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Interview With Israeli Ambassador

Aired February 4, 2003 - 14:10   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We know that people of India mourning Kalpana Chawla, the people of Israel mourning Ilan Ramon. And Miles O'Brien is talking to someone who represents the people of Israel -- Miles.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, I'm with Daniel Ayalon, the ambassador, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Good to have you with us. The last time we spoke on television, it was on such a joyful day. It was just about an hour after the launch of Columbia, and you expressed to me how much this meant to your nation and to your people. What does this day mean to them?

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, this was a very emotional day. We just finished a very dignified, very respectable ceremony. We thank the president, President Bush for the words he said for NASA. We truly thank America for allowing us to be your friends, your allies, and your partners in space. It was very emotional for the families, and for all the people of Israel.

O'BRIEN: That comment that President Bush related, that they were at their peak, in their favorite place, with people they loved, that really strikes home to me.

AYALON: Yes. And you know, Rona, Ilan's wife, told us the other day that during this day of launch where we met, which was a very exciting -- you know, it was -- everybody was elated at the takeoff. And there was only one voice, which was overlooked at the time, of her youngest daughter, Nosh (ph). She is five years old. And she said, as the shuttle went up in the air, she said, I've just lost my daddy.

Nobody paid attention to that then, but it all came back. And it's our duty and our pledge to make sure that the families are never alone and that's why we are here.

O'BRIEN: That is a goose bump moment when you think about that comment. Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., thank you for dropping by, and our condolences to your nation on this day.

AYALON: Thank you, and the same to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Send it back to Judy.

WOODRUFF: United States and Israel obviously very close allies, Miles, but something like this brings us even closer together.

Well, as we've been reporting the last few days, we know that debris from the shuttle spread across some 28,000 square miles in the states of Texas and Louisiana. Recovery crews are concentrating their efforts in eastern Texas, where searchers have found the nose cone.

CNN's Maria Hinojosa is in Hemphill, Texas where officials say the search has been difficult -- Maria.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been difficult, Judy, but a very emotional sense here in Hemphill, Texas, really because this is a town that has been so closely affected. So much of the debris has fallen right on top of this town.

So here at Fat Fred's Country Kitchen, a usually bustling little restaurant and gas station, when the service began, immediately silence. Many people just took off their hats, watched with tears in their eyes, hugging their children. Just utter silence because this is such a moving situation for them, that they have really lived so personally.

So I want to talk to Corenda Bidell (ph), who brought her two children -- Corenda, this is particularly difficult for you because you are here in Hemphill?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and just from being a mother and trying to explain to them that these were parents. They just weren't astronauts, they were regular people just like us.

HINOJOSA: What are you telling your children about the fact that this has happened, and affected your town so much?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that's kind of difficult to -- what to tell them. I tell them based on the questions they ask, to what I say. You know, explain what a memorial service is, and what that means to pay your respect to different people. So that's what I tell them.

HINOJOSA: And over here also, Lisa Jacks (ph), who came with her children as well. Lisa, why did you decide to come here to watch the ceremony?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I was in town. I really live in Pineland. And I knew they had a TV here, and I knew there were people gathering here, so I thought it would be a good thing.

HINOJOSA: And for you, what did the ceremony -- how did it sit with you? What does it communicate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really sad, especially the children. And just -- I just couldn't imagine the kids being left without a mom or a dad. It's just really sad.

HINOJOSA: Now, also, I was caught by Harry Reid (ph) who, when he came in here, was just very, very moved. Harry (ph), I was watching you. You really were very touched by this. What was going on for you while you were watching this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The space program is one of the most important things that our society does, I think. And it just -- it meant so much to me that we just had to come down here and try to help out in some way.

HINOJOSA: Have you been working, have you been helping?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We carried some hot meals to some of the search workers yesterday, and got some supplies for them, and tried to support the law enforcement, the other people that were trying to do a systematic grid search in the -- over there at the Chikopah (ph) church area.

HINOJOSA: What do you take away from this ceremony?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's heartening to see that so many people have strong feelings about the space program and see its value and importance to our country and to our people to carry on advancing in the future.

HINOJOSA: Thank you. And here in Hemphill, the work continues. There are over 600 people who are still on the ground as we speak during the ceremony trying to do as much retrieval of the debris as they can.

Of course, everyone here knowing that just yesterday, the nose cone was discovered here, and as the officials have said to us, a tremendous amount of human remains, which is what they say motivates them to try to give something back to the families -- back to you.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Maria. So hard to explain to the children.


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