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Israeli Police Force Protesters To Leave Synagogue

Aired August 18, 2005 - 10:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right here on CNN as we go back to the live pictures in Gaza. The scene of Israeli police and soldiers removing about 1,500 to 2,000 protesters from the synagogue in Neve Dekalim. Our Guy Raz is on the scene there to tell us more about what's taking place.

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, really extraordinary scenes that we're witnessing here unfolding throughout the afternoon here. For the past hour, Israeli soldiers and police have been forcibly removing hard-line activists from the largest synagogue inside the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza, Neve Dekalim.

Now the army entered this settlement first yesterday morning to begin evacuating it. There were about 5,000 people inside this settlement at the time. Today there are about 1,500 left and most of them are inside that synagogue. People who are now being evacuated.

It should be said, Daryn, that about 90 percent of the residents of this settlement have already left. They've either left voluntarily or they've been removed by force. The people who are inside this synagogue are predominantly outsider, activists, religious activists, political activists, who have come in from other parts of Israel, from parts of the West Bank as well, to demonstrate their opposition to the government's decision to remove its citizens from this strip of land Israel first occupied in 1967. This has been, by far, the most serious confrontation during this disengagement process. Obviously, images of Israeli soldiers and police removing Israeli citizens from this synagogue is a sensitive task, a sensitive operation, but one the police and the military have been preparing for.

Nevertheless, we have also seen examples of soldiers breaking down in tears, weeping. This is not easy for them. It's taking a psychological toll on both the soldier, the police and, in fact, the demonstrators inside. People who had vowed to remain inside that synagogue until the very end and had vowed to, in fact, remain in the Gaza settlements. They simply did not believe that they would be evacuated.

What we can hear what we've been hearing throughout the afternoon are chants. Chanting from the these demonstrators shouting "Jews do not expel Jews." This has been something that the demonstrators and settlers have been chanting again and again. A slogan that they've been repeating. Really designed to strike right at the nerve, I would say, of the national psyche. Of course, because most people in Israel are of the Jewish faith. But, ultimately, the army is carrying out the orders of the Israeli government, which passed by a large majority, this decision to remove all 9,000 of its citizens from the Gaza Strip.

KAGAN: Let me just jump in here for a moment. Don't go anywhere. We do want to explain the live pictures we're showing to our audience at home right now. You are in Neve Dekalim, which, as you said, the largest synagogue in the largest settlement. But this is not the only place where the Israelis face a situation of people coming in and protesting inside a synagogue. The pictures we're looking at right now in Kfar Darom, and we also have our John Vause standing by there. We'll get to him in just a moment. But as you can see with these live pictures, you have protesters on the roof in anticipation of this day. They've put the barbed wire and you have police putting hoses, water hoses, up on the roof trying to discourage the protesters and trying to encourage them to come down and get out of there.

We'll get back to Guy Raz in just a moment. Right now I want to go to the phone. And we have with us on the phone Senator George Mitchell, former Senator George Mitchell, and a former Mideast peace negotiator.

Senator, good morning. Thank you for joining us.


KAGAN: What do you think what are you thinking of as you're watching these images of these thousands of protesters standing up and saying they will not leave Gaza?

MITCHELL: First, of course, it was completely expected, predicted, and the police and military prepared for it. Secondly, as you have your correspondents have noted repeatedly, most of the people doing the protesting now are not settlers, but people who have come in to support them from other places. Third, I think it's obviously very difficult, extremely emotional, for all involved. This is a tough policy for the government to pursue. But you have to keep in mind that the substantial majority of the people of Israel support this policy. Polls consistently show that about two-thirds of the Israeli public support the policy of withdrawal and, as your correspondent noted, it passed by a wide margin in the cabinet.

The other point to be made is, that for years Israeli government officials and several successive governments have acknowledged that ultimately these settlements will have to terminate and the settlers be withdrawn. The only question was when. Until now it's been government policy to wait until they got into negotiations, then get something in return for the withdrawal from the settlements. The prime minister decided that Israel's security would be enhanced, not reduced, if the withdrawal were made now and unilateral. And so that's the basis of the decision. You have to keep in mind that there are fewer than 10,000 Jewish settlers amongst about 1,300,000 Palestinians. So it has clearly not been a permanently tenable situation.

KAGAN: A question of numbers. So what is the next step in the peace process then?

MITCHELL: Well, the parties have said that they are committed to the so-called road map, which was the plan prevented by President Bush and the U.N., the European Union and Russia a couple of years ago, which in turn incorporated largely the report that the commission that I chaired made after our work in the region. That calls for several mutual and reciprocal steps leading up ultimately to negotiation, reaching a settlement that will give each side what it wants. The Israelis want security. They want their people to be secure and not live in fear and anxiety. And the Palestinians want a state. And I think it's the only way this is going to be resolved. I don't think either can gain its objective by denying to the other side its objective.

KAGAN: As we said, you're a former Mideast peace negotiator. You have been in the world. You know what it's like in dealing with these two sides, with so many years of hatred and distrust on both sides. And yet we're at a new chapter here as we're seeing with these live pictures, the pullout of the Gaza settlement, also following the death of Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat. Are you hopeful at this point of where the peace process goes from here?

MITCHELL: Yes, I am, but it will require a very active and intensive effort by the United States. The U.S. government is the only entity that has the capacity to create the circumstances in which a successful negotiation can take place and, most importantly, guarantee the implementation of any agreement that's reached. And it will require strong leadership on both sides.

And it's a very difficult situation, as you can see on the screen. It's highly emotional. Both societies are divided in terms of what they think the approach should be. So it's not going to be easy for anyone.

KAGAN: We will be watching. Former Senator George Mitchell, thank you for your thoughts today, sir.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Daryn.

KAGAN: Good to have you on here with us.

Our Paula Hancocks is standing by in our Jerusalem bureau watching these pictures unfold from these different settlements and the protesters that have entrenched themselves inside these synagogues throughout Gaza.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, these are the scenes that we had been warned were coming. We had been warned from some security forces, some politicians and many people and protesters have been threatening these kind of scene, the second day of the forced evacuation of all the settlements from Gaza.

These are the two spots that we're watching at the moment, Faderon (ph), which is where a number of hard-line protesters are on the roof of a synagogue there, and then also Neve Dekalim, which we were expecting to be a trouble point. It's the second day of the evacuation from that particular settlement. The biggest settlements in Gaza.

About 1,500 protesters are still inside the synagogue. Police and military forces are trying to take them out by force one by one. A painstaking operation. Very dramatic pictures we are seeing. The protesters are linking arms and linking legs. They're throwing water over the soldiers. They are chanting at the soldiers, "Jews do not expel Jews." They are trying to appeal to the soldiers emotionally.

A little earlier on we saw one soldier himself being escorted out by other soldiers. He had given up. He had sat down with the protesters. A very emotionally testing time for these soldiers as well. Very young, most of these soldiers. Between the ages of 18 and 21. So a very emotional time for both sides.

In Kfar Darom we are seeing water cannons being used on the synagogue where many of these protesters are on the roof. They have barbed wire across the outside of the roof to prevent the police and soldiers trying to scale the walls, trying to get up ladders. But they have broken into the front door now of that particular synagogue. They have been we've seen them throwing pieces of barricade out of that front door. Obviously, there was a barricade on the other side the door that they broke through.

And we're seeing pictures of the protesters on the roof holding the Israeli flags. Now, the one thing to note is, many of these protesters are non-residents. They are not residents of Gaza itself. They're a group of hard-lined, ultra religious, ultra nationalist protesters which the security forces said they were likely to have more trouble from than from the residents themselves. Many of the residents in Gaza have actually left the Gaza Strip.


KAGAN: All right, Paula Hancocks staying with us in Jerusalem.

I'd like to go ahead and welcome our guest to help us understand the developments in Gaza. Tamara Cofman Wittes is a research fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Good morning. Thank you for being with us.


KAGAN: Let's go kind of to settlement 101 in terms of the size of what most of these settlements are. Gaza being, what, about half the size the entire area about half the size of New York City. These individual settlements, if you could make an American comparison?

WITTES: Most of them would qualify as small towns. Even Neve Dekalim, which is the largest settlement in the Gaza Strip, had, at its maximum, about 500 families. And by yesterday, I think, only about 100 families remained to be evacuated. So these are actually quite small.

KAGAN: And as we've seen and have been noting, most of the people we're watching now who are resisting leaving, not even the families that were removed. These are people who came in in anticipation of this deadline to make a political and religious statement.

WITTES: That's right. In fact, many of the protests that you're seeing are residents of settlements in the West Bank and members of the religious dynist (ph) movement who grew up in the settlement movement. And they are protesting in Gaza because they see the precedent that's being set by the evacuation of these settlements for their own settlements in the West Bank if there is an eventual peace agreement with the Palestinians. So they're trying to draw a line in the sand here in the hopes of saving their own community.

KAGAN: And then on the other side of things, there are those on the Palestinian side that say what's happening here is only to distract what's happening in the West Bank where actually more settlers are going in.

WITTES: That's true. And, in fact, building is continuing in many settlements of the West Bank. Settlements that the Israeli government believes should be part of Israel under any permanent solution that's reached between the two sides. However, of course, this is something that's going to have to be negotiated and there's always the possibility that one settlement or another will lose out in that process and will have to be dismantled, just as these are today.

KAGAN: And talking about some of the emotional aspects of what we're watching today. First of all, the chant that we continue to hear, "Jews do not expel Jews."

WITTES: Of course this harks back to periods of persecution throughout Jewish history to the searing memory of the holocaust. The idea that Israel would be the safe haven where Jews throughout the world could come to be free from this kind of fear. And so this is the emotion the national narrative that these settlers are trying to draw on in shouting at the soldiers. The soldiers, of course, have all been educated in the idea that Israel is a safe haven for Jews and the military, in fact, is the defender of world Jewry.

So it's very difficult for these soldiers. But as Senator Mitchell said, they've been undergoing training for this process for months. They've even play acted out scenarios so that they would know how to respond. And you see that very, very few of the soldiers are being overcome by the emotions of the moment.

KAGAN: Tamara Wittes with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, thank you for your insight and expertise this morning.

WITTES: Thank you.

KAGAN: We're going to have a lot more news coming out of Gaza, but a lot of news happening from here in the U.S. as well. We'll get to that after this quick break.


KAGAN: We are following two developing stories for you taking place in Gaza right now as the removal of settlers and protesters continue at two different synagogues. We are watching on the left part of your screen that is Kfar Darom. That is where police are just starting to move in just a few minutes ago, that live picture there. They were spraying a huge water hose to the protesters up on top of the roof.

On the right side of your screen, we're showing tape that was shot just a few minutes ago. That is Neve Dekalim. That is another synagogue, the largest synagogue in the largest settlement in Gaza. Very, very dramatic pictures coming out of there earlier. We'd seen about 1,500 to 2,000 protesters being removed one by one from that synagogue.

Our Guy Raz is standing by there in Neve Dekalim and brings us the latest on those efforts.


RAZ: Daryn, it can be described as Gaza's last stand. This is the largest synagogue in this settlement. There are about 1,500 people inside who are being removed by force. Now the Israeli army and Israeli police have tried to negotiate their way in. They had tried to ask those inside to leave on their own accord. They refused. And about an hour and a half ago, police entered that synagogue and began the process of forcibly removing people from that house of prayer.

Now, ultimately, the army and the police want to get this done very quickly. Once this synagogue is evacuated, this settlement, Neve Dekalim, will almost be entirely evacuated of the remaining residents and activist whose had been inside of this settlement for the past few weeks and months.

But clearly, very dramatic pictures. Very emotional scenes playing out inside of that synagogue with soldiers openly weeping, demonstrators chanting "Jews don't expel Jews." But ultimately, the Israeli army and the Israeli police are carrying out a decision that was passed by a wide majority of the Israeli government on four different occasions throughout the year to remove its citizens from the Gaza Strip.


KAGAN: Guy, we've talk a lot about how much of this was anticipated, how police went through exercises in carrying people out peacefully. How they're not carrying weapon. But in anticipation of this, why was perhaps you don't know the answer to this question but, why was there not an effort to keep people from pouring in to the synagogues in the first place?

RAZ: Daryn, that's a very, very good question. A question that many people throughout Israel have been asking as well. The question is, why didn't the military prevent people from coming in to these settlements over the past three weeks? Now, one month ago, the Israeli army sealed off the Gaza Strip, the Gaza settlement, to all but non-residents. But the residents here had protested that decision saying they wanted their relatives, their family members and their friends to be allowed to come in.

Well, thousands managed to come in. They literally came in through the normal procedure. Through the normal road blocks and police and military barricades. And the way they did that was by forging documents. By using false identification, for example.

In some cases, we understand, soldiers simply turned a blind eye and allowed people to come in. And clearly it created and is creating an enormous problem for security forces, both the police and the army, to remove these activists. Most of the people that we are now seeing being pulled out are not ordinarily residents here. They are people who have come in to the settlements in the past several weeks. They're hard-liners, vociferous opponents of the government's plan to remove Israelis from the Gaza Strip. And they are essentially making one last stand. But clearly a futile effort at this point. If there was ever any doubt in the minds of these people that this disengagement process would happen, all of those doubts clearly now quashed.


KAGAN: Guy Raz, live from Neve Dekalim.

We will continue to follow the situation out of Gaza as the efforts continue to remove settlers. But also mainly, at this point, protesters from two main synagogues in that settlement area.

There's other news taking place today here in the U.S., especially in Wichita, Kansas, where Dennis Rader, the confessed BTK killer, is in day two of sentencing. This is a very emotional day for family members of his victims. It's their chance to speak out at his sentencing hearing, how his horrific crimes impacted their lives. We will have some of that testimony just ahead with live coverage from Wichita, Kansas.

Right now a quick break.


KAGAN: And now the latest from Iraq.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed this morning north of Baghdad. A roadside bomb exploded in the volatile city of Samarra killing the four task force liberty troops. One-thousand-eight-hundred-and-sixty- one Americans have been killed in Iraq since the war began. Sixty- three U.S. troop deaths in August alone.

One hope to drain support for the insurgency lies in the new Iraqi constitution. Negotiations are on in an attempt to complete a draft document by Monday's deadline. Britain and the U.N. are working to help move things forward on that. Issues such as federalism, the role of Islam and the distribution of oil revenue remain big sticking points there.

Back in Washington, newly declassified documents from early 2003 warned of serious planning gaps for the post-war Iraq. The State Department memo came out just a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq. The memo warned that if security and humanitarian issues were not addressed, serious human rights abuses could result. The memo went on to say that such abuses could undermine the military campaign and the U.S. reputation globally. We'll have a full report on this story in the next hour of CNN LIVE TODAY.

Meanwhile, a presidential commission found U.S. intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was "dead wrong." Now a new CNN PRESENTS documentary pieces together the chain of events that lead to the faulty intelligence. We also examination the roles played by key players in the Bush administration and the intelligence community.

Here now is a sneak peek reported by our David Ensor.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): May 1, 2003, the president declares that major combat in Iraq is over. But Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, the primary reason for going to war, have not yet been found. George Tenet asks David Kay, who had been the chief U.N. nuclear inspector after the Gulf War, to take charge of the search.

DAVID KAY: When I took on this job, I had a set of conditions to do it because I was essentially taking on the moral hazard, as I referred to it, for the CIA. That is, it was a CIA conclusion that there were weapons.

ENSOR: Once Kay is in Iraq, it's almost immediately clear to him that the WMD stockpiles he and his 1,000-strong team are searching for are not there. The aluminum tubes are an early signal.

KAY: When we got in, we found they really were part of a rocket program.

ENSOR: The bioweapons labs described by Kerbal (ph) don't exist. In private e-mails, Kay begins to warn Tenet that the evidence is falling apart.

COL LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. POWELL CHIEF OF STAFF: George actually did call the secretary and said, I'm really sorry to have to tell you, we don't believe there were any mobile labs for making biological weapons. This was the third or fourth telephone call. And I think it's fair to say the secretary and Mr. Tenet at that point ceased being close. I mean, you can be sincere and you can be honest and you can believe what you're telling the secretary, but three or four times, on substantive issues like that, it's difficult to maintain any warm feelings.


KAGAN: "Dead Wrong: Inside an Intelligence Meltdown" premiers Sunday night 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Iraq war protesters took part in candlelight vigils in a number of cities last night. The vigils were sponsored by liberal activist groups including in support of Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan has been camped out in Crawford, Texas, nearly two weeks trying to meet with President Bush. About 350 people attended a vigil in Durham, North Carolina. More than a dozen other vigils were scheduled around the state.

And in a park across from the White House, both anti-war demonstrators and war supporters held vigils. Some protesters argued over which group was more patriotic.

And once again, we are following the situation out of Gaza. Protesters moving in and sitting down and refusing to leave from two different synagogues as the deadline passes for Israeli settlers and protesters to get out of that area. We'll have more live coverage just ahead.

More news from here in the U.S., weather and business, all straight ahead.



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