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Q&A WITH ZAIN VERJEE

European Views of Middle East Conflict

Aired June 6, 2002 - 12:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to Q&A. I'm Zain Verjee.

The United States has often been criticized for its support for Israel, military, financial, moral. Now Europe is being criticized by some Israelis who say it fails to understand their situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Images of carnage in the Middle East, fueling debate around the world over who is the aggressor and who is the victim here. Some Israelis say Europe has made up its mind.

Polls show Europe's sympathies lie with the Palestinians, while Israel's policies and practices in the occupied territories are criticized.

This response puzzles many in Israel. If Europe is committed to the war on terror, why, they say, can't it understand the war Israel is fighting every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I've just come back from Europe, and I can feel the difference even in the streets. Graffiti -- I was in Rome, terrible graffiti in terms of Israel. "Sharon is fascist," and things like that. And for an Israeli, it's not easy.

VERJEE: So does Europe understand why many Israelis are troubled?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've never had in Britain anything to deal with which is similar to suicide bombers, so of course we understand Israel's legitimate concerns about security. But we also recognize Palestinian's legitimate political aspirations and concerns.

VERJEE: Aspirations Palestinians say are thwarted by Israeli occupation.

Some Israelis question European funding for the Palestinian Authority, charging some of it is used to fund acts of terror.

A rise in anti-Semitism across Europe; could authorities do more to stamp it out? Israelis think so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's disgusting. I think it's sad, what's going on in the world. For example, in France, all the anti-Semitism that's going around. I don't know what to say.

VERJEE: What Israelis are saying is that they feel under attack, and Europe isn't listening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): This issue was brought to the forefront again during a recent CNN interview.

Last week, we spoke to one Israeli woman and her husband who suffered a horrific loss.

Chen and Leor Keinan witnessed the brutal murder of their 15-month old daughter in a suicide bombing in Petah Tikvah. Also, Chen's mother was killed in the blast.

She told CNN the story of her loss, and she had some strong words for Europe. Here's a portion of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been through a very excruciating time in the past few days. Not only have you lost your child, you've lost your mother as well. Can you give me some idea of the feelings that are going through you right now. Chen, let me start with you.

CHEN KEINAN, LOST MOTHER AND DAUGHTER: Do you have children?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

C. KEINAN: Do you have a mother that you love? Then close your eyes for one second, just one, and be honest, yes, and try to imagine the pain. Just close your eyes and try to imagine them without a scalp. That's the last sight I saw of my daughter. On the pavement, no scalp, in a puddle of blood.

If people who have children will have the guts to close their eyes and imagine it for one second, and I know its hard, they'll know the horror. There is no other way to explain it. It's horror, and my heart is bleeding. That's how I feel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leor, tell me, how do you cope with something like this.

LEOR KEINAN, LOST MOTHER-IN-LAW AND DAUGHTER: Really, sometimes, I think that my wounds, they help me, because I had a piece of metal this big stuck in my face, and people where we sit and cry about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) come over and they say to me, how do you feel. And I can say to them that I feel better, because yesterday I had a lot of pain and today less.

But in everything that I look, even at your shirt and buttons, I think of how I buttoned Sunai's (ph) clothes and how I caressed her, and how I tried to save her, at the last time, when she had only reflexes. And I think of Ruthie, her grandma, and how she loved her. And the way they were one person together, one.

And the only way to cope is just try to lose the thoughts for a second, think about something else. Even do this interview. And then, a minute later, I see her smiling face or I see her just the second before she died, sipping on soda water. So there is really no way to cope.

And I just want to tell that to everybody, that they shouldn't keep even one eye closed when they sleep, because what we Israelis know today, they will know tomorrow, because every country, mainly in Europe, has its minorities and has its problems. And one day, it will come.

And this is the time to stop it, and avoid babies to be scattered on the street. That is my way to cope. To try and put an end to it, even though I know that that will not be the case. And even after Sunai (ph), already four people died in terrorist attacks in Israel. And I wish that all the parents and all the people who get hurt from terrorism, even if you're in Europe, come out and speak, and speak to you.

And by that, maybe put some pressure on the leadership to stop this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And just talking about the people who did this -- how do you feel about them?

C. KEINAN: I think it's all about education. I still believe a person is born pure. A baby is born pure. But I was never taught to hate. This is not my way. This was not my mother's way. This was not my daddy's way. Even now, I can't hate. I wish I could. It would have helped me, but I can't. What can I do? It would have helped me. I can't hate.

And I think they are raising a generation of kids that are brought up on hate, and I don't see any hope. Not for the next 20 years, if what their kids are taught from textbooks are horrific things. Horrific.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how do you see the future? How do you see this unfold?

C. KEINAN: I'll tell you how I see the future. I think the Israelis are like the canary in a coal mine. That's what the Europeans don't -- I'm sorry. I know this goes to Europe. And I said different things to America, but I have to say that we are the canary in the coal mine, and we are dying now. We are slaughtered on a daily basis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: So, how does Europe perceive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And are the accusations against it fair?

Joining us now from Madrid is the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana.

Mr. Solana, what is Europe's position on the Middle East?

JAVIER SOLANA, EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: Well, we have the same vision at this time that the United States has. We are working very close with them. We are trying to see how we can solve this dramatic situation. And in particular, these dramatic situations of violence.

We have seen the last terrorist act, in which so many people have lost their lives, and we feel as anybody in the world would feel, with suffering, with compassion, and with an understanding of the suffering of the families and of the government. This cannot continue like that, and we are trying to do the utmost to see how we can solve it.

VERJEE: From the interview that we just saw, and also many in Israel, feeling that Europe is pro-Palestinian. Are they wrong?

SOLANA: Well, this is a simplification of the whole position of the European Union. We have been -- we've had tremendous links, effective, historical, et cetera, with the Israeli people. The friendship is profound.

But we have to understand that a solution has to be found, and that's what we are trying to do today, yesterday, the day before, with our friends from the United States, with our friends from Israel, and with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

We have to find a solution to this situation. But the Palestinian people and the Israeli people in particular at this moment are suffering. They have to be sure that they have the understanding, the love and the comprehension of the people of the European Union.

I would like to feel representative of all of them in showing our compassion and our affection for all those who have suffered so much after the terrorist killings of the other day.

VERJEE: What many Israelis are saying is that, look, we're fighting a war against terror. Europe supports the fight against terror. But many Europeans do not understand the war we have to fight every day. They say Europe is being a hypocrite when it comes to this issue. How do you address that?

SOLANA: I have many answers to that question.

Let me start by saying that I come from a country -- and we are talking from the country of Madrid, from the capital of Spain. I have been a member of the government for many years, in which every single day, every single week, we have to go to a funeral because of terrorist acts.

We understand very much the suffering of the people from terrorist acts. And so we cannot...

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: But, Mr. Solana, while on the one hand you say that you understand the suffering of the Israeli people, but in specifics, what people are saying is, look, the European parliament voted for trade sanctions against Israel. The Council for Europe calling for sanctions. There are petitions all across Europe circulating to boycott Israelis. And these are the specific issues and concerns that are being raised.

SOLANA: Let me be very clear. We understand the suffering of the Israeli people under terrorist attacks. And we know very well the suffering of the families. We understand that perfectly well.

At the same time, we think that the solution has to be found, and that solution has to be political in nature. And for that, we are working very, very close with our friends from the United States, with our friends from...

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: But the specific examples that were given to you, Mr. Solana, about the European parliament voting for trade sanctions against Israel and so forth -- boycotts of Israelis and petitions being circulated. These are specific examples that I want you to address, and many Israelis are saying, look, there's a real growth anti-Semitism in Europe.

SOLANA: I think it is very unfair to say there is a wave of anti- Semitism in Europe. Europeans in general, the majority of Europeans, as the majority of the United States people, are not in favor of any movement of anti-Semitism, which at the end is a crime against humanity. And we know that. And we know that deep in our heart.

So to say that, I find it very unfair on the part of all who say it. We want to find a solution in cooperation with all the parties which are on the same wavelength, trying to find solutions to the crisis, to the problem, to this problem that has lasted too long and has made too much suffering to too many people.

VERJEE: The European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, speaking to us from Madrid. Thank you for being on Q&A.

Coming up, a journalist round table. How is the crisis being covered? Two different sides to that story.

You're watching Q&A.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

C. KEINAN: Maybe it's just my personal feeling, but a lot of my friends and I think a lot of Israeli people feel that because of the Holocaust 50 years ago, I understand that they have a lot of guilt, and that guilt cannot be pent up. And they think that if they look at us in a magnifying glass -- they're so happy at everything we do -- oh, Jenin slaughtered.

They didn't even check the facts. They want to put us under a magnifying glass because they want to take some of their guilt away, but it will never even up in 1,000 years. Please don't try.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Welcome back.

There's been some concern in Israel about the way European media covers the Middle East crisis.

Joining us now to discuss this, in Jerusalem, David Horovitz, the managing editor of the "Jerusalem Report" magazine; in London, Peter Beaumont, the foreign affairs editor for the London newspaper "The Observer"; and in New York, Tom Gross. He's the former Middle East reporter for the "London Sunday Telegraph" and "New York Daily News."

Thanks to you all for being with us.

Peter Beaumont, I'd like you first to react to what we just heard, the accusation that Israelis are being put under the microscope. The issue of the Holocaust has been raised, and European guilt about it. Your reaction to that?

PETER BEAUMONT, "THE OBSERVER": My reaction to that is I think what is happening is this sort of dangerous conflation of two ideas taking place.

What's clear is, you know, the European media is critical of some of the things that Israel is doing, but I don't think that that means that the European media is anti-Semitic.

I mean, I don't recall ever reading a piece that said that the state of Israel should not exist. In fact, I don't recall reading any sort of very anti-Semitic pieces in the British media.

What I think is happening is that there is a sense of disappointment in Israel that perhaps the Europeans, as they've seen it, are not being more supportive about the wave of suicide bombings.

What I think the way that people perceive us here is, what they see is -- we're all disgusted. I've seen the aftermath of a number of suicide attacks. It's unforgivable. But at the same time, we are confronted by the Israeli reaction at the moment, and I think, you know, what Israelis are disappointed by is the fact that, you know, when we see reaction that we think is disproportionate, then we criticize it, but that is not anti- Semitism, and I don't think that that makes for an anti-Semitic European media.

VERJEE: David, why don't you give us your response to that. Do you think Europe is anti-Semitic?

DAVID HOROVITZ, "JERUSALEM REPORT": Well, I have read articles in the British press that have questioned Israel's right to exist, and I think the European public has been deplorably served by parts of the media.

I think some of the reporting out of here has been unbelievable. Three of the most serious British newspapers, at the height of the Jenin controversy, for example, quoted the same Palestinian eye witness, who was lying, who talked about Israel executing 30 people and burying them in a mass grave.

They quoted that on their front page. Some of them didn't even give the Israeli denial.

Days later, when it becomes clear that he was lying, there were no front page pieces correcting this, and that in turn, you see, on the same day that those articles appeared, those misinformed articles appeared, you had politicians standing up in the British parliament and making hysterically critical comments about Israel.

There is a misrepresentation of what is going on here, and if you go back to the Solana interview that you just ran, do Israelis feel love and compassion from Europe? Absolutely not. They feel that they're being terrorized, and instead of pressuring both sides to somehow get back to the peace table, the very simple solution is to pressure Yasser Arafat to stop using his security forces to help stop the collaborators who are helping Israel find the bombers. Instead, use them to track the bombers, stop the terrorism. Then there are no army incursions...

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: All right, let's just stay on the point, David, that you raised earlier, of misinformation coming out of the European media.

Tom Gross, do you agree with that?

TOM GROSS, JOURNALIST: Yes, I would concur with David.

But let me just say one thing in relation to Peter Beaumont of "The London Observer," who just said that he hadn't seen anything indicative of anti-Semitism in the European press. His own newspaper, "The London Observer," published a poem of the week referring to the Zionist SS. Another editorial in the paper was headlined "Israel: An Affront to Civilization."

There was a cartoon in "The London Observer" last August, after a particularly horrible suicide attack on a pizzeria in Jerusalem in which a number of children were killed, and the cartoon in "The Observer" two days later was titled "The Scar of David" instead of the Star of David, and had pictures of dead Arabs lying by a pizzeria instead of dead Jews.

VERJEE: Let's have Peter respond to that.

BEAUMONT: I'm sorry. I completely reject that. I mean, "The Observer" is not an anti-Semitic newspaper.

I think it's incredibly easy to cast slurs, and it happens all the time. I see "The Guardian" coming under the same thing, my sister paper, "The Independent."

I mean, what this comes down to is quite simply that we should not be allowed to criticized what we feel are mistakes being made by Israeli politicians and the Israeli armed forces in trying to deal with terrorism.

And, you know, they have made some terrible mistakes. The history of campaigns against terrorism worldwide generally shows that you cannot crush terrorism by the kind of reprisal raids that we saw in Jenin.

You know, David Horovitz talks about how there was no correction at all of the claims that 30 people were killed. Most of the serious British papers, if not within a couple of days of reaching Jenin, very, very soon were talking about the fact that they did not believe that a massacre took place, but they believed that atrocities had taken place.

Now, I'm sorry. I mean, how far would he like us to go?

VERJEE: David?

HOROVITZ: It's incredible, isn't it, that even in the course of this program, what one person said is misrepresented by another.

I didn't say there was no backtracking or no corrections. I said that these articles that were full of false claims by Palestinians, when the truth came out, there were not similar front page massive articles making clear that those earlier pieces had been mistaken.

Now, if...

(CROSSTALK)

HOROVITZ: "The Independent" ran large front page pieces of the same nature with the same kind of headline size, saying...

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: All right. All right.

David, I want to raise another issue here, and an issue that's been addressed very heavily also.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: If I may just move this forward a little. Peter, I want to bring up something else -- why is it that when the issue of occupation is brought up, when the issue of closures and the humiliation of Palestinians by the Israeli army is reported in newspapers in Europe, that there is such a strong reaction to that?

Is it that you feel that it's just plain wrong, or it's just excessive?

HOROVITZ: Very much because the widespread feeling in Israel is that this intifada is not about occupation at all, that the last Israeli government tried to end the occupation, and that the very fact that the Palestinian bombers are targeting Israelis not in disputed territory but all over Israeli leads most Israelis to the inescapable conclusion that this is an attempt to terrorize Israel.

And therefore, Israelis don't understand why, since the Palestinians don't appear to be following a strategy designed to end an occupation, but rather one designed to end Israel -- why doesn't that come out in the European coverage.

VERJEE: Tom Gross, we just have a few seconds left. Your thoughts on this, just in about 20 seconds.

GROSS: Well, no one is saying that the entire European media or "The Observer" is anti-Semitic, but there are definitely elements of anti- Semitism that have now come out of the woodwork in the context of Middle East reporting, and it's a very dangerous development for Europe. And it does nothing to promote Middle East peace, in the sense that it puts Israelis up against the wall, feeling besieged, and mistrusting the international community in a way that is not helpful or conducive to them voting in Israeli governments that will make the necessary compromises to reach a final peace settlement.

VERJEE: Peter Beaumont, the last word.

BEAUMONT: I just find this extraordinary, that there is this idea that somehow European journalists are somehow anti-Semitic. I mean, it's absolutely beyond me.

GROSS: No one is saying that European journalists are.

HOROVITZ: Yes, neither of us have said that peter, I don't know why...

GROSS: You're misrepresenting it.

VERJEE: Peter, what their issue is, sometimes the European journalists just get it wrong and don't get the facts right. In 10 seconds, respond to that.

BEAUMONT: Of course we get it wrong sometimes, but I think on the whole, you know the way that the media works generally is that there is a natural process of correction, and the suggestion that was made earlier, for instance, that "The Independent" didn't correct some of the reporting on Jenin was not true, because within two days they were writing pieces saying that there hadn't been a massacre, but describing human rights atrocities that they did think took place.

VERJEE: Peter Beaumont, we're going to leave it there. Tom Gross, David Horovitz, thank you so much for being on Q&A.

That's Q&A for now. The news continue, here on CNN.

END

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