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Transcript: For God's sake

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Transcript: For God's sake

August 3, 2003

Reporter: Richard Carleton

Producer: Gareth Harvey

Richard Carleton reports from the Middle East on the unholy mess in the Palestinian territories — hundreds of settlements occupied illegally by strident Israelis claiming divine right over their sacred land. With the peace process on a precipice, this situation has to be seen to be believed.

RICHARD CARLETON: I've been travelling around the Middle East for well nigh 35 years now. In a kind of a way the place grows on you. I'm told by my friends I'm a bit intense about it, but it is compelling and it is crucially important. According to three great religions, this is the holiest land on earth, yet it's brutal, belligerent and confounding. With the so-called "road map to peace" looking decidedly rocky this week, what everyone wants to know is, who's right and who's wrong. Well, as you'll see, the answer is very much a matter of opinion.

Madness is the currency in Israel right now. Acts of madness are commonplace. And this is perhaps an expression of just how barren and brutal thinking has become here. A concrete wall to segregate Israelis from Palestinians, occupiers from occupied. Formidable as it looks, though, this wall will not solve the problems, because the source of Israel's problems lies on the other side.

YISRAEL MEDAD: Without ancient biblical Israel, the country does not have a future. A nation has to have a soul and I'm living where the soul of the nation was born, where it developed and where it will continue to be.

RICHARD CARLETON: Yisrael Medad's settlement is on the other side of the wall. He claims a divine right to live in what the rest of the world considers to be the Palestinian territories Israel illegally occupied in the war of 1967. There are around 200,000 Jewish settlers living on Palestinian land and many are determined to scuttle the current peace process if it means giving up one square centimetre of what they say has been theirs from time immemorial.

YISRAEL MEDAD: My forefathers were priests, prophets, kings and princes in these hills 2500 years ago, that's where my roots are.

RICHARD CARLETON: God must be wondering how he got it so wrong here. What he did was promise this one piece of real estate to the Jews, make it sacred for the Christians and holy for the Muslims. Resolving this mess now is a feat perhaps beyond mere mortals.

You assert, am I right, that 3500 years ago someone you claim was an ancestor of yours lived here, therefore you have a right to this land now?

YISRAEL MEDAD: Of course. Is there any better reason?

RICHARD CARLETON: For sheer insanity, it's hard to beat what's happening here in the Palestinian city of Hebron. See that parking lot down there, that's where a few hundred settlers, religious fanatics, a cult by another name, insist on living in the heart of a Palestinian city of several hundred thousand and they claim a right to that land because they say they are the direct linear descendants of the man to whom God gave that land 3500 years ago. To reason with such people is beyond human endeavour.

But you took this territory at the point of a gun?

YISRAEL MEDAD: We took this territory as a result of a defensive war in 1967.

RICHARD CARLETON: And you should give it back.

YISRAEL MEDAD: If that's your opinion, fine. My opinion's very different.

RICHARD CARLETON: No, world opinion. World opinion as represented by the United Nations.

YISRAEL MEDAD: World opinion doesn't interest me if it goes against historical justice and moral right.

RICHARD CARLETON: Are they mad?

TOM SEGEV: They are fanatics. Is it the same thing — madness and fanaticism? Well, it's very similar.

RICHARD CARLETON: According to Tom Segev, one of Israel's most distinguished historians, Israel has used these fanatics to create facts on the ground that it hopes will be irreversible. Ever since 1967, the United Nations has said Israel should get out of these occupied territories.

But surely the solution that was right and just in 1967 is right and just now, in so far as there are problems with the settlers, they're problems of your making and, well, you've just got to pay the price?

TOM SEGEV: I agree with you. Personally, I agree with you. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to analyse the situation for you or do you want me to give you my own opinion? To me, take the settlers home, to the very last of them, give the land back to the Palestinians and the occupation, that's very nice. It's not workable. Politically it's impossible.

RICHARD CARLETON: This used to be Hebron's Palestinian market. These were Palestinian shops and homes. Now these streets are the domain of the settlers and organised tour groups that come from around the world to see how their charity dollars have been spent. A barbed-wire cordon separates settler from Palestinian. While we film, this Palestinian woman was refused permission to visit her sick grandfather behind the wire.

Okay, you stay here, I don't want to take you up there to the Israeli soldiers. I'll just go up there and ask the soldier why he won't let her in.

This was an uncomfortable moment. Israeli authority is frustrated because it has lost the public relations war. Having shot the odd journalist may be part of the reason.

May I come?

ISRAELI SOLDIER: No, only the camera.

RICHARD CARLETON: The camera?

CAMERAMAN: No.

RICHARD CARLETON: No, if you do that you'll confiscate the camera, I don't trust you.

ISRAELI SOLDIER: You're not allowed to take pictures of this.

RICHARD CARLETON: May I come up and talk to you?

ISRAELI SOLDIER: You're already taking pictures?

RICHARD CARLETON: May I come and talk to you? I mean the Israeli settlers are allowed to walk around in there. Is the curfew only for Arabs, is it?

ISRAELI SOLDIER: Yes.

RICHARD CARLETON: So that's just plain racism.

ISRAELI SOLDIER: I'm not talking about that.

RICHARD CARLETON: So Jews can walk around but Arabs can't?

ISRAELI SOLDIER: Sorry, no comment.

RICHARD CARLETON: The whites in apartheid South Africa used capricious curfews of this kind to deal with their problems too.

ISRAELI SOLDIER: Can I please ask you to take out your film and give it to me.

RICHARD CARLETON: Is that an order, sir?

ISRAELI SOLDIER: Yes.

RICHARD CARLETON: It seems this officer was simply trying to intimidate us. We took our chances and we kept our tape. I'd been on the settlers' side of this particular checkpoint the previous day. There, Palestinians now entering are searched whilst the armed settlers who've moved in are unhindered. The few Palestinians left inside the cordon live like this, in cages to protect them from the settlers' rocks. The settlers treat them with contempt, even dumping their garbage in the Palestinians' backyards.

YISRAEL MEDAD: We are very determined to continue our presence here and if that means that the army takes down one one day and we put up two in a place half a mile away, that be it.

RICHARD CARLETON: And if the world doesn't agree with you, it can go whistle in the wind?

YISRAEL MEDAD: The world will have to make do with the fact that the Jews are a very determined people.

YITZHAK LA'OR: Look, ignorance is not an argument. I mean, you don't have to despise ignorance, but then you don't have to accept it.

RICHARD CARLETON: Yitzhak La'or is a writer and one of many, many Israelis who oppose the settlements and see in them the root cause of the problems here.

YITZHAK LA'OR: They will tell you the only thing is that it's from the Bible. So how can they take the Bible as the book of law?

RICHARD CARLETON: Look, I spent the last couple of days with them and they certainly believe it.

YITZHAK LA'OR: So what?

RICHARD CARLETON: They believe the land was given to them by God.

YITZHAK LA'OR: So what? I mean, in some countries, people like this are being put in mental institutions and they should be put in mental institutions, but there are too many of them.

RICHARD CARLETON: There are now hundreds of settlements on strategic hilltops scattered throughout the Palestinian territories. They are modern and in some cases massive developments. And repressive measures are used to protect the settlers from the Palestinians. Now Palestinian villages are jails without fences. Their access roads have been destroyed. On the other hand, the settlers have highways built for their exclusive use. Life for some settlers is almost absurdly normal, given the misery their presence causes the Palestinians around them. An Australian Jewish settler turned on a barbecue and the time-worn justification for his illegal occupation of this land.

YAKOV WELIS: This is the land of the Jews, this is the land of Israel and Israel's the land of the Jews. My homeland. Maybe they're in the wrong place.

RICHARD CARLETON: You justify today's actions by today's morals. Under today's morals what you're doing is immoral.

YAKOV WELIS: Getting shot at, getting stones thrown at you, that's immoral. Getting people blown up just going on the way to work, that's immoral, not living here.

RICHARD CARLETON: The argument used by some settlers is that 3500 years ago God gave them this land. Now what do you say to that?

DR ABDEL RANTISSI: If they would say to you God gave them Washington, what will say the Americans to them?

RICHARD CARLETON: Dr Abdel Rantissi is a political boss of Hamas, the terrorist group that feeds off Palestinian rage. Its suicide bombers worship the same God as the settlers, a God Dr Rantissi says saved him from an Israeli assassination attempt just a few weeks ago. A 10-year-old girl died in the attack and Rantissi's son, his driver, was paralysed.

DR ABDEL RANTISSI: This is the real terror which should be condemned from all the world.

RICHARD CARLETON: Hamas has long denied Israel's right to exist, but at the moment, Dr Rantissi seems to be saying Hamas might give peace a chance if Israel got rid of the settlers. Is it still a goal to drive the Jews into the sea?

DR ABDEL RANTISSI: You are asking a question as if you're saying to the cat, "Are you going to kill the lion?" You know and you believe that we haven't the force to do that, why to ask me about that?

RICHARD CARLETON: You haven't the force, but do you have the desire?

DR ABDEL RANTISSI: No. Really the only, I believe, religion in the world which can forgive is Islam. We can forgive, but we can't give up.

TOM SEGEV: I think that it's very difficult for us to recognise that there is no military solution to terrorism. Terrorism doesn't have a military solution, you have to negotiate with the terrorists.

RICHARD CARLETON: Tom Segev says that, unpalatable as it is, when dealing with terror groups like Hamas, Israel has to remember the Jews have used terror too.

TOM SEGEV: I mean, Jewish resistance left bombs on Arab markets and attacked Arab buses and regarded civilians as enemies. It's the very same thing. It's an underground organisation struggling against foreign oppressor, a foreign occupier. We are foreign occupiers on the Palestinian territories.

RICHARD CARLETON: A fence might be a solution if it was on an agreed line, but what this fence does is grab even more Palestinian land. But then, even that is not enough to satisfy the settlers.

It's going to go on forever, isn't it?

YISRAEL MEDAD: It will go on and on and on until the Arabs realise that they cannot win this conflict because we are the ones who are right.

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