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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Tense Confrontations in Gaza Synagogue as Protesters Refuse to Withdraw

Aired August 18, 2005 - 08:30   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Miles O'Brien.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, time flies, doesn't it? It is actually.

O'BRIEN: I guess you could say that. Speak for yourself.

COSTELLO: I'm having a good time.

I'm Carol Costello in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We have a developing story in Gaza to tell you about. That's coming up in just a little bit. But first, let's go to Kelly Wallace with some headlines.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

O'BRIEN: Good morning, Kelly.

WALLACE: Good morning. Great to see you. And good morning, everyone. And here are some of those stories "Now in the News."

We begin in the Middle East. Israeli forces say they expect some stiff opposition today during the second day of forced evacuations in Gaza. Security forces wearing riot gear have surrounded a synagogue in Neveh Dekalim. That's considered one of the most hardline communities. You are looking at some live pictures right now and you see those Israeli soldiers. And you can't really see beyond those trees, but they are obviously in the process of dealing with some resistance there.

We are -- troops are -- yes. We're looking at these live pictures all together as they're coming in. You see the Israeli soldiers there. They're in riot gear and they are pouring down some -- is that -- I guess it looks like they're pouring down some water and some sand and they are obviously trying to, in this second day of these forced evacuations, trying to deal with some of heaviest resistance they're facing. The people who say that they are not going to leave.

We have our Guy Raz --- is on the scene now on our sister network in CNN International. Let's listen in.

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: .... that ramp leading into the synagogue, doing all they can to make it difficult for soldiers to walk up. We can see that they're pouring sand and dirt on that ramp, obviously, in order to make it easier to enter the complex. Now, they'll be entering from several sides. There are three different entry points into that synagogue.

And as I say, thousands, literally thousands, of soldiers and police who will be going in there, probably a ratio of something like four to one. For every settler or activist inside that synagogue, there are four police or soldiers who will be entering into the complex to begin removing the people inside, putting them on busses. Those busses will then be sent into Israel proper and then on to Jerusalem and other places, where some of these people are from -- Kristie.

WALLACE: On, our sister network, CNN International, you see the Israeli soldiers going in. Obviously, they are now going inside to the people that -- hundreds that are huddled inside that synagogue, who have been refusing to leave in this second day of the forced evacuations from the Gaza Strip. And this is a place where we're talking about where Israeli soldiers were dressed in some riot gear, because they were expecting to encounter some tough resistance.

Overall, though -- we're going to join Guy Raz again on our sister network, CNN International. Let's listen.

RAZ: ... the entire disengagement process has been unfolding. They will essentially flood in there -- the police and army will flood into this buildings, into these buildings. They will walk in, they will ask those, once again, to leave on their own. They will begin to accompany them out, they will ask if they can help them come out of the synagogue. But as you can see there are literally thousands of young people inside that synagogue.

Now this is, of course, a very sensitive spot. This is a religious place, a house of worship. And this is the kind of thing that both the police and the army had been anticipating. They had been training for these kinds of scenarios, where they had simulations, people on top, on rooftops, people holding out to the last moment. They have the equipment, the police and the military, has the equipment to deal with this, to handle this.

What they don't want to do is they don't want to engage in violent confrontations. They want to make sure that they can pull as many people out as peacefully as possible as quickly as possible. Because once this synagogue is evacuated -- and this is really the last hold-out in the settlement of Neveh Dekalim -- once it's evacuated, essentially this settlement will be almost completely evacuated, almost completely shut down.

This is the largest of the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza. It was built in the early 1980s. There were several thousand people who lived here for the last two decades. This is, essentially, a small town, if you will. It resembles a southern California suburb, if you will, just right on the edge of the ocean. Red roofs, red tiled roofs, roofs all across this area.

Most of the residents have already left or have already been evacuated, and the overwhelming majority of people inside this synagogue are people who simply do not live here, have not lived here, but have managed to come in to this settlement over the past few days and weeks in a bid -- in really, an effort to show their defiance, to show that they are unwilling to accept the Israeli government's decision to evacuate Israeli citizens from the Gaza Strip.

The government, of course, wants to bring this process to an end and they believe that if the pace that it's been going at continues, it could be over within a week, essentially, ending Israel's presence in the Gaza Strip after 38 years of military occupation. But, of course, we're seeing dramatic scenes unfold before our eyes, scenes that could potentially become violent, probably not. There will probably be a few people there who will kick, will scream and cry and make it difficult for police to remove them.

But they want to have this finished by the evening. They want this entire settlement evacuated by Friday afternoon, because the Jewish sabbath begins sundown on Friday. They don't want anybody left here, because they don't want 24 hours where they suspend the disengagement process, which police and soldiers plan to do. They plan to stop all evacuations for 24 hours, beginning sundown on Friday, to allow those who remain to observe the Jewish Sabbath, a day where many of the people in these settlements do not work, they do not drive, they don't use electricity. They spend much of the day either at home or in the synagogues.

So police really are racing against time right now. They need to do this quickly. They need to get people out. They are facing tremendous amount of psychological opposition. They've been facing that kind of opposition for the past few weeks.

KRISTIE LU TOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Guy Raz in Neveh Dekalim. Please stay with us. I do want to give just an update to all our viewers worldwide, what's happening here on day two of forced evacuation.

WALLACE: You're listening there to CNN International anchor Kristie Lu Stout talking to Guy Raz in Neveh Dekalim, the largest Israeli settlement in Gaza. You're watching an unfolding situation there. Israeli troops entering the synagogue there, after an estimated,000 protesters inside, refusing to leave. A few moments ago, you saw the soldiers pouring some sand and dirt on a ramp that the protesters had apparently covered in oil.

Our Guy Raz on the scene now. Let's listen in.

RAZ: ... infiltrated into the settlements over the past several weeks and days. They are very, very religious. They are hardliners. They are strong, vociferous opponents of the Israeli government's plan to withdrawal its citizens from the Gaza Strip. Now, this synagogue here has become, essentially, if you will, the focal point for this community here over the past several weeks. We've been here for two weeks and we've seen increasingly throughout the days, that synagogue has become a focal point a gathering point for people to spend time in. Food is being distributed at that synagogue. We were just there a few hours ago. You can still walk in and out. But, of course, there simply are many, many hundreds of people inside the synagogue, gathered inside, who do not want to leave. Now, the police have given them an ultimatum. They have said they have just a few minutes left to leave on their own. But, of course, police and soldiers have already started to enter that complex and they will begin removing everybody in that synagogue, if by force if necessary.

Now Kristie, the army and the police do not want to use force. They'd rather use persuasion. That is a tactic that has been widely used during this disengagement process. Not one shot has been fired over the past 48 hours here. No major injuries. No serious incidents, really. Only one instance of a soldier refusing to carry out orders for emotional reasons, if you will.

By and large, this has been a -- from the military's perspective, a very successful operation, because they've managed to evacuate nearly 60 percent, as many as 70 percent, of the people who were in these settlements in about 36 hours, really. And the government now believes that by the middle of next week, it will have the entire process completed.

In other words, all of the settlers, all of their supporters, the activists who had poured into these settlements, believing that the government's decision was wrong, believing that the government was giving up part of the land of what they regard as biblical Israel, the promise land given to the Jews. They had poured into these settlements in the show of defiance, really, an attempt to thwart this process as much as they could. But really a last stand in many ways.

This process was voted on almost a year ago by the Israeli parliament. It was passed in several stages by the Israeli cabinet, and now, of course, it's the beginning of the end of the disengagement process.

This synagogue that we're seeing is really the last holdout in Neveh Dekalim settlement. Almost all of the residents in this settlement, the largest settlement in Gaza, are out. They've been evacuated. They've been taken into Israel proper.

Now, the ones who have remained have essentially largely remained inside of the synagogue. Many of them, most of them, in fact, are nonresidents.

Now, the army and the police want to have -- want to get this entire process finished by sundown tomorrow, sundown on Friday. That's the beginning of the Jewish sabbath. For 24 hours, the disengagement process will be suspended. At that point, they want to have the settlements that are now in the process of being evacuated to be completely finished and done. They want to get the people out in time to allow them to observe the Jewish Sabbath. Most of the people in these communities now are religious. They observe the Jewish Sabbath, which means they don't drive. They don't use electricity. They don't work. They generally spend the day at home or in the synagogues at prayers.

So really, the police...

(CROSSTALK)

LU STOUT: Guy, I don't know if you can see the video images just now, but we had just seen footage of one Israeli protester wrapped in the Israeli flag, being dragged out by Israeli troops, kicking and screaming. We know that there are hundreds of you say young protesters holed up inside the synagogue there in Neveh Dekalim. We also know that they're vastly outnumbered by the thousands of Israeli troops who are there to do their job, to force the evacuation from the settlement.

How do the protesters inside the synagogue plan to resist this evacuation? What kind of strategies have they been using?

RAZ: Well, they've been using various strategies and various communities, for example, tying themselves to railings, locking themselves into rooms, sitting down, locking arms.

But nobody's armed. I mean, essentially, the police, the army, the settlers and their supporters, and really at this point, I would say that the majority of people in there are nonresidents, most likely activists who have come here to support the settlers. Nobody's armed. Nobody has any weapons. So the options are obviously quite limited for all sides. I mean, there was a lot of concern, and a lot of speculation really, Kristie, that this process would unfold in a very violent way.

And while we've seen pictures of scuffles and we see pictures now of people kicking, and screaming, shouting, calling soldiers and police Nazis, for example, something that is, obviously, very emotive and very sensitive in Israel, where the majority of the population is Jewish, it's still being carried out in a relatively efficient manner, if you will, and that's basically what the army is saying. They will carry people out. There will be people who will resist, but ultimately they do not believe there will be any serious violence on the kind -- the kind of violence that some had actually anticipated. There were teams who were prepared to shoot if they had to. There were teams who -- of sharpshooters who were prepared to move into areas that became particularly violent. But that really never happened. It never unfolded.

This is really a political divide now. It's really underlined the divisions, if you will, that exist in Israel, the divisions now that are becoming increasingly clearer between the secular majority of the citizens of Israel and a very powerful minority of religious Jews who would like to see religious law implemented, for example.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, the man who was long reviled by the left, if you will, in Israel long reviled by others in Israel, long seen as the father of the settlement movement, has within a year essentially become the leader of this movement of secular Israelis, of centrist Israelis, who accept, agree with and support his decision to remove Israeli citizens from Gaza.

And obviously the scenes that we are witnessing at the moment are dramatic. But the Israeli government reckons it's necessary; it has to do it in order to protect its borders, in order to make it easier for the Israeli army to protect the rest of the citizens inside Israel proper. There were 9,000 Israelis who lived in Gaza. They were living there, according to international law, illegally, and the Israeli government essentially thought it wasn't worth it to have thousands of Israeli soldiers inside of Gaza simply to protect these settlers who lived among 1.3 million Palestinians.

Now, we've talked to a lot of people here. A lot of people here regard this as part of biblical Israel. They refer to the Bible, for example, and say that this area is mentioned in the Bible, that there are biblical references, there are liturgical references to this area, but the bottom line is, most of the people in the country simply don't support this enterprise, this settlement enterprise in Gaza any longer, but they support the prime minister. They want to see this process carried out, and they want to see it end essentially.

LU STOUT: Guy, the process is being carried out.

O'BRIEN: OK, we have been listening to Guy Raz who is on the scene there. And you've been witnessing some dramatic pictures, a confrontation which had been building for some time. This is the largest settlement, and in many respects, the most hardcore, if you will, or strong...

COSTELLO: Hardline.

O'BRIEN: Hardline is the word I guess, Neveh Dekalim.

And you're looking in excess of 1,500 protesters inside the synagogue there. Many of them, as Guy Raz has been pointing out, not residents. Many of them sympathizers that have made their way there from all parts of Israel to express their displeasure with the vacating of these camps. And what's interesting about this -- as you see, by the way, I believe a rabbi carrying a Torah there, it being taken care of, obviously, and the troops obviously cognizant of all this, but it almost has a ritualistic feel to it, because as Guy keeps pointing out here, as you watch this conclusion, because Ariel Sharon and this government intend to have these settlements cleared out by Monday, the protesters are there. The protesters are almost playing out a part in all of this. The threat of violence, as we've been telling you over and over, again appears to be minimal.

COSTELLO: Appears to be minimal. There's a big sign on the front of that synagogue. It says "For the Lord will not abandon his people or abandon his land." Inside those walls, 2,000 protesters are armed with sandbags and cans of foam spray. As far as we know, there are no weapons inside.

And as you can see, the Israeli soldiers have gone in, and they're carrying these protesters out one by one. There are 2,000 protesters in here, so this is going to take some time. This has been such an emotional time for the Israeli soldiers, too. Many of them bursting into tears after having to do this.

O'BRIEN: Well, they have strict orders, but this is not the kind of order you want to have to contend with, which is, if forcibly, manhandling in some cases, evicting people from their homes, in this case protesters who have chosen synagogues for their obvious symbolism here.

COSTELLO: And just imagine these scenarios, just some of the things that they've encountered, a mother holding her child, shouting at the soldiers, "Why did you become a soldier?" To be in this crazy situation. They're screaming this at these Israeli soldiers. They have to keep their calm, their cool. They can't hurt anyone. They can't use their weapons. And, you know, they have emotional baggage attached to this part of Gaza -- too.

O'BRIEN: And that is perhaps the most difficult thing in all of this. But when you look at the big picture, you look at the opportunity it presents for Israel and for the possibility of some sort of lasting peace, I suppose if they take that moment to look at the big picture, it's a little bit easier to do your job. But in the moment there, with the emotions of, in many cases, people being forced from their homes, and no one wants to be forced from their home after all. Take away all the political issues here, no one wants to be evicted.

COSTELLO: Yes, some of these people have lived here for 22 years, 30 years, so they just didn't just move in yesterday. I find it interesting the way they're doing this. They have large crane, too, and they have metal cages on top of the crane, because they're are people standing on the roof of the synagogue. So they're taking -- well, we haven't seen it yet, but I guess the idea is to take these people off of the roof, put them in the metal cage, bring them down, and then put them in a bus that is waiting nearby the synagogue.

O'BRIEN: Well, certainly they have had time to plan this out, and this is certainly something that was inevitable in the sense that people would do this, would hole up in synagogues. The vote came February of 2004, an so this whole decision is played out over quite a long period of time. People have seen this coming, and that does not in any way minimize the emotions of the moment, of course.

COSTELLO: Yes, it's really emotional when you see them carrying out protesters and protesters wrapped in the Israeli flag. One man actually tore with his teeth apart a flag.

O'BRIEN: Having failed to set it alight, he tore it apart.

COSTELLO: Right, he tore it apart with his teeth.

O'BRIEN: Big picture here. There are 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza that we've been talking about, 200 settlements in the West Bank. There are 8,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza and about 1.3 million Palestinians in that part.

Let's listen for a moment as, one by one -- these people, we're told the ratio of troops to protesters is about four to one. There you see it right there. There's about four troops to one protester. Let's listen.

(PROTEST CHANTS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

O'BRIEN: We're told they're chanting "Don't Expel Me." You see how they've interlocked arms there. Classic, you know, passive resistance, kind of, maneuvers, civil disobedience, as they, one by one, make their point and four by four Israeli troops, roughly per every one, make their point.

COSTELLO: We should point out, too, that these people don't actually live in this town. Most of these people are outsiders who have come in and taken over the synagogue to stage this massive protest.

O'BRIEN; Well, you know, it's interesting, there was a -- money was offered by the government, upwards of $500,000 per household as -- to pay for the move. And those that did not move suffered the loss of that financial incentive. And so perhaps that is why we see more protesters from outside who are making this statement now than we do actual settlers.

I think the big picture here as well -- which Guy Raz has been pointing out and so have our other reporters on the scene, John Vause as well -- is that overall, this has gone off pretty well, as well as you might expect something like this to come off.

COSTELLO: Well, if you look at the polls in Israel, though, most Israelis think this is the right thing to do. So this isn't quite as controversial as it looks from your screen now.

O'BRIEN: It is remarkable that we're right there on this -- literally on the front lines of this eviction as it continues. The Israeli troops, just a few moments ago, putting down sand and dirt on a ramp that had been slickened with cooking oil. About 2,000 protesters in there. One by one, that number is diminishing. They have given them a ten-minute warning, ultimatums by bull horns and then in they went. This is the largest settlement and people feel very strongly there, as you can plainly see.

COSTELLO: You can see there, they're throwing things at the soldiers now. I can't tell what they are, though. It looked like a water bottle to me.

RAZ: Kristie, this is really...

O'BRIEN: I think it is.

Let's listen to Guy Raz for a minute.

RAZ: Kristie, this is the confrontation that many Israeli analysts have been saying was long overdue. Essentially, what we're seeing here i -- right before our eyes -- is the unfolding of a wider confrontation that is taking place inside the country of Israel, a confrontation between the secular Israelis and the religious minority. And what's happening now, of course, here in Neveh Dekalim settlement, which is the largest of the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza, is police and soldiers have decided to go in and remove the people who have remained inside by force. Now, there were many attempts to negotiate this process, call on the people to leave on their own, to leave voluntarily. They didn't agree to do it, so police decided that they had to step in. In less than 24 hours from now, the Jewish sabbath begins, sundown Friday night. At that point, most of these demonstrators who are religious will stop working. They don't use electricity, they don't use automobiles. They are -- they are, essentially, a people who observe the sabbath.

What you can hear right now are chants of "Jews Don't Expel Jews." This has been a repeated -- a repeated chant that we've been hearing throughout the last -- really over the last six months, as demonstrators opposed to the Gaza Plan gathered in various cities throughout Israel to protest against the government's plan.

Right now, we're seeing hundreds of people, literally hundreds of people gathered inside this synagogue. They're being removed by force, chanting "Jews don't expel Jews." Let's take a listen.

(PROTEST CHANTS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

O'BRIEN: You're looking at live pictures now from Gaza. And this is at that Neveh Dekalim settlement. And what you're seeing now are Israeli defense forces -- right part of your screen there -- one by one, sometimes with great difficulty, as you can see, trying to wrestle protesters that have holed up in a synagogue there.

This is the most defiant of the settlements that are to be cleared out under the plan by the Sharon government. It began about a half an hour ago. There are about 2,000 protesters inside, or there were at the time. A few less now, but not too many less. Protesters have filled this spot because of its tremendous symbolism, of course, and just because of -- the scenes you're seeing here, all this playing out in a synagogue.

The troops had given the protesters a 10-minute warning. They called out an ultimatum over bullhorns, then in they went, after having to put some dirt down on a ramp that had been slickened with cooking oil to make it difficult for them to get in. This is the largest of the settlements that are being vacated right now, founded in the 1980s.

COSTELLO: And you can see these Israeli soldiers. They are not armed, apparently not armed. We can't see any weapons. And they're taking these protesters out one by one. They have this large bus is waiting outside, and they're putting the protesters on that bus one by one.

Now, the synagogue has two floors. There are also people packing a balcony. And they were throwing eggs and water bottles at the soldiers before this broke, before the Israeli soldiers went into the synagogue.

They also had this giant crane on top of the crane, or these metal cages. And we haven't seen it so far, but supposedly the idea is to take these people off of the roof, put them in these metal cages, and then take them on to that waiting bus.

O'BRIEN: There are literally thousands of Israeli defense force troops being brought to bear in this. Clearly a show of force, greatly outnumber the protesters. And it is telling to me that they are not fully clad in riot gear. I think that statement is being made in the way that they are equipped and armed, or, more accurately, not armed.

COSTELLO: Not.

O'BRIEN: The hope is, Israel, the government of Israel, hopes that by nightfall -- and it is now, as can you see, 4:00 local time there -- 18 of the 21 Gaza settlements will be empty, leaving three more -- obviously this one is going to be a problem for a little while to come -- that they hope to have cleared up by Tuesday.

COSTELLO: And they've been planning this over two days. Most of these people don't actually live in this town. They've come in.

In fact, most of the people who live there have gone. There were a few standing outside watching this unfold, but these people have been around for about two days, and they've been hoarding things like sandbags. And they also had some kind of foam spray that they were using, but we're not exactly sure what that is.

O'BRIEN: The chant was particularly telling. We had a very emotional interview a little while ago from John Vause, who was at a different settlement. But this whole notion of Jews expelling Jews, tremendous amount of history being alluded to there, and in this case, them saying it's unprecedented for Jews to actually remove Jews from their land, from their home. But these -- in the grand scheme of things, in the grand picture, this is seen as an important step towards some sort of lasting peace in the Middle East.

COSTELLO: Yes. In fact, Ariel Sharon is hoping to preserve Israel's Jewish character by placing Gaza's 1.3 million Palestinians outside of the country's boundaries. And as you know, Israel has occupied Gaza for some, what, 38 years?

O'BRIEN: A significant moment in history that you're seeing unfold right now, laden with tremendous emotions. This particular settlement dates back to the 1980s, and is the largest settlement in Gaza. And tremendous feeling of defiance there. But as you say, this is difficult for us to say, just looking at this picture, how many of these are actual residents.

Our sense has been from our reporters there that most of these people are sympathizers who have come from outside. And then many of the actual residents, have, in fact, left. Some under their own steam, some with some nudging by the Israeli defense forces.

COSTELLO: And the most difficult has been, is when they're lying on the floor. And you can see they have their legs and their arms locked together. It's difficult to get them out of that configuration. O'BRIEN: Reminiscent of some of the demonstrations you saw, we saw, in the civil rights days in the United States. That sense of passive resistance, just locking arms and forcing the troops to take the action. And it's not so easy.

COSTELLO: Now -- and just some of the pictures have been wrenching. You see people sobbing outside. Some of the Israel soldiers have been sobbing.

In fact, there are reports that one Israeli soldier was so moved, stopped doing his job. He had to be carried away by his own troops.

Some of the people being carried out of the Synagogue have wrapped themselves in the Israeli flag. So it's been a terribly emotional morning here.

O'BRIEN: This all occurs after hours of negotiations with the leaders of the settlement broke down, prompting this. But I think that most everybody saw this scene as pretty much inevitable.

Let's listen to CNN's Guy Raz, who is not far from the synagogue as this all unfolds.

RAZ: ... the army stormed in to begin the process of forcibly evacuating the people from that synagogue. Obviously, part of a larger process unfolding throughout the Gaza settlement over the past three days. A process known as disengagement, a process that was -- that began, really, when the Israeli parliament passed a resolution to remove its citizens from this strip of land Israel first occupied in 1967.

The people that you are seeing now being pulled out of the synagogue are almost entirely religious, people who regard Israel as the promised land, regard Gaza as part of biblical Israel, if you will, Erez Israel, as they refer to it. These are people who vociferously oppose the government's planned decision and its presence in the Gaza Strip, where some 1.3 million Palestinians live.

And right now the army and the police continue to remove those recalcitrant demonstrators, those hard-liners from this synagogue, to be put on buses. And they'll be taken out of the Gaza Strip, where it is now illegal for Israeli citizens to remain.

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Guy, as we watch these gut-wrenching pictures of Jew against Jew, we know that these soldiers and police have received special training to deal with this, both physically and psychologically. But this must be a very, very difficult moment.

RAZ: In fact, Ralitsa, just a short time ago, one of -- one soldier was himself dragged away. So we can presume that that was the soldier who in the end refused orders, decided that he could not carry this (INAUDIBLE) out.

There's no question that this is taking a psychological toll on these young men and women. We've been speaking to some of them over the past few days. And they're tired, many of them are distraught, many of then are confused.

These are -- these soldiers and police officers, many of them are kids in the ages of 18 and 21 who are carrying out the government's policy, the government's decision. They have received psychological training, but, of course, nothing can compare a person, a police officer, a soldier, for the real thing, a real event -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: And we see some of the soldiers passing water bottles, it appears, to the protesters. It is such a strange scene, that there's -- also you see a confrontation going, and yet there's also a lot of, it appears, to be sympathy. Let's listen in.

Guy, if you can hear me, we just heard some chants. If you're able to hear, tell us what -- what they're chanting.

RAZ: Ralitsa, people are chanting very simply, "Jews do not expel Jews." That has been the slogan for these hard-liners throughout the past year, really since the government passed this plan to remove its citizens from the Gaza Strip.

Now, it's an evocative slogan. It's a motive. It's designed really to strike right at the nerve, if you will, at the Israeli Jewish psyche, the idea that Jews, as these demonstrators have been arguing, were expelled from other lands throughout their history. And the way they see it, now they're being expelled from their land by their fellow -- by their co-religionists.

Well, that, of course, angered many Israelis who regarded the slogan as a bit hyperbolic, if will you. Ultimately, all of the settlers who have been evacuated from Gaza have now had more than eight months to prepare for this moment.

We have been coming to Neveh Dekalim settlement for the last year. As recently as two months ago, we couldn't find a person here who was prepared to admit that this was going to happen.

I remember speaking to the zookeeper, for example, here. There were camels and llamas and monkeys in the zoo. And I asked him, "When are you going to prepare for the moment of disengagement.?" And he said, "I'm not, because it's not going to happen."

And these are the kinds of things that we experienced here over and over again. Now, really what we're seeing is the final confrontation in Neveh Dekalim settlement, the largest settlement in Gaza, with police and soldiers beginning the process of taking people out by force, something that they really haven't had to do on such a large scale during this evacuation, disengagement, period.

And obviously very emotive, very -- very psychologically difficult for both sides, really. But particularly for the police and the soldiers, many of whom have been called "Nazis," for example. Many of the demonstrators chanting, still, "Jews do not expel Jews." It's something that's really designed to strike right -- right at the heart of the -- sort of the psyche, if you will, within Israel.

I was speaking to an Israeli journalist a few days ago, and I was asking him about what's unfolding here. And he said, "What we are seeing now in Gaza" -- and really what we're seeing now with these pictures -- "is a confrontation that may be regarded as a long, overdue confrontation, if you will, one between secular Jews and religious Jews, the religious minority, which is increasingly strong here."

Obviously, these pictures are very dramatic, and emotions are clearly running very high inside that -- inside that synagogue. But this is something that the army and the police say they were prepared for. And really, they haven't had to do something like this so far during this disengagement process.

Many people believe that once the process ends, once all of the Jewish citizens, Israeli citizens, are evacuated from the Gaza Strip, Israelis society will begin a process of looking inward, if you will, to begin discussing the divide between the religious and the secular. Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of this country, who is long vilified by the secular movement in Israel, the majority, if you will, has now become essentially their political leader.

He is the man who represents the will of the majority. No mater what one thinks of Mr. Sharon, the reality is, inside of Israel, he is deeply popular today, and deeply popular in large part because of his decision to remove Israeli citizens from Gaza Strip, which, of course, has 1.3 Palestinian inhabitants.

Now, throughout the next few hours, once this community is completely evacuated, Israeli police and soldiers will carry on in other communities. They will try to evacuate as many as they can before sundown tomorrow night.

That's the beginning of the Jewish sabbath. And it's precisely why soldiers and police went into the synagogue tonight. They wanted to evacuate it before sundown, because many of the people inside that synagogue are religious Jews. They observe the sabbath.

They do not drive. They do not use electricity. And they -- and the police and the soldiers need to put these people on buses and take them out of here.

This essentially, ultimately, really, while the scene dramatic, and while there are struggles and people are chanting, "Jews don't expel Jews," the police clearly have outnumbered the people inside that synagogue. There are about 4,000 police and soldiers involved in this operation. There are probably about 1,200 people still inside the synagogue.

It will take a few hours to take them all out of there, but once that process is complete in this synagogue, it will be very clear that Neveh Dekalim settlement will almost be completely evacuated -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: And Guy, I was listening to you telling us that this is a religious minority that is opposed to this, that a very solid majority of Israelis do not want to be in Gaza. They support Prime Minister Sharon's policy on this. It is just -- but I -- I can't help going back to last year when I, myself, was in Gaza, in Gush Katif settlement. I spent time trying to understand the thinking of settlers.

I did some stories there, and they -- when I asked them about whether they -- what do they feel about the fact that at that time it was 70 percent of the Israeli public opinion was against them, and that Prime Minister Sharon, who, in fact, was the architect of these settlements, was against them, they expressed to me a sense of betrayal. And again, as you were mentioning, disbelief that this would happen.

They even invited me to come and visit them this year. They didn't believe that this would happen.

RAZ: Absolutely, Ralitsa. This is one of the most incredible and extraordinary things here, a sense, a kind of parallel world that many of the people were living in.

Farmers here who simply didn't believe it was going to happen, who simply didn't accept that after the Israeli parliament passed a motion, after the Israeli cabinet passed it on four different occasions, they still didn't believe that it was going to happen. And many of the people that we've spoken to here in the last few days have complained that the government hasn't provided enough answers for them.

They don't know where they're going to live. They don't know how they're going to survive, how they're going to -- what they're going to do for a living.

I've asked many people, "But surely you've known this was coming?" This was coming. The government had made it clear.

They had sent in lawyers into these communities for the past six months now to begin explaining to people why this was happening. But the people in these communities simply didn't want to hear about it. They didn't want to hear it.

They didn't show up at town meetings to listen. They shut these government lawyers out. And many people, even yesterday, who were being removed, didn't know where they were going to sleep, because they refused to apply for government compensation, for example.

They simply didn't want to acknowledge, in any way, that this process was going to take place. And even while the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public knew this was going to happen, the majority of the seculars simply didn't.

All of that being said, Ralitsa, most of them have left. Most of the settlers here in Neveh Dekalim have left this community. And as you know from being here, many of the residents in this community were not necessarily rabid individuals. They weren't necessarily violent people. They simply want to get on with their life now.

Now, obviously they oppose the government's decision to remove them from here, and they don't accept. They don't accept the political arguments. They don't accept the argument the government and the international community has been making that, in many ways, it's simply irresponsible for 9,000 Israelis to live in Gaza, where a million Palestinians live.

Nine thousand Israelis sort of having control over more than a quarter of the territory here. It's impractical. Many Israelis regard it as immoral.

All of that being said, most of the people we are looking at now being removed from this synagogue are non-residents here. They are religious Israeli Jews who have come from the outside.

Many of them have come from West Bank settlements as well. I was talking to a young couple just last night who had arrived from a settlement called Bet El (ph). It's a settlement right next to the Palestinian town of Ramallah. And I asked them what they were doing here and why they were here, and essentially, they were here to come and support their religious and, really, their political fellow -- fellow travelers.

So that essentially is who we are looking at now, people who have come in from the outside. They will are removed shortly.

Let's take a listen in to what's happening now, Ralitsa.

O'BRIEN: Just to bring you up to date, you're looking at live pictures now from inside the primary synagogue at the Neveh Dekalim settlement in Gaza. And you're watching as it falls upon 4:19 local time in the afternoon in Gaza.

You're watching Israeli defense forces, as well as police. And really up against tremendous emotion here.

You see thousands of IDF forces at the ready there. I believe the ratio, we're told, is about four to one. About 2,000 protesters inside. At least 8,000 IDF forces, military and police personnel, outside to do precisely what you're seeing here.

They're unarmed, they're not clad in any sort of riot gear. You don't see masks or any of the kinds of things you might expect in these sorts of scenarios. That clearly is on purpose. And one by one, they're removing some of the most hard-line demonstrators inside this synagogue who are opposed to vacating these settlements in Gaza.

This particular settlement, the largest and perhaps most defiant, has been a focal point up to this point. Many of those protesters inside, we're told, are not actually residents, but are sympathizers that have come from all over Israel to make this statement today.

A sense of inevitability here, also a sense that there really is not going -- it's not going to lead to bloodshed, per se, because this is passive resistance, as you see here. People interlocking arms, making it difficult for the troops to do their job, but the troops systematically doing just that.

COSTELLO: They are. And it's amazing.

I don't know, they're keeping their cool, the Israeli security forces, and also the Israeli police officers inside, because, as you can see, they're locking their arms and legs together. It's very difficult to get them up off the floor. And all the while, they're chanting, "Jews don't expel Jews."

They're also singing psalms, reading psalms. They're also singing national songs. Some of them are wrapped in the Israeli flag. So this is not only security issues for these forces, but it's also an emotional issue as well.

O'BRIEN: It is also a picture being seen all around the world right now. We are watching it. They're watching it in Israel, of course. And they're also watching it in the Arab world.

CNN's Octavia Nasr, who is our senior editor for Arab affairs, who spends a lot of time monitoring the Arab language networks, is with us no now.

We'll keep the picture up, because it is so compelling. But I'm curious, Octavia, the picture is about the same, of course. The commentary is what's interesting.

What are you hearing from the Arab outlets?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SR. EDITOR, ARAB AFFAIRS: Shock and disbelief, Miles. It seems like Al-Jazeera is carrying these pictures live just as we are.

They have reporters deployed all over Gaza. They're on the outskirts of these settlements. They're not inside.

Here you're looking at a live picture there on the right-hand side of the screen. This is live from Neveh Dekalim in Gaza.

O'BRIEN: Is this -- is this Al-Jazeera?

NASR: This is Al-Jazeera...

O'BRIEN: OK. All right.

NASR: ... what you're looking at on the right-hand side.

O'BRIEN: We see their feed, which is very similar. They even have the split screen, as we do.

NASR: Absolutely. Absolutely.

And basically, on the bottom of the screen there, you can read the same things that we're saying, basically that Israeli forces, for example, entered two settlements, (INAUDIBLE) and I think it's Neveh Dekalim there, and removed settlers by force. The language is very interesting, Miles, because you definitely can hear shock and disbelief in the -- in the reporting. You know, you have to understand that Arabs are not used -- the whole world is not used to seeing Jews sort of expel or remove other Jews by force, as we're witnessing. And basically, very interesting for the Arab world to see an Arab media that's sobered up.

It's sobered up to this reality. And basically they're discussing what's happening as a big sacrifice on the part of the Israeli and the Israeli forces.

O'BRIEN: So it is viewed, then, in the Arab world -- is it viewed with skepticism, or is it viewed as a positive step?

NASR: Well, here's the thing. First of all there's shock. They're looking at this in disbelief.

This next step is a bit of disbelief, because they're saying, why would Israel pay such a high price for giving Gaza back? What is Israel going to ask in return?

You have commentators saying that, basically, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has decided to give Gaza back in order to get a big chunk out of the West Bank later on and perhaps ask for all of Jerusalem. Others are saying that this just a re-deployment. Israel has gotten everything it wanted to get out of Gaza, and right now it is in its best interests to pull out and redeploy its troops.

Now, of course this doesn't bode well with the settlers who have lived there for all of these years, and they have their homes there and their livelihoods there. So basically, the Arab world is looking at this and trying to make sense out of it. But definitely there is a disbelief and there is skepticism as to what the real motives are behind that pullout.

But again, leave that aside and look at these dramatic images that we're looking at now. These are as dramatic to us as they are to the rest of the Arab world.

Now, of course you have -- you have a portion of the Arab society that's going to look at this and shrug, and say, you know, we don't care. And we've heard that on Arab media. We've read it as well in newspaper articles and op-eds. Basically people saying, this is not new, the Israelis did the same thing to the Palestinians. So basically, it's payback time.

You do have a chunk of the population that's saying these things, that's kind of looking at this as Israelis deserve this, and stuff like that. But the bigger portion -- and you look at the big networks as Al-Jazeera, Al Arabiya, "Al Hayat" newspaper, the big networks that are pan-Arab, that are distributed worldwide, they're looking at this in a very sobering, sobering way -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: So to boil that down, there is a sense that, at the very least, this is a short-term victory for the Arab cause, for the Palestinian cause, but there is some concern as to what is the next shoe to drop? What is -- what are the hidden provisos in what we're seeing here? I think that years and years of distrust make it difficult for anybody to embrace even when seeing is believing.

NASR: Absolutely. That would be the headline, basically saying -- I mean, I heard someone say yesterday, last night, as a matter of fact, on Al-Jazeera, say something like, Palestinians cannot but celebrate this pullout of Gaza.

And you look at these images and you can understand why they're saying -- why these commentators are saying that Palestinians have to be happy with this outcome. But then you have the skeptics stepping in and saying, wait a minute, why is this happening? Why would Israel pay such a high price?

What does it have to gain out of this? What's the long term? Let's look at the long term gain rather than the short-term gain, because obviously this is not something that Israel would want. This is not something that the Jewish population would want for itself and for its people.

On the other hand, you look at, for example, the Arab media coverage of the story. You know, we were talking earlier on the show about cartoons. You know, cartoons are always good to look at to understand where the media are heading, and Arab cartoons have been very interesting, portray always -- always portraying Israel as the bad guy.

One interesting cartoon, Miles, showed an empty nest and a crow believe leaving the nest. Basically, crow is the sign of bad news, and that represents Israel. The nest is the Palestinian land. And to them, to that particular Arab media outlet -- that was Al Kalish (ph) newspaper from the United Arab Emirates -- it represented that Israel is finally ending its occupation of Palestinian land.

You look at Al Arabiya coverage, for example. They're calling it "Gaza Liberation."

You look at Al-Jazeera calling it "Gaza Withdrawal."

The choice of language is very important here, because it is seen on Arab media as a loss for the Israelis, as a victory for the Palestinians. But at the same time, as you said, there is a huge concern in the Arab media as to what's going to happen next.

"Al Hayat" newspaper, for example, had a very interesting headline. It said, "What will happen? Who will rule Gaza after the pullout? Is it the Israelis? Is it the Palestinian Authority? Is it Hamas? Or is it chaos?"

So basically, chaos being an option as far as Arab media are concerned. And, of course, the Arab street is concerned. You know, chaos is a possibility on the Arab side as well -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Octavia Nasr, please stand by. And please continue to monitor those Arab outlets as we continue our coverage here. As you look at live pictures, the primary synagogue there in Neveh Dekalim has systematically, those Israeli defense forces and police, begin the process of removing about 2,000 protesters. It's been going on for an hour about now, and this part of the big picture of the vacating of 21 settlements in Gaza.

This Gaza pullout is significant not just in the Arab world, not just in Israel, but all over the world, and the way the world perceives the country of Israel.

Ambassador Dan Gillerman on the line with us. He is the permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations. He joins us from Montreal.

Ambassador Gillerman, the other day former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on CNN's air, and he said that what we're seeing here are good intentions, badly played out.

What do you say to that?

AMB. DAN GILLERMAN, PERMANENT REP. OF ISRAEL TO THE U.N.: Oh, I think these very brave, bold, and historic decisions played out in the only possible way in which a democracy can play them out. I don't even think that this is a play. This is reality. This is the real thing.

I think very few countries in the world -- and I heard your commentator describe the reaction in the Arab world -- I can't see any of these scenes taking place in any country in the Arab or Muslim world.

Israel is doing it openly for the world to see, both the pain and the determination. And what we're seeing today is a confrontation between people who've been living there for 30 years and believe that this is their rightful place and young men, maybe their brethren, maybe fathers or their sons, who are carrying out very boldly the democratic decisions of the Israeli prime minister, the Israeli government and the Israeli parliament.

This, in a way, is a standoff between the rule of force and the rule of law. And at the end, the rule of law in Israel, as always, will prevail.

O'BRIEN: And it is worth pointing out that this is, in fact, the decision of the Knesset to do just that. The majority of the people of Israel have expressed their desire to see not necessarily the emotion of this moment but at least the vacation -- the eviction, the end of these camps in Gaza.

Mr. Ambassador, the concern that is raised frequently is, that if Gaza is populated only by Palestinians and governed by the Palestinian Authority, that it could become a base for terror. Is that a concern of yours?

GILLERMAN: It certainly is. The onus now after the very brave, bold, courageous and historic decision taken by Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli government and the Israeli people, as represented by them. The onus is on the Palestinians. The Palestinians must seize this moment. They must realize that it's now or never.

If the Palestinian leadership fails to stand up to this challenge, it will just prove yet again that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

This is an opportunity to create a totally new reality in our region. For them to take the rule of their land in Gaza into their own hands and to create a prosperous and thriving economy and a better life for their people.

Their people have suffered far too long from corrupt and evil governments, especially under Yasser Arafat. They deserve better.

And I hope that Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who has so far said the right thing. He has walked the walk; now it's time for him to talk the talk. He has to prove that he will act against terror, he will not allow Gaza to become a terror base -- because, otherwise, if he does not eradicate terror, terror will eradicate him.

If he does act against terror, I promise you he will find in the Israeli government -- which is demonstrating incredible courage -- a very willing partner who will go a very long way toward creating a just and fair and long-lasting settlement in our region, which then will allow both our people to live in peace.

And the pictures we're seeing right now in front of our eyes are pictures of a country torn apart, trying to make a step in that direction. And it's painful, it's heart-wrenching, but at the end of the day, Israel is proving yet again that in the very tough neighborhood we live in, what a true democracy it is and how the rule of the law, at the end of the day, will always prevail.

O'BRIEN: Ambassador, it has to be hard for you to watch, especially when you hear those chants: "Jews don't expel Jews". What has been going through your mind as you've watched this unfold?

GILLERMAN: It's terribly hard to watch. It's heart-wrenching. It's painful. We have a lot of sympathy and admiration for these people who've been living there under very difficult conditions, sometimes surrounded by so many Palestinians who didn't want them there. These people have been living there for three generations. They've raised their children and their grandchildren -- and we truly understand their pain.

But these people are also part of a democratic society. That society has very painfully taken a decision to do it.

And, therefore, what -- I must say that while sympathizing -- having great empathy for the settlers, for the people who truly believe, ideologically and politically, that they should be there, I have tremendous admiration and sympathy for the young Israeli soldiers who are carrying out what may be one of the most difficult tasks any army has ever done. For brothers to remove their brothers, for sons, sometimes to remove their fathers or, as you said, Jews to remove Jews, this may be harder than fighting a war against your enemy because this is actually doing something to your own people, which is very painful.

But that's what democracy is all about. That's what the rule of the majority is all about. And if the Israeli government rightly decided that this is in the best interests of Israel, this is indeed a very painful price to pay.

And I think that the world, while looking at this, even if they don't have the same sympathy that I have and many of Israelis have for the settlers, must salute Israel at this incredibly difficult moment for its resolve, for its courage. And also the international community and the United Nations, of which I serve, should show support not only in words but in deeds.

This is indeed an incredibly difficult decision being carried out and I think that Israel deserves credit for it and should get the credit for it and should, in fact, enjoy the support of the international community in the days to come.

O'BRIEN: You said a moment ago that you feel the Palestinian Authority never misses the opportunity to miss an opportunity. As we see somebody being carried out on a stretcher there -- I don't know the circumstances there. It could just be overcome by exhaustion and heat, but we'll try to track that one for you.

Ambassador, what happens if the outcome is not satisfactory? What happens if Gaza becomes that hotbed for terror that has been a big concern? What does Israel do then?

GILLERMAN: (inaudible) I really think that there is a tremendous opportunity here and a very, very great responsibility upon the shoulders of the Palestinian leadership to show that they truly want their people to enjoy a better life, and this is their chance to do so.

GILLERMAN: If it does, unfortunately, turn out the other way and Gaza becomes the base for terrorism, the Israeli army, once it is out of there and once all the settlers are out of there, will have a lot of options to take action to make sure that it guards the security and the safety of the Israeli people.

This move is done to increase Israel's security. If in any way, as a result of that, Israel security is jeopardized, I assure you that the Israeli army, with the same resolve it is now removing those people, will remove the terrorists and make sure that Israel's actions are so swift, so decisive and so real that terror will not stand a chance.

In fact, once the settlers are out of there, hopefully we won't need to prove it. But we will have much more freedom of movement and action to allow us to retaliate if, God forbid, Gaza does become a terrorist base.

O'BRIEN: Ambassador Dan Gillerman is the 13th representative to the United Nations from Israel.

Thank you for your time.

And we will take a break. As we leave you, you're seeing live pictures, remarkable pictures, from Neveh Dekalim as the protesters there continue their passive resistance, singing, chanting praying, as Israeli Defense Forces engage in a systematic one-by-one removal of these people from that main synagogue there, kind of a final confrontation there, as the Gaza settlements become a part of history.

Let's listen as we go to break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage of the scene that is unfolding in Gaza, in what amounts to a final and defiant confrontation between settlers and sympathizers for the settlers. Many of the people you see here actually did not live in these settlements in Gaza, but nevertheless are protesting on their behalf. And Israeli defense forces. A couple thousand of them in a synagogue in Neveh Dekalim, the largest -- or among the largest of the settlements and among the most defiant.

For about an hour and ten minutes, they have been slowly but surely removing these protesters, interlocking arms, sometimes with great difficulty, from that synagogue, thus hoping to execute the orders that ultimately came down from the prime minister and the Knesset to vacate the settlements of Gaza, thus hopefully laying the groundwork for some sort of lasting peace in the region.

COSTELLO: Yes. Perhaps the biggest challenge for them is the second floor of the synagogue, the protesters have put layers and layers of barbed wire. So that will maybe be the biggest challenge, although this looks difficult in itself.

Guy Raz has been on the scene since this has unfolded. Guy, bring us up to date. What are you seeing from your vantage point?

RAZ: Carol, it's really an extraordinary situation that's unfolding inside of the Neveh Dekalim settlement. Really, I would say, in a sense, a watershed moment in the history of this country. Confrontation between Israeli soldiers and demonstrators, hardliners, inside of a synagogue, being forcibly removed.

Now, police and soldiers had allowed them to remain in the synagogue for the past 36 hours. Today, there were negotiations to see if they could peacefully -- if they would peacefully leave the synagogue. Those negotiations broke down. Police and soldiers then stormed this synagogue, where about 1,500 people have been inside for the past two days now, slowly but surely removing them one by one.

This has been the last holdout, the last stronghold, if you will, of Neveh Dekalim settlement, the largest settlement in Gaza, a settlement that once this synagogue is evacuated, will be virtually a ghost town, almost completely evacuated of any residents any longer. The people inside this synagogue will be removed, they will be placed inside buses. Those busses will then take them out of Israel, to the Israeli town of Beer Sheva from they will board buses onto their -- onto other destinations where they live, et cetera.

But, really, what we are seeing here is the most intense confrontation that has unfolded throughout this disengagement period. The army and the police had anticipated scenes like this. It simply didn't happen until this point. We've seen pictures of struggles, we've seen burning fires, we've seen barricades. But ultimately, it's been a relatively peaceful process all around. There haven't been any injuries, there haven't been any major incidents. Not a shot's been fired.

This is the first time that a large number of Israeli soldiers and police are confronting a large number of activists, hardliners who oppose the Israeli government's plan to evacuate all of its citizens from this strip of land the government first occupied in 1967.

COSTELLO: Guy -- Guy, before we get into that, I was just wondering. We see the security forces going in. They don't appear to be armed. Are they?

RAZ: No. Nobody's armed inside, neither police nor the army. And this is deliberate. This was done deliberately in order to make sure that the evacuation process wasn't done in a provocative manner. There's a lot of sensitivity, obviously, here -- involved here. Many of the demonstrators have been chanting "Jews don't expel Jews." And this is something, really, that's had a psychological toll on many of the soldiers and police officers involved in this process.

Nobody is armed on either side. There are armed soldiers on the outskirts of the settlements, just in case things get out of hand, but this was done really deliberately, designed specifically to make sure that no shots would be fired during this entire evacuation process.

COSTELLO: And just to ask you another question, because they're handling this so beautifully. Just to ask you another question. They gave them ten minutes, they were on the bullhorn, the security forces, saying, you have ten minutes to get out. And then they cut off the electricity to the synagogue. Are you hearing me well enough, Guy? Tell us sort of how the security forces...

RAZ: The electricity to the synagogue was -- it's very, very difficult for me to hear you. You can imagine this scene is very -- is unfolding and things are quite loud here. But the electricity at the synagogue was shut down for some time, we understand. It's back on now. Announcements are being made from a speaker, a megaphone, on top of that synagogue, from some of these demonstrators, calling on those inside to remain inside.

And this is something that police really didn't want to do. They didn't want to impose a siege, if you will, by closing the electricity and the water in these communities. And they never did that. Really, just wanted to make sure most people would leave on their own. And it should be said, it should be underlined, most people did leave on their own. In fact, 90 percent of the residents here in this settlement are gone. The people who are living on the same street where we're located, where the CNN house is located, left on their own yesterday. They were crying, they left with heavy hearts, but they got on the bus and they drove off into the recognized borders of Israel. The people inside this synagogue, by and large, are not residents here. They are people who have come in from the outside to bolster the defiance, really, and really to show their vociferous opposition to the government's plan to evacuate its citizens from Gaza, something they regard as a violation of religious law -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Guy, I just wanted to ask you about more things that we're seeing from inside that synagogue. One, it amazes me that so many photographers are walking around with cameras, photographers inside the synagogue. And we've also seen the security forces and the Israeli police handing out water bottles.

RAZ: Yes, that's one of the tactics that they've been using for the last several days. In fact, we saw confrontations where young people were shouting at police officers, shouting at soldiers, calling them Nazis, and the response of the police and the soldiers was, would you like some water? It's very hot here. It's approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And so clearly, people need to remain hydrated. Dehydration has been one of the problems here, one of the worst problems, if you will. And that will can give you a sense of how relatively peaceful the disengagement process has unfolded up to this point.

In terms of reporters and photographers inside, yes, they are inside there. We were in and out of this synagogue throughout yesterday, today. The doors of the synagogue haven't been locked. They weren't barricaded inside. It's a kind of synagogue conference, if you will. On one side, there's a large room where people are inside. They're praying, they're chanting, singing. There's a large courtyard outside. Others are milling about. People were really in this area for the past two days, eating, sleeping, praying and so on.

So people can still move in and out fairly easily and talk to the people inside. The problem is removing the sheer number of people inside of that complex, which clearly is going to take several hours now -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Absolutely. Because at one point, there were 2,000 protesters inside of that synagogue. Guy, thank you. I know you're going to stick around. We're going to take a short break. We'll be back with much more on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: We've been following this breaking news for quite some time now. You're looking inside of a synagogue at Neveh Dekalim, which is in Gaza. Two-thousand protesters have been inhabiting this synagogue for the past several hours. In fact, at one point, Israeli security forces and Israeli police got on the megaphone and said you have 10 minutes to leave. They did not.

So for the past several hours, security forces and police have going inside of this synagogue and removing people, and they're lying on the floor with legs and arms intertwined. At some points, police are having difficulty getting them up off the floor. But by this picture, some are standing now, and they appear to be talking among themselves. But this will take a few more hours, because there are still several hundred protesters inside of this synagogue.

O'BRIEN: We should point out that the people in the orange vests there are acting as intermediaries here, helping try to ease this confrontation between the authorities. The police, you see there in the blue shirts and then, of course, the Israeli Defense Forces in the more camouflage colors. Worth pointing out, no one's armed here, and that's, obviously, very purposeful. The way the forces have been equipped...

COSTELLO: Seems the only thing they're equipped with are bottles of water. You heard Guy Raz say when someone gets in their face, the police just simply offer them a bottle of water. They saying it's hot outside. Would you like some water?

O'BRIEN: Yes, interesting, because what a true test of their training and their abilities in this situation with their own countrymen. We've heard some anecdotal reports of some soldiers breaking down in tears and having to leave, and you can certainly understand being in that situation how difficult it would be to be tasked to do this, but these are young men who are following their orders and following what amounts to the wishes of the vast majority of Israel. We're focused on this one synagogue with 2,000 people, very adamantly opposed to the end of the Gaza settlements. But two- thirds of the people of Israel say it is time to say goodbye to the Gaza settlements, because, in essence, the equation is land for peace. The tradeoff has always been that. That's what it always boils down to.

And in this case, most people in Israel feel this is a fair and appropriate trade. What happens next is anybody's guess, because in the Middle East, you never know what's going to happen next.

Meanwhile, in the other settlement we've been focusing a lot about, Kfar Darom, where John Vause was, live pictures there now, that also the focal point there is a synagogue, not coincidentally, of course.

And you can see this just came to us a little while ago, a little bit of a confrontation there, a scuffle with one of the protesters, and off he went. So that synagogue remains populated by the protesters. We're told there that nearly everybody inside is a protester from outside, not residents of that settlement.

COSTELLO: Yes, and that once they got these people out, once they got the protesters, I should say, out of the synagogue, they're loading them onto a bus, and they'll be taken into Israel.

Octavia Nasr is our Arab affairs editor. She's been monitoring this on the Arab television stations.

Octavia, tell us again what you're seeing? NASR: Well, first of all, shock and disbelief on Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is reporting on the story wall to wall, live coverage from Gaza. The reports, they are pointing out to viewers, I don't know if you can see this, that soldiers are shedding tears as they're pushing the settlers out of the settlement. They also have Palestinian officials saying things like they don't understand why all this drama. This is Palestinian land, and all the settlers are doing is just returning it back to the owners.

And also the reporters on Al Jazeera saying that most people, most Israelis, most Jews, want this operation to be over with, but it's those protesters that are making it hard for the operation to be over, and they're saying, they're focusing a lot on the fact that the majority of these protesters are from outside the settlements. They're not people who live there. Basically, a lot attention is being paid to this very topic, that these are just protesters, protesting the Israeli government decision to disengage from Gaza, not necessarily locals, or settlers themselves -- Carol.

COSTELLO: But you say there is a certain amount of sympathy, and, you know, you always hope that that, you know, has some impact down the road when this road map to peace continues?

NASR: Yes. And I don't think sympathy would be the word. I think the -- Al Jazeera, for example, we're monitoring Al Jazeera, because they're carrying this story live more than others at this point, but basically it's sobering. There's a sobering effect that these images have on the reporters on the ground and also the anchors and commentators, basically saying look at the price that Israel is paying for this plan to disengage. But I don't think we can call it sympathy. I think it's more awakening to the fact that Jews are doing this to other Jews, and maybe there is skepticism there, saying why would Israel pay such a high price? What is in store for the peace process? Would Israel want something in return out of this pullout? Maybe they want something that the Palestinians are not going to be willing to give, and this is where the skeptics are saying that chaos could prevail, and maybe violence erupt again -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know, earlier we were talking how Hamas is taking credit for the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Might these images send some kind of message to them?

NASR: Absolutely. The message is loud and clear. You can hear it on Arab media. You can read it in text. The message is that it is what they call the resistance that pushed Israel to make such a decision and pull out of Gaza. So you have moderates now voicing their opinions, saying this is very dangerous to believe that Hamas did push Israel out, because that would send a message that violence is the answer. So moderates are speaking on Arab media loud and clear, saying that this shouldn't be the way to go. The Palestinians themselves should celebrate the fact Israel is giving them Gaza back, but they shouldn't start taking credit; and at the same time, they should work together to rule Gaza, because it is a question mark there as to who's going to be in charge of Gaza, who's going to be charge in security. The Palestinian Authority, according to Arab media, is not necessarily ready to take over. Hamas might be ready, but they're not the right group to take care of security.

So a huge question there that Arab media are looking at -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Octavia Nasr, thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Remarkable pictures you've been watching for the past hour and a half, as you see these protesters one by one being carried down that ramp, that ramp that had been slickened with cooking oil, to make it difficult for the Israeli Defense Forces and the authorities to get in, to remove the 2,000 protesters. Systematic, laborious, painstaking process, an emotional process that you're seeing.

Gut-wrenching pictures, but when you consider how it could play out, how you could try to remove a group using tear gas, say, or rubber bullets, or whatever the case may be. Of course, this is a synagogue, and the Israeli Defense Forces being very respectful of that, but also handling this in a way that I think would be viewed widely as an appropriate way to handle a very difficult situation.

COSTELLO: And it probably go on for some hours to come. That wraps up our coverage. Daryn Kagan is there to pick up the ball, though.

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