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The War Within Israel; The Violence in Aleppo

Aired August 7, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

For months now, the world has wrung its hands over the possibility of an Israeli military attack on Iran to halt development of its nuclear program. But at the same time, another war has been raging, and that's within Israel.

My brief tonight: the struggle that is threatening the democratic nature of the Jewish state is between secular Jews and the growing population of ultraorthodox and its growing political power.

Whether it's claiming more and more space in settlements on the occupied West Bank or refusing to serve in the military, or even hold regular jobs while being subsidized by the state, these are all big issues dividing the Jewish state right now.

Many are deeply concerned by the possible triumph of religion over democracy. And yet at the same time, a fascinating new study by "The Economist" magazine finds that for Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, a majority say they've never felt so free, so prosperous, so secure and unthreatened.

I'll speak with Israeli foreign minister, the former Israeli foreign minister and former leader of the centrist Kadima Party Tzipi Livni in just a moment. But first, a look at what's coming up later in the program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Syria, finding the story means looking evil in the eye.

DEBORAH AMOS, JOURNALIST: You can see the blood splatter up the wall.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Deborah Amos has seen the carnage first-hand.

AMOS: It is unimaginable.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But how is the story changing and who's telling it?

And Saudi Arabia's first female Olympians, out of their league but in a league of their own. Can political pawns become pioneers?


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first, former Israeli foreign minister and the former leader of the centrist Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni. Welcome to the program


AMANPOUR: I want to say when you resigned from the party in May, I want to quote what you said.

"I do not regret not selling the state to the ultraorthodox."

Is that what you think is going on right now? Is Israel being sold to the ultraorthodox?

LIVNI: Unfortunately, yes -- politically. The ultraorthodox represent a small portion of the Israeli society. They represent part of our history, tradition and everything. But yet, unfortunately, they have now more power than they should. And in a way, Likud Party or other parties gave the monopoly on the Jewishness of the state of Israel to the ultraorthodox.

AMANPOUR: So do you agree with certain critics, who've been writing very prominently -- a former Knesset speaker has said the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party is kowtowing to the ultraorthodox, to what he calls the fundamentalists.

LIVNI: Netanyahu said himself that for him politically the ultraorthodox are his natural partners. And I believe that the raison d'tre of the state of Israel is to be homeland of the Jewish people. So for me being a Jewish state represents something from a national perspective, not a religious one.

AMANPOUR: And so is it still a secular state? Is that what you still think it can be?

LIVNI: Israel is a democracy and homeland of the Jewish people. I believe that we need to have these values of Israel, Jewish values. And the democratic values, living in harmony and not in contradictions.

AMANPOUR: Why are they being threatened? How are they being threatened?

LIVNI: Politically, when you have a part of the Israeli society believing that the source of authority is not the law and the Supreme Court but the Halakha, the Torah and the rabbi. So we have now a clash between the values of democracy and what I believe are our values as a Jewish state. And the way that they --


LIVNI: -- they implement their own understanding of Judaism.

AMANPOUR: How is it going to be resolved, this issue of military service, or even a national civilian service? They're resisting it. Or the Supreme Court have said that an old law needs to be struck down. And your successor, Shaul Mofaz, said that 80 percent should be integrated into the military right now. And yet it didn't happen.

LIVNI: It's a matter of leadership and it's a matter of decision, and not some of the politics that used to see in Israel for many years now. And the whole idea to have all the Zionist groups in Israel, including different parties that some of them are members of this coalition, working together in an understanding that we need to do it now.

And each and every Israeli citizen needs to contribute to the society in which we live. And we need to have a common vision for the state of Israel. And unfortunately, there is a combination of -- because of political reasons, not because of values or, you know, vision that gives them the monopoly on this and this must be changed. And it's not too late.

AMANPOUR: You say it must be changed, and you say there's a lack leadership. But what about your own party? And I know you've resigned. But what about your own party, your own successor, as I said, brought this to a head. And then -- and then left the coalition. I mean, he didn't stay in the coalition to work it out. So how is it going to be worked out?

LIVNI: Now in order to change reality, you need the willingness of the prime minister, any prime minister, to make the change. Unfortunately, Netanyahu's coalition is his choice. I know that for many years, or since last elections, people even said to me, listen, this time maybe he wants to, but he cannot. So now it was proven that he doesn't want to. And this is going to be part of future elections in Israel, I believe.

AMANPOUR: Does Israel need to make a change? Does it need to have a separation, a formal separation of state and synagogue?

LIVNI: Oh, I believe that what we need is a constitution and a clear definition of what is it this Jewish state that we are talking about, that we ask the world to say and to accept that Israel is homeland of the Jewish people, and rightly so.

And is it -- it's a thing that is the -- to agree upon, because we have a majority of Israelis understanding and believe that Israel is homeland of the Jewish people by its own nature. But it's a state with equal rights to all its citizens.

And the idea or the meaning of a Jewish state is from a national perspective, not a religious one. And we need to define this in a constitution, and we have a majority to do so.

AMANPOUR: What about the effect on the peace process, if the ultraorthodox -- I mean, there is no peace process right now. But you know, if there was one to start up again, the power of the ultraorthodox, how does that affect the possibility of the two-state solution?

LIVNI: I think that this -- it's not connected. As I said that we had a majority in Israeli to form a constitution that defines Israel as a Jewish democratic state when the Israelis are living in harmony, so Israel can reach an agreement with the Palestinians or to try to do so, because it is our own interest and because this is the only way to keep the balance (ph) of Israel as a Jewish democratic state living in harmony.

The ultraorthodox can support it. They can be against it. But we have a majority of Israelis that, when an Israeli leader would come with an agreement, that represent the idea of two states for two peoples, they would support it. I know it. This is according to our understanding and the polls. But there's a need for a leader to make these decisions.

AMANPOUR: So let's talk about this now in the context of U.S. elections. The presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was recently in Israel, and very clearly aligned himself with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What -- how do you feel about partisan U.S. politics being absorbed in Israel?

LIVNI: I think that -- well, I know that for many years, basically since the establishment of the State of Israel, the relations between Israel and the United States were bipartisan. This is the way it should be. And the idea of Israel being part of the agenda in the elections in the United States is wrong. The relations are -- it's more than just partisan issue. It's based on shared values.

Israel is part of the free world led by the United States, no matter what. No matter what happens in the region, this is who we are. And this is the reason why any American president should and can work with any Israeli prime minister and vice versa.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you something about what Mitt Romney actually said. This is about the nature of Israel and the Palestinian people.

He said when he was there that, "As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation" -- meaning Israel -- "I recognize the power of at least culture," and a few other things. That, of course, caused a firestorm of protest.

LIVNI: And after I said that we shouldn't intervene in the internal elections in the United States. You expect me to refer to Mitt Romney's speech?


AMANPOUR: But what do you feel about that notion of, I don't know, saying that there is a cultural reason why Israel is superior economically?

LIVNI: I'm of course (ph) proud of the achievements of the state of Israel. In a way, Israel is truly (inaudible) in the Middle East. But listen, it is also part of the reality that the Palestinians don't have their own state now. And they're under unfortunately an ongoing operation since '67 that must be ended, not for the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of Israel, by the way.

AMANPOUR: What about the sake of some of your neighbors? Israel is obviously -- and I know you've been looking at what's going on around you in Egypt, in Syria and elsewhere. What about Syria? How much does that threaten Israel? And do you think that the international community should have intervened? And what should it do now?

LIVNI: It threatens Israel -- it's not a secret that they have chemical weapon and we are all looking, watching in order to see whether it's going to stay in Syria, (inaudible) responsible hands or it's going to go Hezbollah and other terrorists organizations. And this is something that we cannot afford.

So the expectation of -- I don't know if there are some expectations of others to -- that we just look, see and watch, it's not acceptable. And I believe that the fact that the international community is quite, excuse me, impotent on this issue sent a very sad and problematic message to the region because the international community is being watched by extremists in the region.

It's not only inside Syria; it's by Iran, by other radical elements, by Hezbollah, by Hamas. And when they see this ongoing debate in the Security Council, having Russia, having their own interests, preventing Russia and China, preventing the international community take the right steps, it's a very problematic message to those believing that we should work together with the international community, with the free world, and make the right decisions.

AMANPOUR: What do you think the next step will be there?

LIVNI: Internally, in Syria? Well, nobody knows and I --

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's too late to intervene?

LIVNI: It's not too late, but the last thing that I think that an Israeli should say is to call the world to do something militarily in Syria today. I try to be responsible as well.

AMANPOUR: What do you think --


AMANPOUR: What should an Israeli and a former foreign minister say about all these threats to bomb Iran?

LIVNI: Iran needs to know that all the options are on the table. As the world needs to understand that it's not only an Israeli issue or an Israeli problem. When I was the former minister, I heard about Iran creating Arabic (ph) even more than in (inaudible) or in English. So the recent understanding that Iran represent these extreme religious ideology and there as these pragmatics (ph) in the region --

AMANPOUR: And even though lots of former Mossad, active duty Mossad and IDSA, it's not a great idea to do this unilaterally or any time soon?

LIVNI: No, I'm not talking about what -- should Israel bomb Iran or not. The only message which is important today, when the world is working and need to enhance and to put more effective sanctions on Iran is that they should know that the world, not only Israel, the world, the international community would not accept Iran with a nuclear weapon.

This is the right message today and Iran need to hear, today not only from an Israeli but from the entire world.

AMANPOUR: Tzipi Livni, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

LIVNI: Thanks.

AMANPOUR: And when we come back, a glimpse inside Israel's troubled neighbor, Syria, as we've been mentioning, through the eyes of a journalist who's been and seen the scars of civil war first-hand. But as we go to a break, take a look at this picture.

That's an Israeli windsurfer riding a wave into 9th (ph) place and out of Olympic medal contention, all but ensuring that for the first time since 1992, no Israeli athlete will climb the Olympic podium. And we'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and now to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad appeared on television today for the first time in two weeks, showing the flag just one day after his prime minister defected from the regime, having called it a terrorist regime.

State TV aired footage of Assad with the Iranian security chief, who pledged his support, even as government troops prepared another major assault on the country's largest city, Aleppo.

The violence in Aleppo has got so bad the U.N. announced today they were pulling out their entire team of monitors. Meantime, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that post-Assad planning must get underway now in earnest.

Deborah Amos joins me now. She's the Middle East correspondent for NPR, National Public Radio here in the United States, and one of the few journalists in the world to actually bear witness to a massacre in Syria.

Deborah, thank you for being here.

AMOS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Before we get to that -- because that's a whole conversation, what's actually going on in the fighting -- you have done some latest reporting about some of these defections that we're talking about and how they're happening. What can you tell us?

AMOS: Yes, last night I talked to -- on Skype to people in a town called Daria. It's right outside of Damascus. And they were very proud of themselves because they are running an underground railroad for senior officials in the government.

And they helped the prime minister get out and his eight brothers and sisters and their families, which was quite an operation. And what they said is there more coming, more in the pipeline, who want to defect.

AMANPOUR: So just so we're clear, it's not a real railroad, it's a network of houses, safe houses -- I mean, I'm not asking you to reveal secrets. But so that viewers don't think it's a real railroad.

It's a route out.

AMOS: Yes, and they didn't want to do the details, either, because they've got more people coming. But it's safe house to safe house, and then you get to the border with Jordan. And those officials are aware that somebody's coming and then they're safe.

AMANPOUR: So the prime minister is in Jordan, as far as you know?

AMOS: The Jordanians have announced that officially. He brought his own spokesman, who said that he had defected on Arab satellite broadcasts.

AMANPOUR: Do you think this is now going to be a tipping point? Everybody's been looking for that moment, that critical mass, that tipping point. What is it going to be that finally undermines the regime?

AMOS: I've been thinking about this and I don't think it matters, honestly, how many government officials actually leave this government, because Bashar al-Assad's regime is not acting like a government any more.

They don't really care if they lose control of their borders. They're not going to be running embassies. They are now fighting for their lives. And so they've essentially become one more militia with heavy weapons. So a number of diplomats will not be a tipping point. This is not like Libya.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, you're talked about fighting for their lives. I want to play something that you reported out of Syria during one of the massacres that you bore witness to. And while we hear your words, we'll see the video that the U.N. monitors took of that massacre.


AMOS (voice-over): This village is eerily quiet and in ruins. Buildings are burned, marked with bullet holes. In one house there was a carpet soaked in blood. In another, there was gore still on the floor, a tablecloth filled with blood. You could see bullet holes across the walls, dead animals, dirt. Something terrible happened in this village.


AMANPOUR: I can see your face as you're watching that, and terrible things have been happening.

How do you feel when you hear that and when you know what you've seen there?

AMOS: Well, to see it, I'm just remembering as I'm listening. I couldn't see the pictures. And it was terrible because there was no way that you couldn't imagine what happened. And you knew that it was terrible. On an analytical, there's an analytical way to look at this, and there had been a number of massacres in the same area.

And what you realized as you saw, began to see a pattern. These were Sunni majority villages surrounded by Alawite minority villages. Now let's make this distinction. The Alawites are aligned with President Bashar al- Assad, who's also an Alawite. The Sunnis are mostly the people who are rising up against this government.

And so it was, in a way, a sectarian cleansing. The idea was to separate these populations in this strip of territory. So you understood what was going on. But to see the aftermath of one of these massacres is very, very grisly.

AMANPOUR: And tell me how you now weave your way through knowing who's doing what and what's happening. You've been talking and we've heard a lot about your reporting on the propaganda war inside, the videos that are put out.

I mean, you and I know this is the first time it's really been citizens on YouTube reporting their own war, by and large, or at least trying to effect the public (inaudible). How difficult and dangerous is that?

AMOS: Well, this is the first interactive war. And what you understand is that most of the activists are I.T. graduates. They all have some master's degree. They didn't go to political science school. That was too dangerous in Syria, but they all know how to program a computer.

And so the amount of sophistication on the Web is breathtaking to watch. You can see it in the videos in the early part of the uprising, where all of the non-violent protests were documented. Those people have now moved on to work with the Free Syrian Army. And they are documenting what is happening in -- on the battlefield.

AMANPOUR: So for instance, we're seeing behind us this picture of a tank that was obviously captured by the rebels. What does that mean, not just in terms of military victory, but in terms of a propaganda coup?

AMOS: This is a war that's being fought on Facebook. So all of these military units, all of these rebels have Facebook pages. And the video that you're looking at now is, in some way, a -- it's a donor campaign. And so you put these things up, and there's a logo on this one, if you'll notice --

AMANPOUR: They're trying to get funds?

AMOS: Absolutely. This is the Farouk (ph) Brigade. These are young guys, you know, who are not taking money from Saudi Arabia or Qatar, who are funding some of the rebels. They want to stay independent and how they do that is they put these videos up and people give them money.

AMANPOUR: Is there a danger that that could affect the way we actually see the reality, that we could be led astray?

AMOS: Well, I think what happens is some of these videos, a casual viewer, maybe not on -- may not understand what they're about. And so may think that things are going better on the battlefield than there are. I think those of us who've been covering this conflict since the beginning have our own troubles figuring this out.

But you kind of know who to trust and who to not trust. If I were to see this video, the Farouk (ph) Brigade's video, I know not to think they're winning in this town. I know what it is.

AMANPOUR: And what about when these rebels put up a video of them having marched people off to execute them?

AMOS: That was so interesting, Christiane, because they put it up on the Web. And so they thought that this was a reasonable thing to publicize. Now there was a reaction to that. Other units, almost immediately, put up a video that said we abide by the Geneva Conventions. They wanted to be in the conversation.

They understood that the international community was appalled by summary executions that are captured and put up on YouTube. And so you had other units within the Free Syrian Army, saying that's not what we do. And we invite the International Red Cross to come in and see our prisoners.

AMANPOUR: Deborah Amos, it's really fascinating. Thank you very much indeed for being here.

AMOS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And you're going back to the region?

AMOS: I am.

AMANPOUR: The uprisings that have swept the region from Tunisia to Syria have left Saudi Arabia relatively untouched. There have been demonstrations there. But that doesn't mean change isn't coming to the kingdom, struggling to turn Olympic loss into victory for millions of Saudi women.

And before we go to break, you may notice that hashtag in the top right of your screen. You can use that on Twitter to join the discussion with viewers around the world and to talk about the stories that we're covering. We'll be right back after a break.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where 82 seconds can change history. Precedent was shattered when Wojdan Shaherkani, Saudi Arabia's first female Olympian, covered her head and entered the judo ring against a much more experienced black belt opponent. Eighty-two seconds later the 16-year-old novice from Mecca had lost.

Bowing to pressure from the IOC, the Saudis had agreed to add two female athletes to its previously all-male team, both of them woefully inexperienced. Shaherkani and Sarah Attar, who grew up in California and will compete tomorrow in the 800 meters, an event that she hasn't run since high school.

Back in the ultra-conservative kingdom, instead of cheers, they've been met by jeers and vicious Twitter abuse. And even some feminists see the whole thing as a government public relations stunt, since millions of Saudi women have neither the freedom nor the facility to actually pursue athletics.

In April, I interviewed Manal al-Sharif, who famously led Saudi women in a protest, driving their cars -- an illegal act for women in that country. She spoke to me of growing up as a female athlete in Saudi Arabia.


MANAL AL-SHARIF, SAUDI ACTIVIST: Personally, I played basketball for five years in college in Jeddah. I went to King Abdulaziz College. And we have a gymnasium for girls. But it's very -- like we sneak around. It's very undercover. It's like you're committing a crime. We won all these trophies, all these medals, but no one knows about it, even my own family.


AMANPOUR: So will Shaherkani's 82 seconds in the judo ring change the way Saudi Arabia nurtures its female athletes? We'll be watching. That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.