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banner Friday, 15 February, 2002, 18:56 GMT
The ugly war
John Kampfner presents a ground breaking two-part special on the Middle East for Correspondent. To answer your questions he is joined by two guest experts - Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi an expert in Israeli politics and Amira Abdin an expert in Qur'anic studies - in a live forum on Monday 25th February at 1430 GMT.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Transcript of the forum

Newshost:
Hello and welcome to Correspondent interactive. We're doing it a little differently this week in that we'll be looking at two consecutive editions of Correspondent. The first Israel Undercover looks at the military tactics of the Israeli army and the second, Children of Vengeance, showed the Palestinian efforts to resist that army. John Kampfner was the reporter, he's with us, John thanks for coming along. And we also have a couple of expert guests. Dr Ottolenghi who's an expert in Israeli politics at Oxford University, Dr Ottolenghi I just want to introduce you with a question about the first film, Israel Undercover. We saw the target - we saw the specific operations of a couple of very elite units in the Israeli army, how representative do you think they are of the army as a whole?

Emanuele Ottolenghi:
I think they tend to be exceptions, I think it was made very clear in the documentary, these operations are actions which are taken when everything else fails. In other words when the Palestinian authority after having been asked to arrest activists and people who are involved in terror fails to do so and when nothing else can be done then these actions take place. So they are the sort of extreme ratio of the army. And in dealing with these actions I think we should all ask ourselves, whatever the opinion and the sympathies that people have for either side, is if we were in that same position, in that same situation, with civilians being targeted what would we expect our own government to do? I think that is the real question and in understanding this question you understand the dilemma that the army faces in carrying out these operations.

Newshost:
Ok. Our other expert guest is Amira Abdin, a teacher and scholar of Qur'anic studies. Thanks very much for coming along. In the second film, Childeren of Vengeance, we saw Palestinians who view their own deaths as the only effective military tactic against Israel, do you think that's the case?

Amira Abdin:
I think that is the case because when a people, sadly enough, lose everything and have nothing to live for to the extent that they believe that giving up their lives is the only way they can achieve for their children or their people the liberty and the end of the occupation that they've suffered for 35 years, it's a very sad story and we have to understand that these people are fighting for their freedom. They have been occupied - illegally occupied for 35 years with all sorts of humiliations and horrendous results. And what do you expect them to do? Do you want them to just stay there quiet accepting horrendous occupation. Every people at some point will have to rise up and refuse occupation and I think that the Palestinians have waited too long before they have started their uprising and their fight for freedom.

Newshost:
Very well, let's get into the e-mails. And the first is for you John. Doing the programmes in the way they were done, separated in two parts, led to some allegations of bias, do you just want to explain why that decision was taken?

John Kampfner:
Yes definitely. It was a controversial way of doing it. We went into this venture very much with our eyes open expecting a lot of flak from both sides. The reason for doing it and for doing it the way we did were the following. First of all, internal balance, we wanted balance but we wanted balance over two films, so not internal balance, we wanted - what we wanted to do was to show the perspective of each side, we wanted viewers to, not necessarily to sympathise, they might depending on their point of view, but irrespective of your point of view our aim was to encourage to enable viewers to empathise with each side, to feel what the other side is feeling and basically to see how they do what they do, not necessarily why although that helps but how they do what they do. We were expecting criticism, we got it, but we also got a lot of a sense from people that you've managed to get beyond the news agenda, the news agenda time and again is - is Sharon a bully, is Arafat irrelevant, are the settlements occupation illegal, is suicide bombing a good thing or a bad thing? It's getting beyond all that and trying literally to get people into the clothes of each sets of protagonists and simply to explain them.

Newshost:
Who did you work with to make these films? Paul Klements, who's a photojournalist, he wants to know whether the production companies were Israeli.

John Kampfner:
The situation was as follows. This was an independent company that was brought in by the BBC, a British independent company, a very highly respected one - October Films - run by John Roberts, who's a former BBC man of impeccable credentials. For the Israeli film he worked in co-production with an Israeli company called Goldwick's Productions [phon.], the aim of that was to get the access - the Israeli company had extremely good access to the Israeli military, to the IDF. And that was the reason for that, without that access these films would have been rather conventional, looked at but at the political situation, which is what we wanted to avoid. So for each side, for the Palestinian film it was simply a matter of us getting in there and staying there and earning the trust of the different military groups and hopefully we did that as well.

Newshost:
Once you'd got in there to what extent were they aware of you? A couple of questions from Michael Shanahan and Catherine Chamoun who wanted to know if the Israeli interviewees were on their best behaviour because they were on camera.

John Kampfner:
I think if you were - anybody who's been on TV for any amount of time, even for radio, knows that by definition people try to be on their best behaviour in any television format, they simply try to get - to put their best foot forward, that's an inevitable consequence of the medium, what you try and do is to get beyond that. In terms of some of the Israeli actions that we filmed, sure you get the impression that things might have happened if the cameras had not been there, that's a matter of hypothesis, I think viewers are pretty sophisticated and they can see, what you might call, the TV effect on people's behaviour and they factor that in and in so factoring it in they actually discard it. But on the main visual part of the Israeli film, the denouement of the Israeli film, the action in Cabatia [phon.] that was live, I mean that was as live, there was no way of faking or putting anything on there, it just turned out to be purely militarily, let's leave beside the ethics for a second, a successful operation.

Newshost:
Let's have a quick look at an example. This is a clip from the first film, Israel Undercover, where Major Hagai an Israeli apache helicopter pilot describes the limited information he's given when setting on a mission to bomb a specific target.

Major Hagai:
When we get the mission we get called in and told an area to go and we're going there. They tell where to aim our missiles or where to shoot. We don't know who is the target or where is - or what is the target. We get only the coordinates of where to shoot and this is what we are doing.

Newshost:
John, a number of viewers asked if the military are so specific why are there civilian casualties - this is Dr Mohammed El-Doufani. He says no mention was made of the Palestinian children who are wounded and killed intentionally since the intifada began.

John Kampfner:
The - several ways of answering that question. Statistically the Israeli army does hit its targets much more often than not, in so doing other people in certain instances do get injured and killed in that, and we showed at least one operation which they failed to get their man and they killed people who happened to be in the same car at the same time. They're - let's use that awful phrase, collateral damage. And yeah of course that happens. Whether or not things are intentional - you see what we were trying really to do and in some ways that upsets people but I actually think it's the most honest of doing it, we were looking at the military side of things, we were almost trying to take some of the emotions out of the equation and just simply look at their - each sides technical abilities. The Israeli army, thanks to huge amounts of arming from the Americans and elsewhere, it's an extremely high-tech, like it or loathe it, it is a very high-tech, ultra modern army and we were juxtaposing this military machine, it's almost unparalleled for a country of that size - well totally unparalleled for a country of that size, military machine against desperate, not very organised, militia groups with light weapons. And in the Palestinian film we show that very much.

Newshost:
Dr Ottolenghi many people have asked whether it's illegal according to the Geneva Convention for Israel, as an occupying power, to enforce enclosure of Palestinian cities - is that true?

Emanuele Ottolenghi:
It's debatable and it's being argued hotly by scholars and activists on both sides, there is no final answer. I think that the issue is really whether this is a context of war and these are the measures that can effectively prevent the loss of civilian life by causing the minimum amount of, by returning to an awful terminology, of collateral damage. I personally believe that the targeted killing in the range of evil choices is the least evil precisely because by being based on accurate use of high technology limits the amount of collateral damage which, as we know, in the last 10 years, all wars show that the highest number of casualties - take Afghanistan, take Bosnia, take Kosovo - are civilians and not military personnel. The bottom line though is not whether these actions are legal, illegal, preferable over other actions, the bottom line is that you cannot reach a solution to this situation unless you bring back the parties to dialogue, to political dialogue and that is the heart of the question here, not whether these practices are better or worse than others.

Newshost:
Ok. Eyal Ramon, who's in the UK and is an ex-Israeli soldier, he's currently studying suicide terrorism, he writes, he wants to know whether suicide bombers have to go through mental or psychological training or is their passion enough?

John Kampfner:
There are, by all accounts, many more people willing to go on suicide missions than there are suicide missions in preparation for them. From what we could glean from talking to the organisers they do go through a distinct sifting operation, they go through - they check for people's state of mental health, physical fitness - as I say there is more of a supply than there is a demand. So yes they do.

Newshost:
Amira you were making notes there, are you about to say something?

Amira Abdin:
I was just thinking about the concept of just targeting people in their cars or in the streets or whatever ...

Newshost:
In helicopters?

Amira Abdin:
From helicopters or even F16s or - without trial, without - I mean we are blaming America for the way it is holding Afghan fighters in their camps but what's happening in Israel is by far worse because these people, either because collaborators have said or because of hearsay, because of anything, there is no trial, these people are killed in plain daylight without any trial and if this is the act of a democracy I would hate to think what sort - how the Arabs can view the Israeli democracy under such circumstances. This is the killing, let alone the demolition of houses and all the other horrendous things that happen, the women who have children because - give birth at checkpoints, a two hour journey takes 14 hours, a 65 kilometre area has within it 24 checkpoints, every single village is enclosed somehow by a road leading to a settlement or by a settlement. And people say that Arafat refused to accept Barak's offer of peace but they - and 95 per cent of the West Bank was offered, 95 per cent of the West Bank cut into cantons and the proof of that that within hours they can block off every single Palestinian village and you tell me how can that be a viable state?

Newshost:
Let's go to a second clip, from the second film, Children of Vengeance, this one is about the suicide bomber who's just completed his training and is in preparation for his own death.

Suicide bomber:
We will resist them by any means - here or wherever they are even in the furthest places. Any time we are able to reach them we will reach them - Allah willing. We have sacrificed our lives for the sake of Allah and because of this we have taken this path. The Koran says fight them where you find them and expel them from where they expel you.

Newshost:
John, what happened to that young man?

John Kampfner:
We - the conditions for filming him were that we didn't know who he was or what he was going to do, so the simple answer is we couldn't be put in a position of knowing what he was about to do, or plainly he was about to do, and what he may or may not have done afterwards.

Newshost:
Paul Lynton and another anonymous e-mail wants to know to what extent you knew what was going on and whether you would have informed the authorities.

John Kampfner:
The guidelines for this - obviously before going out to film we assumed we would be put in - we could be put in that kind of position - so the guidelines which were checked and double checked were made very clear to us. If we had been - if a potential criminal "act" had been made aware to us we would be under obligation to inform on that and so in all our dealings we made sure that we were not privy to any information, nor were we, nor did we end up in any way privy to any information, nor did we see any such act, our aim wasn't to do that, it wasn't to sensationalised, it wasn't to glamorise or gorify or whatever, it was simply to try and talk to people, to understand how they do things and why they do things.

Newshost:
Very well. We're running out of time, so many questions, but I just want to jump to one by Jo Howard, wants to know from each member of the panel if the Palestinians will accept a politically negotiated settlement in the future or are they bent on Israel's destruction?

Emanuele Ottolenghi:
Well I mean that is a question you should ask the Palestinians not me. I should definitely hope that the Palestinian public will come along and resort to the situation we were in prior to the beginning of the intifada in supporting a territorial compromise. If you look carefully at the interviews done you can see the differences between the Palestinians. The Islamic jihad prospective martyr made it very clear that he's bent on killing civilians on both sides of the green line because he views the entire fabric of the State of Israel as something he has to fight and so obviously he's not interested in a compromise. The views he exposed are not bent on a compromise with the Israelis and they will not accept the compromise.

Newshost:
Would you agree?

Amira Abdin:
I don't actually. It is sad that these suicide bombers are to start with are a very small minority of the Palestinian people and if they say that they are prepared to kill Israelis or fight Israelis on both sides of the green line we have Israelis on the other side who are in government who are saying you have to expel all the Palestinians, you know transfer them out of ... Now the question that I find really sad is every time these minorities and these suicide bombers they call to the Koran in their sight and everybody blames Islam for having that call. But on the other side nobody blames Judaism for quoting this land is biblical land yet here we have two religions, people using religion, to justify what they want to do. I am totally and utterly against killing civilians and suicide bombings that target civilians are not acceptable by Islam or by any Arab or the majority of Palestinians. Palestinians, to answer your comment, they have signed the Oslo Agreement, the Palestinian authority signed the Oslo agreement and the Palestinian people voted Arafat by 90 something per cent, or 80 something per cent ...

Newshost:
We have to wrap it up because we're finishing, thank you very much all of you for coming along. The debate continues on our website: www.bbc.co.uk/correspondent and there's e-mails continuing to be published there. Next week on BBC 2 at a quarter past seven John Sweeney will be looking at what's happening at the moment in Zimbabwe but from me Robert Freeman and the rest of the team here goodbye.


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