Transcript

217:

Give It to Them
Transcript

Originally aired 08.02.2002

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

Nothing prepares you for what the border between Israel and the West Bank can look like. In the town of [UNINTELLIGIBLE] on the Israeli side, there's a bedroom community that looks like it was airlifted from Scottsdale, Arizona. Rows of houses with white stucco walls and red roofs and yards where you could see plastic slides and other kids' toys. And then a perfectly paved street, and then on the other side of the street, a wire fence and some no man's land, then an electrified fence, then more no man's land, and then a tall, concrete wall with sentry posts and armed Israeli soldiers.

An 18 year old who lives on the street told me that even here, where she sees the barricades that protect her every day, she tries to ignore what's on the other side.

Woman

I don't think I think about it very much of it. When I hear things in the news, yeah, it worries me and all that. But I live my life.

Ira Glass

What's the point of thinking about it? There's a bumper sticker a Tel Aviv advertising writer made up a few months after the current wave of violence began in Israel.

Advertiser

It says [SPEAKING HEBREW].

Ira Glass

Which has the same sad double meaning in Hebrew that it does in English. Roughly, give it to them, and there will be peace in Israel. That is, give up the Territories to the Palestinians and there will be peace in Israel. And then also--

Advertiser

The other meaning, give them back is like, show them that we're the best, so we're stronger.

Ira Glass

Like, we'll give it to them.

Advertiser

Well, yes. Hit them back.

Ira Glass

That's a complete contradiction. Either you give it back or you hit them back.

Advertiser

It is, it is. But we suffer from some kind of schizophrenia, I think, nowadays.

Ira Glass

And it's not just Israelis who are feeling schizophrenic nowadays. Sitting in a cafe in Ramallah, Rula Hamadani goes back and forth, trying to make sense of what to feel about the collapse of the peace process.

Rula Hamadani

I never thought Oslo was right. And then I decided, like, come on, Rula, it's a chance to dream. It's not good enough, but it might work.

When I was younger, I never met an Israeli in my life. I never had an Israeli friend. But it's between the two intifadas, like, I had to leave Israeli friends. I don't know. The peace process gave us something, but it seems the peace process also took back everything. Took back the friends, took back, like, the good days they had together. And it's gone.

Ira Glass

Tom Segev, an Israeli journalist and historian, says people are confused because for nearly a decade, Israelis, at least, thought there would be peace. Israelis thought this more than Palestinians. And then peace evaporated. And their confusion even shows up in the polls. Their entries are completely contradictory.

Tom Segev

You ask people, do you support the establishment of a Palestinian state? Yes, I do. Do you support the reoccupation of the West Bank? Yes, I do. Do you support the dismantlement of the settlements? Yes, I do that support that also. So this is very strange situation where Israel doesn't know what to do.

We are doing things which don't make much sense. We let a 16 year old suicide bomber dictate the whole agenda of the Middle East. He blows himself up in Tel Aviv, we go and occupy Ramallah. Is it good for us to occupy Ramallah? It's probably not. But we do it, because what else should we do?

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, stories from Israel and the West Bank. We all hear the ongoing, never-ending news reports from the region, which just seem to get worse and worse, and we wanted to take a moment and step back. It's been nearly two years since the peace process collapsed-- two years in which each side has done terrible things together. And we wanted to understand what that's done to people, and if anybody's feeling any hope.

I was in Israel with two of our regular contributors, Nancy Updike and Adam Davidson. Nancy did our stories from the West Bank. Adam and I traveled around Israel. And we begin our program with Nancy.

Act One. Life Indoors.

Nancy Updike

Curfew is how Palestinians live now. The Israeli army is in the streets, and if you go outside, day or night, you can be shot. Indoors it's just boring, and debilitating in a way I hadn't expected.

In the middle of a Tuesday afternoon in Ramallah, I needed to get off the street, and ended up at a TV studio. There were mattresses all over the floor, maybe 10 people living there. Because of curfew, they couldn't get home. We were all stuck. Everyone sat around in the kitchen smoking, and then at some point, one of the guys asked me, "You want to watch Riverdance?" I wasn't sure I'd heard right.

Irish

--the land. They carry us over the ocean in dance and song.

Nancy Updike

For half an hour, we watched Riverdance. Outside, the streets were empty and silent. No cars, no people. It looked like the carcass of a city.

I'd come into Ramallah that morning from Jerusalem, a normal, bustling city, and it was like leaving earth and stepping onto a planet where gravity was working differently. Everyone was moving very slowly. I could feel my energy and purposefulness draining out of me. There is nowhere to go and no way to get there.

Qasem Ali runs the television production company where I ended up.

Qasem Ali

For ten days I have been in these offices. Actually doing nothing. Watching television. And even the newspaper, you don't get it. A little bit degrading.

Myself, I'm, just like now, I'm feeling [? withdrawing. ?] Spending so much time in the room by myself, doing nothing. You are not in the mood even to read. You don't want to talk to people. And you don't want, you know, to socialize.

Nancy Updike

Qasem smoked Camel after Camel as we talked. He was handsome, with dark hair and a beard going gray. He leaned his head on his hand as he talked. He seemed exhausted.

Qasem Ali

You know, first day, second day, you can adapt and do something. But then, you feel like your life is worthless, and your time is worthless. And you get to the point, like, you started hating the life. What do you want to do for tomorrrow, or after tomorrow? The days become the same. Without taste.

You know, you're fighting this kind of mood. Sometimes you are not capable of fighting it, because you don't see the signs of it. And this is how, like, really, curfew as punishment. It's collective punishment.

Nancy Updike

This phrase, "collective punishment," was uttered by every Palestinian I talked to. I figured it was some description that had just caught on. I didn't realize until I got back that "collective punishment" is a legal term the UN uses. It means punishing a group for the crimes of individuals, and it's illegal under the Geneva Convention. Palestinians are trying to make the case in the foreign press that curfew, even though it's mostly nonviolent, is still a crime, punishing all of them for the actions of suicide bombers.

Before I came to Ramallah, I pictured a bombed-out place with crude buildings and occasional gunfire in the streets. But it's not like that at all. It's a middle-class city with cafes, and car dealerships, and women in tight shirts, and signs in English for ice cream and internet service.

Now Ramallah's 40,000 residents are trapped in their homes and offices, waiting. Curfew is lifted arbitrarily, without notice, and reimposed a few hours later, also without notice. Days go by when it's not lifted at all.

Cooped up, not knowing when they'll be let out, people get on each other's nerves. Adults bicker. Kids get restless and cranky.

Qasem Ali

Yeah. Sometimes I feel like it's just too much to survive it here. I miss to see movies. I miss to go for dinner with my friends, with my wife, to [UNINTELLIGIBLE], to see theater, I miss, you know, like just to walk in the park, and to go have a beer in bars and coffee shops. I love coffee shops. To go in and read. And I miss every detail for me. But then I think, my place is here.

Nancy Updike

I think there's a law that every story about Palestinian has to include a scene at a checkpoint, usually with a woman crying and a 15-year-old kid who says at the end, if this keeps up, I might become a suicide bomber, too. We're not going to do that scene.

Though it is true that lots of Palestinians would like to see the end of Israel. A poll this June said that 51% of Palestinians believe the goal of the current intifada is to liberate all of historic Palestine. Meaning not just the West Bank and Gaza, but all of Israel. That same poll showed 68% of Palestinians support suicide bombings. Back during the peace process, support for suicide bombings was around 20%.

Most of us watching this conflict from the United States want to believe that moderate Palestinian voices are out there. US policy is banking on it. So we decided to go out and find those people.

Sam Bahour

I should say I'm very disappointed because there's no sound. This is a construction site. We shouldn't be able to talk and hear each other right now.

Nancy Updike

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American who is building the largest shopping center in the West Bank, a $10 million project that's just about finished. But for weeks, almost no workers have been able to get to the site. Sam is trying not to dwell on that.

Sam Bahour

This is the main entrance to the building. People would walk into here. And to the left, they have the option of going up the escalator and going to the first floor of the building, or walking into the lobby towards the panoramic elevator, or they would walk straight ahead into our supermarket that we will run and operate, or they can walk into the right, which will be a fast food restaurant.

Nancy Updike

This building is just like Sam-- big and ambitious. When the front of the building is put on-- and here's a sign of confidence in a city occupied by an army-- it's going to be a giant wall of glass, two stories high, arched.

Sam grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and came to the West Bank with his family for the first time when he was 10 years old. He returned every summer after that, taught himself Arabic, was president of the Palestinian Students Group in college. He was always looking for a way to move to the West Bank. He finally did in 1995 at the start of the Oslo peace process. He believes in two states-- one Israeli, one Palestinian, side by side.

For the last three years, he's been overseeing the construction of this building. With the recent siege, of course, that's become a little complicated. This actually created an unusual business problem for Sam.

Sam Bahour

What you find is people who are coming to try to rent now, because they know that they'll be able to get a better deal.

Nancy Updike

Prospective tenants are angling for a better deal on the rent, because as one guy pointed out, there are tanks in the streets, and no one knows what disaster is going to come next.

Sam Bahour

I mean, I was telling him that this is going to be the hottest spot in Ramallah, and he was saying that it's too close to the tanks that are next to-- about half a kilometer from us. So it's up to us now to just delay as much as possible until we're able to negotiate and better leverage our excellent building.

Nancy Updike

Sam estimates he's only two months of solid work away from finishing the building. He speaks confidently as we walk around the scaffolding, boxes of tile and light fixtures, and wooden pallets. But in his hand, he's working a set of worry beads.

We go down to his office in the basement of the building and one of his staff brings us coffee. Wherever you go in the West Bank, people are going to bring you coffee, usually in these little cups on a tray. I don't drink coffee, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I should just take it when it's offered and have a polite sip. I take my sip, and Sam tells me how he moved here to help create the first Palestinian-owned private phone company in the West Bank and Gaza, and why, after moving halfway around the world and throwing his heart and soul into it, he quit.

Sam Bahour

I resigned after seeing that the Palestinian Authority was dealing with this company, in my terms, as a little heavy-handed. So like what would they do that was heavy-handed? Well, one thing that happened after I got the company, if I can mention it, is they, for example, moved the entire cellular business into a separate subsidiary. Without shareholder knowledge, without shareholder approval. And to me, this was not creating confidence.

Nancy Updike

When he says "this was not creating confidence," Sam is way underplaying what happened. Which is that the bigwigs at his company, with the help of the Palestinian Authority, looted the company so they could make a pile of money, leaving smaller shareholders in the dust. They did this by splitting off the most lucrative part of the company secretly and out of the blue, and putting it into a separate company, whose only shareholders were the bigwigs and the Palestinian Authority. The Authority did this, Sam says, at the same time that it was crossing its heart in front of the UN, saying it was giving up its private investments so Palestinians would be able to trust that their leaders were more focused on public service than on making a buck.

But even though Sam was incensed to the point of quitting by the maneuvers of the Palestinian Authority, he describes the experience in the most charitable way possible.

Sam Bahour

It's not something that's out of the ordinary. Most third-world countries that privatize a sector have a hard time removing the government's role in that sector. Anywhere in the world. I mean, in Jordan as well.

The Palestinian community has been led, since the Oslo accords, by an institution that never had experience or training on state-building. Like the majority of the citizens of the world never dealt in building a state. Neither have we. They had experience and training on resisting Israel's occupation. So when they were put into the chair of having to do both, I think that they were not able to deal with the latter. And that was frustrating.

Having said that, I'm one of the maybe few Palestinians who actually read Oslo, every part of Oslo, before I came. So when I came, I knew that there was a tremendous amount of complication built into the framework that was coming to live in. Putting above that the continuation of Israeli aggressions, whether it's the expansion of settlements and creation of new settlements, and constraining our population's movement, which required resistance. I tend to understand why this set of leadership was not able to do both tasks at the same time.

Nancy Updike

There's an energy about Sam that I saw in few other Palestinians I talked to, that I've seen in few people, period. A cheerful relentlessness. Things that would sap other people's strength and will-- corruption, curfew, a tank outside his house for days-- seemed only to inconvenience him. Bad news is just additional information.

[CAR ENGINE STARTING]

Abruptly we have to leave. Curfew is being reimposed in ten minutes, an hour earlier than anyone had expected. As Sam is driving us through the city, cars are doing crazy moves to get home faster. U-turns in the middle of the street, signaling to each other who should go first with little honks, because the traffic lights are all destroyed and the streets in some places are such a chewed-up mess that people have to go around the chunks of concrete, or go over them very slowly so they don't break an axle.

All of a sudden, two Israeli jeeps with loudspeakers on them are heading toward us. One on our side of the street, going against traffic, and another one on the other side.

Soldier

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Sam Bahour

They will shoot. They will shoot if you don't abide by the curfew right now, they're going to shoot. That's what he's saying in Arabic.

Nancy Updike

As we drive by, my adrenaline floods, and I think, we could die here, right here in Sam's olive green Hyundai.

If Israelis walk through their lives now, thinking, is this the cafe where I'll get blown up? How about this? This bus? Is it OK, or should I just walk? This moment in Ramallah, with curfew coming down, may be the Palestinian equivalent to that feeling. What ordinary activity will I be doing when I'm killed?

There's no time to talk about it. Sam can't take me all the way to the checkpoint. He apologizes. He has to get home. He flags me a taxi and speeds off.

Act Two. Here And There In The Land Of Israel.

Ira Glass

Act Two. Here and There in the Land of Israel.

I traveled through Israel with Adam Davidson, a regular contributor to our show, who is half-Israeli. Growing up, he'd visit Israel every summer. He speaks Hebrew. He's been 19 times. And to get a sense of what it's like these days for Israelis, how things have changed recently with the end of the peace process, we talked to strangers and to people who Adam is known for years.

And driving from place to place, we ended up talking a lot about his grandmother, who moved to Palestine in the '30s, was part of that pioneer generation that created the state.

Adam Davidson

My grandmother was an old-school Zionist, and when I was a teenager, that seemed like the greatest thing in the world to be. She told me being a Zionist been having a grand dream and putting that above petty daily concerns. It meant redeeming not only the Jewish people, but the entire world, by becoming the planet's first truly enlightened nation. She described people back in the '30s and '40s who worked on farms, or they built banks and schools, and put everything they had into this collective dream of a proud new state.

Ira Glass

We just spent two weeks in Israel, and as you might expect, we could not find a single person who still lives that way. Take Adam's best friend in Israel, Liat. She and her friends are pretty typical of people who live in Tel Aviv.

Adam Davidson

Ira and I go out with Liat and some of her friends one night. They agree to speak English for our microphones.

Ira Glass

It is an utterly familiar kind of evening. Liat's boyfriend is a musician, and he tells me about his home recording setup. Everyone chats about their vacations. Ayelah tries to convince Liat, for the hundredth time, to dump her cosmetologist, Klara, whom Ayelah used to go to herself.

Ayelah

She made me feel bad! I told her, listen. I don't want to pay you more. I don't care if I neglect my face.

Adam Davidson

So are you going to break up with her?

Liat

I don't know yet.

Ayelah

It's difficult for her! It's difficult.

Man

I hear them every week, they talk about that, that Klara. And they always say, yeah, we're going to leave her, we're going to leave her. That's never happened.

Liat

I manage.

Adam Davidson

They want more than anything for Israel to be just another boring country like Norway or Belgium. My grandmother would think this was a repudiation of everything she ever believed in, though she would have been very polite about it.

Ira Glass

Of course all these people know that they are in a country at war. When you live here, you split yourself in two. You have knowledge of violence, and you decide at some level that it is not going to touch your life. Even when the conflict strikes close to home. For instance, a few weeks ago, Liat and her boyfriend Afir were about to leave for a movie when a bomb went off a block away.

Liat

We heard an explosion, and they said on the news that it happened in Biyalik Coffee Shop, which is a place that I usually sit with my friends. I started shaking, I think, for a few minutes, and then I was very afraid. I felt like something crawled into my house.

Adam Davidson

I happened to call Liat right after that happened, and she told me that she completely came apart. She was crying and she couldn't breathe and she fell to the floor. And then the news reported that the explosion hadn't been at Biyalik Coffee Shop, but at the cafe directly next door, a place Liat and her friends don't go to.

Liat

And when it just moved two meters aside, I felt, OK. They still missed me. They still don't blow up places that I like to go to. I'm safe, in a way.

But it's stupid. When I tell you this, I see it's stupid. In a way, you try to find anything you can rely on, just to give yourself any kind of security, because you want to live your life.

Adam Davidson

What's happened since my grandmother's time is that more and more Israelis just want to live their lives. This is a huge change. And to understand Israel today, you have to understand this change.

Ira Glass

Back in the '60s when pollsters asked Israelis about their hopes for themselves and for the state, most people said that their personal lives were very restricted, but they had huge hopes for the state of Israel. It was doing great.

Asher Arian

Today it's the exact reverse.

Ira Glass

This is Asher Arian, a pollster at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Asher Arian

The exact reverse. The state is in bad shape. Personally, however, I'm doing all right. So this is a measure of where are your hopes, where are your dreams? And the dreams are clearly in personal achievement. The state is no longer the vehicle with which you feel good about yourself or the future.

Adam Davidson

Most Israelis over 30 can tick off the reasons this changed. American consumerism swept through Israel just like it swept through every other country on earth, and Israel started doing things that seemed less noble and heroic. There was the 1973 war, which Israel nearly lost because of government bungling. There was the invasion of Lebanon, which turned into a kind of protracted Vietnam for them, which spanned two decades. And for some people, though definitely not all, there was the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which began in 1967. Even to Israelis, Israel seemed less heroic.

Gadi Taub

Politics, which used to be a source of a sense of meaning and coherence for us, so long as we felt that we were morally in the right-- were just dragged from under our feet.

Ira Glass

In his book The Hunched Over Generation, a young writer named Gadi Taub argued that this was why he and other people who grew up after the 1967 war turned to their private lives. Because politics no longer gave them a feeling that they were part of a great, noble mission.

Gadi Taub

What happened is that a whole generation had to turn a blind eye to politics. And so we sort of built a shield, saying, politics is something that happens over there. We are going to, you know, have earrings and pierce our belly buttons and have tattoos and just ignore politics altogether.

Liat

Listen, I have to stop you. I need something to eat. I have to eat--

Man

Yeah, can we order coffee and a lot of cakes?

Ira Glass

Which brings us back to Liat and her friends. After dinner came dessert. Chocolate mousse, Bavarian tart, cheesecake.

If anything, the hopelessness and violence of the last few years since the peace process collapsed has pushed Liat and her friends even further away from politics.

Ayelah

You read the newspaper? I don't read the newspaper every day.

Iran

It's like six months ago, the economic crisis and the bombs and everything-- me personally, I decided not to read the newspaper, not to read interviews, not watching TV, nothing. I go to the beach. I make meditation. I left my shrink, because when you go to shrink, you always talk about problems.

Ira Glass

We should be clear that when Iran says this, it means something different here than it does in the United States. At the same time that Israelis are withdrawing into their own lives, it's still just taken for granted that they have a special obligation to their country.

For a month every year, Iran gives up his medication, puts on a uniform, and does reserve service, like most Israeli men. In fact, since the Second Intifada began, reservists have shown up in record numbers. Thousands showed up who weren't even called.

Back in America, we had heard about refuseniks, who won't fight in the West Bank and Gaza. But once we get to Israel, it became clear that they are very few-- in the hundreds. Still very marginal.

Adam Davidson

This might sound crazy, given the news this week, but it's safer in Israel than you think. Several Israelis made a point of telling us that more people die in car accidents than die in suicide bombings or other attacks. And many people told us they try to ignore the danger and go about their lives.

Ira Glass

Still, it's been 42 suicide bombings plus other fatal attacks for two years. Something every few days. And many people, especially parents, are more freaked out.

It's also changed Israeli politics. Imagine if bombs went off in American cities every few days, what that would do to our politics.

Adam Davidson

A block east of my grandmother's 1930s apartment, we came across one of the oldest cafes in Tel Aviv.

Man 2

[UNINTELLIGIBLE], coffee, tamar.

Ira Glass

Tamal?

Adam Davidson

Tamar.

Tamar Cafe has been a left-wing hangout for more than 70 years, since my grandmother lived on the street. The Labor Party newspaper used to be next door.

Ira Glass

Today the place is like a shrine to Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel during the start of the Oslo peace process, who was slain by a right-wing Israeli Jew. There are huge posters and paintings and drawings of him inside the cafe, and in the windows facing the street.

Ira Glass

And then that poster over there, lo what?

Man 2

[SPEAKING HEBREW], we won't forget. But [SPEAKING HEBREW]--

Adam Davidson

We won't forgive. Wow. That is intense. We won't forgive Netanyahu. That is amazing.

Many left-wingers privately accuse Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then the leader of the right-wing Likud Party, of creating the angry anti-peace atmosphere that led to Rabin's assassination. But I've never seen a poster or anything so clearly and publicly blaming Netanyahu for Rabin's death.

Ira Glass

When we go inside, we're told that the place used to be filled, surprise, with left-wingers. Now the cafe is empty, except for three men in the corner playing backgammon, who say that we'd be hard-pressed to find even one leftist these days who would stand by his old peacenik believes.

Man 3

I was a member of the Labor Party for many years. Very big supporter of the peace process. And today, I'm more close to the most extreme right that to the left.

Adam Davidson

This is Sa'ar Arit, 36, a lawyer. With him is Yugal Saraf, a 58-year-old with lively eyes and a kind face, the perennial winner of backgammon games here.

Ira Glass

One of the biggest ways the two years of intifada have changed Israel is now nearly everyone agrees on one important point. Everyone blames Arafat and the Palestinians for the collapse of peace process. There are nuances to this. Like leftists will remind you how Israel kept doing lousy things to ruin the peace process during the '90s, like building new Jewish settlements in the West Bank. And people on the right will say that Israel did nothing wrong, were simply prudent in the face of Palestinian violations of the Oslo accords.

But everyone agrees on how the peace process ended. At Camp David in 2000, Arafat looked at the Israeli proposals, said no, and offered no counter-proposals. Then the bombings came.

But as a result, Israelis have a kind of moral certitude that they are in the right. They're united on this in a way that perhaps they have never been united in their history. The attitude is, we tried everything. We were reasonable. We were generous. In the end, they didn't want peace.

Even Yugal, who wants to give the Palestinians every benefit of the doubt, shakes his head when he talks about how the peace process ended.

Yugal Saraf

And on that point, I blame the Palestinians or Arafat, which he was the leader, not to grab the opportunity. He could have said "no, but" something. But he said just "no." No means no.

Ira Glass

He just walked away.

Yugal Saraf

Walked away. So he brought this political situation to be hopeless.

Ira Glass

Today only 20% of Israelis believe that Palestinians want peace, according to polls. At the height of the Oslo peace process, two-thirds believed it.

Man 3

The Palestinians doesn't want peace. They want to destroy Israel.

Ira Glass

So you had some sympathy for the Palestinians before.

Man 3

I have sympathy. I have sympathy today.

Yugal Saraf

Everybody had sympathy.

Man 3

They lost all their support within Israel. And that's their tragedy, because they won't get it back.

Adam Davidson

For a month every year, Sa'ar is an infantry man in the reserves, and he patrols in Ramallah, and Jenin, and Hebron, and other towns in the West Bank. He says he lost hope that the Palestinians want peace in October 2000, when two Israeli soldiers, older guys, reservists like him, got lost in Ramallah and were attacked by a mob in one of the most notorious incidents in the intifada.

Man 3

And about 100 to 200 Palestinians tore them apart. And I felt that that was the breaking point for me. I thought that the Palestinians are animals.

Yugal Saraf

Ah. I want to say something. It is a bit simple-minded. But it's true, what he says in Ramallah.

Ira Glass

This is where we saw the photos of them holding their hands out the window, their bloody hands.

Yugal Saraf

But the main question you should ask yourself is, how do people get that way? There's no people who are animals, and some are not animals. So they got this way by constantly being brainwashed that we are vicious and cruel and Satanic and God knows what. They get affected. And they could be good boys. This is not their nature. It's propaganda. It's brainwashing. This can be changed.

Man 3

I mean, they're animals.

Ira Glass

But three years ago, you didn't believe that. They didn't become animals in three years.

Man 3

Yeah. But what they did in the last year and a half broke everything.

Ira Glass

Yugal points at a man sitting in the cafe's outdoor table.

Yugal Saraf

There is an Arab Israeli sitting there. You might want to talk to him.

Adam Davidson

He a friend of yours?

Yugal Saraf

Akram, yes.

Ira Glass

You know him, too?

Man 3

Yeah, I know him.

Ira Glass

He an animal?

Man 3

No. He's not an animal. I'll tell you why. He doesn't have the power.

Yugal Saraf

Oh, he could be an animal if he had the power.

Man 3

I'm telling you. If tomorrow the Arab countries will conquer Israel, it will change him in a minute.

Yugal Saraf

And I'm sorry to say this, but-- a leftist.

Man 3

Sure, I'm a leftist. That's the leftists of Israel today.

Ira Glass

This is where the leftists come to. No longer advancing a peace process, they were arguing over whether the Arabs were born animals or were taught to be animals.

David

[SPEAKING HEBREW]

Adam Davidson

This is my cousin David. He's standing in a hallway of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, talking on one cell phone, when his other cell phone rings. He answers it.

David runs the office and political operations for a conservative member of parliament. And while the left might feel history has passed it by, David and his party, the Likud, are totally energized right now. They always opposed the peace process, and now it's dead. Their man Ariel Sharon is the prime minister, with the highest approval ratings in Israeli history. Finally, the army has struck decisively in the territories. And at last, Israelis agree that Arafat can't be trusted.

This is all perfect for David, who got into politics in 1993 because he was alarmed at the newly-signed Oslo treaty.

David

You feel good, because you know that after ten years, what you said would happen, happened. Meaning that the whole Oslo accord will collapse, that the violence will return. And after ten years of the other side, the media, the public figures, and all of the left said that you don't know what you're talking about, and suddenly, the reality comes and you see that it is true-- that gives you a good feeling. Because you will know that you were right.

Adam Davidson

We spent a day at the Knesset. Every time we tried to set up an interview with a member of a left wing party, we'd open the door, and there would be some older woman who looked like she'd been there since 1948, sitting alone, phones quiet.

Then we'd head back to the right, to David, where there would be phones ringing, people visiting, a gaggle of clean-cut members of the Likudnik Young Guard, happy and excited and busy. David is constantly pulling one after another up to our microphones and cheerfully announcing,

David

Here is somebody who would want an interview. He's very interesting. His name is Shimi ben David. He's assistant of the head of the Coalition, Mr. Ze'ev Boim.

Ira Glass

What's most surprising about watching them work is just how much of their attention, here in Israel's legislature, is focused on the United States. Of a staff of only four people, one of them is a specialist on the US Congress. On the desk of this member of Knesset, Yuval Steinitz, sits a business card from one US Congressman and a personal letter from another. On the day we visit, a delegation of a dozen US congressional aides drops by, as does former Republican presidential candidate, Gary Bauer. David orders Steinitz to put on a jacket for that one.

David

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] jacket.

Gary Bauer

Hi. How are you? Gary Bauer.

Yuval Steinitz

Nice to meet you. Thank you for coming to us in such a difficult time. Very encouraging.

Gary Bauer

My pleasure. I've been a strong supporter of Israel, but my week here makes my feelings on behalf of Israel even stronger. So I can't wait to get back to Washington and--

Ira Glass

During their meeting, Steinitz urges Bauer to lobby Congress against advanced arms sales to Egypt and Syria.

Adam Davidson

This is more involvement in u s affairs than the average Knesset member has. And part of it is simple political ambition-- to get press attention, to get ahead in national politics here. It's helpful to be seen as a player in US-Israeli relations.

Yuval Steinitz

So it will be extremely important if you will succeed to encourage some of our, at least in friends, to visit us and [INAUDIBLE].

Adam Davidson

If you want to understand why the right-wing and Ariel Sharon are so popular right now, and if you want to hear just how angry Israelis are, just visit a bus stop in Jerusalem. More bombs have exploded in Jerusalem than any other Israeli city.

This 15-year-old in braces with pink rubber bands and one of the long skirts worn by the religious was waiting for a bus to the settlement her parents moved to from the US and was more or less typical of everyone we talked to at the bus stop.

Girl

First of all, I would kill Arafat. And we are not the ones who have to suffer. This is our country. We don't have to give it up for them. If they want to live with us, they have to accept our conditions. We don't have to be suckers, and like, get down on our knees for us. Because the fact is that before this whole peace agreement started, they were afraid of us. OK? They were afraid of us. No one threw stones. Everyone was afraid to walk in the street. And since this started, you know, we give them, like you know, there's a saying. You're give them one finger and they want the whole hand.

Adam Davidson

Do you think that eventually there should be two states, or do you think Israel shouldn't give up the Territories?

Girl

Israel shouldn't give up one inch of territory. This is our country. We fought for it. We won. That's it! You know? Stop being babies. Or do you want New York to be given back to the English or something? You know? It's stupid.

It's just that they hate us so badly, they want to do anything to kill us. Like the kids. They learn how to shoot guns. They learn in school how to hate Jews. I mean, my parents didn't bring me up that way. I wasn't brought up hate Arabs.

Ira Glass

But you do hate them.

Girl

I hate the people who want to kill me, yes. If there's one single person in [UNINTELLIGIBLE] and Ramallah, which I highly doubt there is. But if there's one single person there who is truly pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, then sure, I have nothing against them. But the fact is that the majority of all these people, they're murderers, you know?

Ira Glass

When we first arrived in Israel, an American TV cameraman told us that when you're in the Mideast, you constantly find yourself in social situations with people who are thoughtful, and funny, and incredibly gracious, and you hang out with them for hours-- the nicest people in the world-- and then they come out with some hateful comment that leaves you sort of stunned. This happens all the time, he says.

At a party with Adam's Sephardic relatives, that is more or less what happened. One person after another tells us we have to kill the Arabs. We have to smack them down. The Arabs do not understand anything else. Then we ate cake and sang happy birthday to a one-year-old.

[SINGING IN HEBREW]

Surprisingly, the one person at the party who is at all sympathetic to the Palestinians is Egal, the father of the one-year-old birthday girl. He just returned from his reserve service in the West Bank in an elite combat unit. He was one of the Israeli soldiers you saw on TV, fighting at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He tells me he thinks Israel is to blame for the anger Palestinians feel against them.

Egal

We didn't treat them well enough, so we drove them to the First Intifada. And that's led to the other events. I know the West Bank and Gaza Strip since I first came in in the First Intifada. And we know the ordinary civilians, they don't have high demands. They want to provide their family. That's all. To feel secure.

I believe there will be someday a Palestinian country. I think it's going to be a democratic country. The first democratic Arab country.

Ira Glass

In fact, every Israeli we talked to who served in the West Bank or Gaza tells us the same thing Egal says-- that their military service convinced them that Israel should eventually give up the territories. Even lots of hawks, right-wingers like Adam's cousin David, now say that Israel should someday get out of the territories. 80% of Israelis support some form of separation. 50% are still in favor of an independent Palestinian state. Ten years ago, this would have been seen as nearly traitorous by most Israelis. There was a fundamental change of opinion caused by the peace process. So at the same time that Israel has become so much more hawkish towards the Palestinians, it's as if the hawk has ingested a dove.

Adam Davidson

Still, nobody expects peace to arrive anytime soon. Even if a peace treaty were signed, only 22% of the country believes it would actually end the conflict. So now, instead of readying themselves for peace, Israelis are adjusting themselves to the lack of it.

Here's my friend Liat.

Liat

Every year I say, oh my God. How I thought life could be different. And I see it's not. And I am losing something. I'm more mature, I'm more strong, maybe. But I'm losing something. Maybe I could keep it in a difference life.

Adam Davidson

Losing what?

Liat

I don't know. Something naive. Something with hope. In a way, I'm getting tough. Each year I'm tougher. And it's not always good for you to be tough.

Ira Glass

Lots of people told us they didn't expect peace in their lifetime. Us Americans have to say, this is the main thing that we really did not understand before we got to Israel-- that Israelis are prepared for the idea that it will continue like this for years. They'd rather have peace, but they'll settle for what they have now. A war that produces fewer casualties than car accidents. A war where they dominate and control their enemy. A war, they'll tell you, that's unlike the wars of 1948 and '67 and '73 because it does not threaten Israel's existence.

Adam Davidson

We came to Israel thinking what a lot of foreigners think-- that there's this great middle ground between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that the majority of reasonable people on both sides could work out a deal, and that the only problem is the small percentage of extremists on either side. After this trip, we don't feel so hopeful. The two sides are still far apart. The most generous Israeli offer is still short of the minimum demands of most Palestinians. And as the violence continues, the people in the middle are becoming more like the extremists.

Ira Glass

Coming up. Palestinian moderates and Palestinian moderation. A guide for the perplexed in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. What's A Moderate?

Nancy Updike

At the beginning of June, before President Bush's speech, Palestinians were asked the following question in a poll. Which Palestinian personality do you trust the most? Yasser Arafat was number one, with 25%. Next was the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, with 8%. And then there was 24% who said they didn't trust anybody. That "trust nobody" group was too small to be measured at the beginning of Oslo, but it's grown ever since, until finally it's caught up to Arafat.

In other words, there's a space opening in Palestinian politics. Arafat has always warned that any space he doesn't fill will be filled by Hamas. But what if there were a third choice? Not the corrupt autocracy of the Palestinian Authority and not the suicide bombing fundamentalism of Hamas?

Since I arrived, I'd been hearing a lot about a man named Mustafa Barghouti, a doctor who heads one of the biggest medical relief organizations in the occupied territories, and who's been speaking out a lot lately on political issues.

I went to Ramallah to meet him. I went with Rula Halawani, a Palestinian photojournalist who signed on to be my guide and translator. At the checkpoint, she asked people if they'd heard of Mr. Barghouti.

Rula Halawani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 4

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Of course, everybody knows him. Who doesn't know him? [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Woman 3

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

He's the best, he's just the best. [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 5

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

He's a very good guy. [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 6

[SPEAKING ARABIC] He's a good man. Very good man.

Nancy Updike

Politically, Barghouti has two advantages that can also be disadvantages. First, he's been doing medical relief for over 20 years, and many people know him through that and love him for it. The downside is that many see him as a doctor, not a political figure. They don't even necessarily know what he believes in politically.

Second, his distant cousin is Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader in Arafat's Fatah Movement who's in an Israeli jail now, charged with ordering suicide bombings. So the Barghouti name is one that people know and respect, but sometimes people confuse Mustafa with Marwan, or simply don't see any difference between the two, even though Mustafa preaches nonviolence while Marwan is more of a Malcolm X figure-- by any means necessary.

Man 7

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

All the Palestinians like Mustafa Barghouti and think he's a great guy. He does so much for the society. And also Marwan Barghouti. He's the same. The two of them.

Nancy Updike

Which one does he agree with more?

Rula Halawani

Which one--? [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 7

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Believe in every guy who's honest and is straight and works for the Palestinians.

Mustafa Barghouti

Vitamin E, 600 milligrams.

Nancy Updike

Mustafa Barghouti is on the phone when we get there. His organization, the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, gets medicine and basic care to people who can't make it to a hospital or clinic. They've been very busy under curfew.

Barghouti is hard to keep up with. In one day he had two meetings, did five interviews, went to a demonstration, gave medicine to several people, and did more than one impromptu medical examination in the hallway on the way to his meetings.

Rula Halawani

Which doctor saw her? This doctor. He doesn't know his name. And now he's showing the X-ray of the child.

Nancy Updike

A father has stopped Barghouti in the hallway to show him his six-year-old daughter. She has terrible headaches, and she's had them for four months, he says. She cries a lot and sometimes she throws up. She's wearing a pink sweater and white sandals.

Mustafa Barghouti

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

He told him, you must have this test for her. It's urgent.

Nancy Updike

And he wrote down MRI, CT scan of the brain.

Rula Halawani

Yes.

Nancy Updike

Yasser Arafat, in his recent scrambling to seem like a reformer, offered Barghouti a ministry. Barghouti turned him down. He has something bigger in mind.

Six weeks ago, Barghouti and a few other community leaders launched what they called the Palestinian National Initiative. That rather bland name conceals a radical proposition. They want to create the first new political movement among Palestinians since Hamas emerged in the late 1980s. The First Intifada brought Hamas. Barghouti is trying to make the second bring real democracy.

The National Initiative calls for immediate elections, run by somebody other than Arafat's election commission. Supervised by international observers, it calls for an end to suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians.

[CHANTING IN ARABIC]

Curfew's been lifted for a few hours, and Barghouti and some other representatives of nongovernmental organizations are staging a demonstration in Ramallah's main square. They're protesting curfews, closures, and the occupation. Maybe you can tell from how thin the chant is that there are only about 30 people at the demonstration, including Barghouti.

Nancy Updike

Why do you think more people aren't joining the demonstration?

Mustafa Barghouti

Well, first of all, the timing is not very good. And as I told you, because many of them are busy. And also it needs better organization. But with time, this is our stand. This is like a beginning. It makes a position. It shows that civil society is against this oppression. It shows that there is nonviolent approach to struggle. And it will build up gradually. This gives people the impression that something can be done, and it is doable.

Nancy Updike

Something can be done other than suicide bombings?

Mustafa Barghouti

Exactly. That there is a place, there is a space, and there is an effective nonviolence present, yes.

Nancy Updike

Barghouti stands in the middle of the demonstrators, dressed simply in dark gray pants and a blue shirt with white pinstripes. He wears glasses. He's almost 50 and his face has the lines of a person who squints a lot, smiles a lot, and worries a lot.

It's strange, but if you see him in a crowd of 30 people, even if he's not doing anything, you can tell he's the leader. He has that easy strength that makes people feel excited and relieved to see him. Oh, thank God he's here. He seems important. Too important, frankly, to be at an anemic rally in the middle of the day. He seems out of place.

"Moderate" can mean a lot of things here. Among Palestinians, what it usually means is that they accept the premise of Oslo-- that someday there will be two states, side by side, with peace. And if you press these moderates-- and you don't have to press hard-- a lot of them will say, yeah, of course two states. And then in 20 or 30 years of peace, who knows? Maybe the balance of power will change. Maybe the two states will become one big democracy.

A democracy, as any Israeli would quickly point out, where Jews would be in the minority. It would be the end of the Jewish state.

Here's Barghouti's position.

Mustafa Barghouti

Two states. International presence. A complete Israeli withdrawal from West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Allowing Palestinians to have a sovereign state that is demilitarized. I want to demilitarize before the Israelis. I don't want to see weapons in our country. We've seen enough weapons in our life.

That is a solution. That is a vision that is doable and achievable. And I even have a bigger vision I don't know if it would work, but it's a dream, maybe. I believe that one day, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine could be like a unified Benelux country.

Nancy Updike

Benelux-- the loose federation of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Mustafa Barghouti

The three countries, I mean, they need each other. They will have, the three together, bigger space. This will be the best solution of solving water problems. This will solve immediately the issue of refugees, because it will be free movement for everybody. And they will have a shared future and a shared vision.

Nancy Updike

If the Israelis wanted to view this Benelux scheme in a glass half full sort of way, they could see it as similar to a plan former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has floated in the past. On the other hand, they could choose to see it as a Trojan horse with the goal of eroding borders and flooding Israel with Palestinian refugees. A way of sneaking the destruction of Israel into the conversation rather than openly calling for it.

Barghouti is in a meeting, so Rula and I are hanging out the window at his office, watching people hurry home before curfew. We're reading graffiti on the buildings across the street.

Rula Halawani

The graffiti says-- OK. Put your ten fingers on the button that fires the gun. I don't know what you call it.

Nancy Updike

The trigger

Rula Halawani

The trigger, yeah. Put your ten fingers on the trigger.

Nancy Updike

Hamas is more popular now than it's ever been. The latest polls show it running neck and neck with Arafat's Fatah movement. Both get around 25%. Hamas leaders are seen as incorruptible-- driven by commitment to Islam, not a desire for personal gain. Hamas also helps people rebuild homes that have been demolished by the Israelis, gives money to start small businesses, runs schools and youth centers. Hamas gained support for its suicide missions by making people's lives better.

Barghouti believes he can take on Hamas and win, because his strengths are Hamas' strengths. He and the network of nongovernmental aid organizations he's part of. He's on the ground, helping people, every day, with medical care and other social services.

He's also seen as not corrupt, as clean. His medical relief organization is nonprofit, all-volunteer, and gets audited regularly. a computer technician I met told me, you can tell he's claimed by the car he drives. A 1989 Opel Cadet. Palestinian Authority ministers drive Mercedes and BMWs.

His Achilles' heel with Hamas is that they're religious. He's secular.

He won't say whether he'll run for president or some other office in the January elections Arafat has promised. But Rula and I do a small survey anyway. At the checkpoint, we ask people who say they think Barghouti is a good man whether they would vote for him in an election. Their answers surprised us.

Rula Halawani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 8

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Of course. What does he think of Arafat?

Man 8

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Arafat is our father, Arafat is our symbol, and I would vote for Arafat if he runs for election again.

Nancy Updike

If he was running and Mustafa Barghouti was running against him, who would he vote for?

Rula Halawani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 8

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Arafat.

Nancy Updike

Why?

Rula Halawani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]?

Man 8

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Nobody can do the job besides Yasser Arafat. Arafat is the symbol. He is the father of the Palestinian people.

[SPEAKING ARABIC] Hamas?

Man 8

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

It's a good movement.

Nancy Updike

If it was a choice between a Hamas person and Mustafa Barghouti, who would he pick?

Rula Halawani

OK. [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 8

Hamas.

Rula Halawani

Hamas? Why? [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Man 8

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Rula Halawani

Because they believe in our religion, and everything they do is based on our religion.

Nancy Updike

Barghouti ran for office before, in 1996, for a seat on the legislative council. He lost by a very narrow margin to Marwan Barghouti. The results were contested and widely seen as fixed.

The time between now and January is an eternity, politically speaking. It's even possible that Arafat won't run. Almost anything can happen.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike.

Credits.

David

He's the assistant of the head of the coalition, Mr. Ze'ev Boim.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.