laced the president's hand
with some toxic substance. Palmer collapsed immediately even as Jack, who had
undergone severe torture, was being carted away in an ambulance. In other
words, "24" had painted itself into one incredibly tight corner.
So how does the show begin its third season tonight? Basically, by breaking
through a wall in that corner and setting up shop in a completely different
location. I'm not giving much away because we learn this in the first minute
of the first hour of this new "24" day. Instead of picking up the story after
a summer had elapsed, as we did after Season One, or immediately after last
season's cliffhanger, tonight's season opener jumps ahead three years. This
isn't an unprecedented move. Over on ABC, "Alias" began its third season by
jumping ahead two years. But it's really smart because it allows the
mysteries to be buried in the past as well as laying in ambush straight ahead.
Fans of this show are very dedicated. They have to be because "24," in a
serialized form, isn't the sort of show you can skip many episodes of. So I'm
not ruining any surprises by laying out the following very basic information:
Jack is back and so is the president, who survived his poison attack. Tony
and Michelle still work closely with Jack and each other at the
counterterrorist unit. But Jack has a new, young partner now, Chase Edmunds,
played by James Badge Dale.
And in the show's best new move, Jack also has another new colleague; his
daughter, Kim, played by Elisha Cuthbert. Kim, in the past two seasons, has
been the most accident-prone woman on TV, and her attack by cougars last year
was dangerously close to parody. But now, with a serious job at CTU, a more
mature haircut and a decent boyfriend for a change, Daddy's little girl goes
through this year's first two episodes without being in any mortal danger at
all. For "24," this is a first. Oh, and her new boyfriend? We learn his
identity right away, but Jack takes a little longer to find out that Kim's
lover is Jack's partner. This makes the scenes between Jack and Chase, played
very well by Sutherland and Dale, supercharged even when they're not in mortal
(Soundbite of "24")
Mr. JAMES BADGE DALE: (As Chase Edmunds) I'm sorry if you think I'm not good
enough for your daughter, OK, but I can't help the way I feel.
Mr. KIEFER SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) Chase, why do you think I put Kim at
CTU behind a desk working on a computer? So I could keep an eye on her, make
sure she's safe, not so she could start dating some field agent.
Mr. DALE: (As Chase Edmunds) Sir, you know, you're talking about her like
she's 12 years old. She's a grown woman.
Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) Damn it, Chase, you've seen what this job can
do to you. You've seen what it's done to me. It's ruined every relationship
I've ever had.
Mr. DALE: (As Chase Edmunds) That's you, Jack.
Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) No! No! It's the job.
Mr. DALE: (As Chase Edmunds) I don't think so.
Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) You don't think so. What the hell do you
know? My wife died because of this job, and I almost lost Kim, too. I'm not
going to let that happen again. I will do everything I have to to protect
her. Do you understand me? Everything. Damn it, Chase, you cannot have a
normal life and do this job at the same time.
Mr. DALE: (As Chase Edmunds) So you're saying I shouldn't have a relationship
Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) That's exactly what I'm saying and especially
with my daughter.
BIANCULLI: The rest of the show, the villain, the terrorist threat, the other
new characters, I'll let you discover for yourself. And you should because
"24" maintains its high standards and is one of the best and most satisfying
shows on TV right now. Tonight's senior premiere, light last year's, is shown
without commercial interruption. On any other show that would be terrific
news, but on "24," where the action is so furious and the atmosphere is so
tense, you almost welcome the breaks.
GROSS: David Bianculli reviews TV for FRESH AIR and the New York Daily News.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR: Jeff Bridges. The star of "The Last Picture
Show," "The Fisher King," "Tucker," "The Big Lebowski" and "Seabiscuit" has a
new collection of photographs taken on the sets of his movies. I'm Terry
Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.