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Interview With Israel Channel 12 "UVDA" Anchor Ilana Dayan; Interview With British-Palestinian Surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah; Interview With Adviser To The Ukrainian Government And Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk; Interview With "OMG WTF Does The Constitution Actually Say?" Author Ben Sheehan. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 23, 2023 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Israel's relentless bombing continues as the humanitarian crisis grows. I asked leading journalist Ilana Dayan, are Israelis united behind their
Then, we hear from inside Gaza about the humanitarian disaster there. And from the archive, we take a look back to look forward at the impact of war
on Gaza's children.
Also, ahead, I ask Andriy Zagorodnyuk, the Ukrainian defense advisor, whether their war is falling off the map.
And Michel Martin looks at internet propaganda in times of crisis with author Ben Sheehan.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Israel is mounting limited ground raids now into Gaza to prepare for what it calls the coming stages of the war and to search for hostages. They now
say more than 220 are held in Gaza. It's also ramping up its aerial assault, launching more than 300 attacks on what defense forces claim are
military targets belonging to Hamas and Islamic jihad.
Meanwhile, the civilian toll grows dramatically. More than 400 Palestinians, nearly half of them children, were killed in overnight
strikes, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. There are reports the Biden administration is pressing Israel to delay its ground incursion to buy time
for more negotiations for the release of more hostages by Hamas and to allow more aid to enter Gaza.
Speaking on the Saudi news channel, "Al Arabiya," the senior Hamas figure Khaled Meshaal said, the group can use its hostages, mostly its Israeli
soldiers, he says, to negotiate the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Ilana Dayan is one of Israel's best-known journalists and she sees public opinion there shifting towards freeing the hostages as a priority, and
she's joining me now from Jerusalem. Ilana Dayan, welcome.
You of all people have your finger on the pulse and I know that you've been traveling, you've been to the Gaza border communities that have been so
desperately affected. Just let me start by asking you what you've seen and who you've been talking to most recently.
ILANA DAYAN, ANCHOR, "UVDA," CHANNEL 12, ISRAEL: I got to tell you, Christiane, that for the first couple of days, I was looking for words. And
then I drove there to the Gaza border, to one of the communities, you know, that was most affected by this horror -- you know, horrific attack of
Saturday, October 7th. And, you know, you stand in front of death, you stand in front of a paradise that was becoming just hell.
I can tell you that I was in kibbutz Be'eri, a colleague of mine, a political correspondent working with me, the whole family, the whole family
was executed at gunpoint, the parents and two young children. Another colleague, a news photographer, he was murdered, his wife was murdered, his
two kids. He's in the closet and the three-year-old is kidnapped in Gaza.
Now, bear in mind that Israel is a country in which there are no degrees of separation. Everybody knows everybody. So, the government is speaking of,
you know, an offensive, a ground attack in the next phase of the war and will beat Hamas and will destroy Hamas and will erase Hamas from the face
of the earth, but when I'm talking about the shift in public opinion, the families are desperate, and Israel is a country in which you cannot leave
these families without an answer.
There is a report in the last few minutes that maybe the foreign nationals, those Israelis with another nationality, with foreign nationality will be
released within the next few hours. And as you said, the Americans are very much involved now. And there might be the case that the Americans are
stalling, are making Israel delay the next phase of the war so that negotiations can perhaps ripe into a deal at least concerning the civilians
held by Hamas.
AMANPOUR: Ilana, let me ask you about that, because that is important news, if it's actually true. Where are you hearing that from? I mean, do you feel
that that's a credible report?
DAYAN: It's a report that is referred to an Israeli senior official who was quoted by foreign media. It's an unconfirmed report.
DAYAN: But it comes together with more reports that are speaking about the fact that Hamas wants a deal. Hamas wants some kind of deal somehow to
mitigate the terrible image, which was, you know, the result of this horrific attack on October 7th. They want a deal. They might want it less
after the attack is launched.
On the other hand, Israel has to do something that it didn't do before. So, the government was speaking, you know, with high rhetoric, the kind of
rhetoric that you and I know that leaders, when their ego suffers a blow, they speak about smashing, destroying, winning, getting a victory like we
never had. And they spoke about winning first, hostages later. I think it's changing now.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me that because that is super important because, as you've just been saying and we've been saying, there are, of course,
reports and even the U.S. national security spokesman said today, you know, we obviously would like to have time to allow negotiations. He did not say,
we're urging Israel to delay, but he laid that out in so many words.
So, the question to you is, I guess, first and foremost, is the government hearing, I guess, the people who seem to be coming out, the families of the
hostages who are saying, no hostages first, our families first? Are they listening?
DAYAN: They are listening. They have to listen because of the ethos of Israeli society. Because we released over 1,000 terrorists for a single
soldier in 2011, Gilad Shalit. Because Israel is a country in which the social ethos is based on solidarity, on national unity.
You can see it these days, Christiane. You can see it these days. The fact that everybody goes now to volunteer somehow. The reservists are showing up
in, you know, hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands. So, the government cannot ignore this kind of shift in public opinion.
We interview the parents. We interview the relatives. There are families with the two grandparents, the kids, the grandkids in Gaza. You have 30
young kids in Gaza kidnapped. You have a three-year-old who is there alone, there's a photo that I cannot forget of a mother from near Oz. I just saw
the piece by Anderson Cooper holding her two young babies. One is three years old and one is ten months old. All of them in Gaza. I cannot even
think, imagine, phantom what they are going through. And the Israeli government is listening to that too.
AMANPOUR: So, you heard probably what we just reported, it's an interview over the weekend with Khaled Mashal from Al Arabiya, an Arab journalist,
really, you know, put him through his paces and said, what are you going to do, you know, with these hostages? And he, like others say, well, we're
treating them nicely and et cetera, et cetera. But we want to swap our hostages that we're holding, and he talked about Israeli soldiers, for all
the Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Is Israel there? Would Israel ever do that, given what you said about Gilad Shalit?
DAYAN: Israel is not there yet, and no Israeli leader will tell you that they are there yet. But when you hear Khaled Mashal, Christiane, I beg you
to hear what prisoners held by the Israeli military and by the Israeli security services captured during these last few days, terrorists were part
of this terrible attack what they are saying. They are saying that they got specific instructions to kill women and children. They got specific
instructions to behead everybody that they can do it to them.
And I'm saying that because when we are -- you are asking where the government of Israel stay is -- is staying -- is standing these days, I can
tell you where I'm standing, OK. I thought that I know something about our enemies. None of us, Christiane, none of us even imagined this is the kind
of enemy that we are confronting.
This is part of trying to record what happened to us October 7th. So much was broken. The fact that we always feel protected was broken. The sense
that we know something about our enemy is broken. The sense of security, national security, and personal security was broken. The sense that our
military knows everything, they cannot be blinded. But first and foremost, what was broken is the sense that Hamas wants some wellbeing for the
When you hear Khaled Mashal, don't hear Khaled Mashal. See what they did in Gaza the other day. Two weeks ago and two days ago -- two weeks and two
days ago. See these families that were destroyed. These communities that were erased. These people that were kidnapped. These women that were raped.
See that. And then, all of a sudden, I ask myself, how come we as a country allow this monster to rise and exist besides us, like meters from the
kibbutzim on the border? How come we allowed it to happen? This is the conception that was broken on October 7th.
AMANPOUR: Exactly right. And --
DAYAN: First and foremost.
AMANPOUR: And you've heard Hamas saying that that was their intention as well, to break that idea that Israel had this all-powerful, all-knowing
military and intelligence. So, let me ask you this quickly, because has the contract, the social contract, between the people of Israel and the
government of Israel being cracked or broken?
You know, you've -- we've had two very prominent Israelis, defense intelligence, Shin Bet chief say the buck stopped with me and I failed and
it's on me, but Netanyahu hasn't even taken journalist questions as far as I can gather. What is the feeling about the government?
DAYAN: This is exactly the feeling about the government. There's a prime minister who didn't even say he feels or is responsible. And there's the
brass from the chief of staff down that said, we are responsible. We failed you. We failed our mission, but we are here to fight now.
And I got to tell you, it sits on a protest on the judicial overhaul. Politics is broken in my country, but Israelis are not broken. You can see
a kinder, gentler nation, inspired, volunteering, and united like I don't remember ever seeing. And also, knowing that we are -- you know, we are
heading to a very long war in which neither the Americans nor the International Community will be ever patient. And we are headed towards
I know that you are about to report about, you know, uninvolved, innocent people, kids, children and others killed in Gaza. And I have to tell you
something about that, Christiane, because I know it's part of the whole picture. What is Israel doing in Gaza? Can we indeed do something that we
never did? Change -- indeed, change reality in Gaza? Change reality in the sense that Hamas will not be able to threaten our citizens, our lives, our
families, our communities anymore. Can we do it in a price which will be verbal in terms of our values and our ethos?
AMANPOUR: Well, Ilana --
DAYAN: And I have to tell you something about it.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Go on then.
DAYAN: Just one minute.
DAYAN: Just one minute, Christiane. Just the last sentence. Because people mix between Hamas and occupation and colonization. And I got to tell you, I
interviewed the other day, Verid Lipstein (ph), her husband was the head of the regional county in the south. He was killed fighting the terrorists.
Her son was in another apartment in the kibbutz. He was texting her that he's frightened to death, that he wants home, that they are there, they are
shooting him. He bled to death, Christiane.
Her husband, who also died, was trying to build an international industry park for Gazan engineers to work. alongside Israelis and others. He was no
colonizer. The grandma who died with her autistic granddaughter, she was no colonizer. The grandpa who saved his beloved wife and his daughters and his
grandson, he was no colonizer. So, we got to make the distinction.
And my 27-year-old son talked to me about it the other -- you know, tonight, last night, and he said, you know, I, I'm looking at this picture
of the grandma and the autistic granddaughter, if somebody thought that's how you cry freedom, that's not how you cry freedom.
AMANPOUR: Ilana --
DAYAN: That's what we are dealing with. And I know that we are both reporters, I'm not a spokesperson. But this is the reality that we have to
AMANPOUR: This is. It is the reality. It's the reality that you are faced with and what your country is faced with and this utter, utter shock to the
system and the grief. I just wondered whether -- because you talked about, you know, parameters and what's happening in Gaza, I wondered whether and
how much Israeli viewers are seeing of what's happening in Gaza and how long you think people who are humane can tolerate the hundreds of children
who are being killed? Because you know, this happens every single time you have these terrible, terrible situations. Because I'm going to talk to a
doctor in Gaza right now after you. So, I just wondered what -- as a journalist, as an Israeli, what do people think about that?
DAYAN: I have no good answer, Christiane.
DAYAN: I have no good answer. I don't rejoice. I cannot celebrate. I cannot fathom the suffering of a mother in Gaza who lost her baby. But the one
thing that I'm trying to convey is that the one thing that we realized October 7th is that not all Palestinians are Hamas.
DAYAN: But there wouldn't be Hamas unless it were harbored and sheltered and saved and voted and supported by hundreds of thousands and millions of
DAYAN: It -- you know, this is not to say that I have a solution. How do you separate the population from Hamas activists? I know just one thing.
The reality before October 7th cannot be the reality after October 7th.
DAYAN: And the other thing, as President Biden said, I want Israel to fight, not only as a country fighting for its life and for its people, to
fight as a democracy with human values and a human ethos which is part of us as Israelis.
AMANPOUR: Ilana Dayan, thank you very much indeed. It's always important when I get to talk to you. Thank you.
And now, we are going to Gaza, where more than 2,000 children have been killed so far, according to their health ministry. And despite the arrival
of two aid convoys from Egypt, with more arriving today, relief agencies warn the needs of 2 million people across the enclave are vast and by no
Let's get the situation from Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a British Palestinian plastic surgeon who went back to Gaza to assist at hospitals there in Gaza
City. And he's joining us now.
Dr. Ghassan, it was 10 days ago that we spoke to you about the situation that you were faced with as a doctor. It's almost at the beginning of the
crisis. We've had 10 days now of the Israeli military campaign there. What's happening at the hospital that you're at now?
DR. GHASSAN ABU-SITTAH, BRITISH-PALESTINIAN SURGEON: So, we are now at the kind of death throes of the health system in Gaza. 14,000 wounded has
completely overwhelmed the health system. We have over 150 patients on ventilators with critical injuries. The number of wounded from the Al-Ahli
Baptist Hospital and the number of inpatients from the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital massacre have been brought to (INAUDIBLE).
AMANPOUR: So, tell me, do you have water? Do you have morphine, anesthetics? Do you have what you need to treat people?
DR. ABU-SITTAH: So, we've run out of burns dressings and there are over a hundred patients with burns covering over 40 percent of their bodies.
Electricity is starting to cut out. The pressure -- water pressure in the hospital is insufficient now to run the sterilization machine that we need
for surgical instruments. Everything is running short. We've run out of external fixators, the pins and rods that are required for orthopedic
surgery. And so, everything is really run out.
And most importantly, we've run out of space. The hospital that had bed capacity between 550 and 700 beds now has 1,700 patients in mattresses in
the corridors, on the floors of the emergency department. And the situation is dire and we're just at the very end of the system as it still slowly
starts to crumble.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, we are looking at aerial photos. Some, I think before were like satellite photos. We've got drone pictures and other
images of Gaza City and other parts of Gaza, and it does look devastated. And I'm wondering, just how do people get to you? How do ambulances still
operate? How do they come through the streets? You know, what are you seeing amongst the children?
DR. ABU-SITTAH: So, just to give you a kind of day's run. Just last -- yesterday I had a 16-year-old boy who had burns to his face, his arms and
his legs tell me, before we put him to sleep, how he had dinner with his parents, and his dad who was sitting next to him was killed, and his mom
suffocated in the fire that led to the burns that he had. And before him was a one-year-old boy with half of his forehead missing, and a fracture.
And his parents, although weren't physically injured, are beyond distraught, like any parents would be at the horrific injuries that they
And before that, other children -- you know, we have now a term in Shifa Hospital called Wounded Child with No Surviving Family, to designate over
50 kids who've been pulled out of their home on their own and have sustained injuries and are being treated in the hospital.
All of these horrendous injuries, these 14,000 injuries, 2,000 children killed in under 16 days and for a system that had a total bed capacity of
2,500 beds before the war started. We are just waiting for the electricity to run out with the fuel and then that would be the death throne of the
health system. And without electricity, you know, this hospital will just be a mass grave. There's nothing to do for these wounded. Bandage them and
then what? So, that's the crisis that we have.
The system is disintegrating and without a ceasefire and a humanitarian corridor. Not talking 14, 15, 20 trucks for two and a quarter million
people, but a real humanitarian corridor that allows the evacuation of these wounded and allows humanitarian aid to come in and medical teams to
come in, without that, there is going to be an even larger catastrophe than one that already exists here.
AMANPOUR: And Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, you have picked up from your very successful practice here in London and gone back there to help. What made
you do that? I know you've done it before, and I know you've done emergency crisis medical help in other parts of the world. But this is really
intense. And many people who have been -- who are following the warning to evacuate to the south are also finding themselves under airstrikes, as
we've seen over the past few days.
What makes you -- what made you get up from your home in London to go there?
DR. ABU-SITTAH: I've been working with the medical system in Gaza on and off since the second intifada in the early 2000s and I've been to all of
the wars waged on Gaza by Israel, 2009 and 2012 and '14 and '21, and I know the capacity of the system and I knew that a war in Gaza with regards to
reconstructive surgery is underserved.
My family were refugees -- made refugees in Gaza in 1948, from some of these communities around here, you know, my family's land is now occupied
by a settlement called Nereen (ph) and Magan (ph) a Hamlet peace route (ph) which used to carry my own family's name.
So, for me, the attachment to Gaza, beyond the work that I've done in Yemen and in Iraq and in Syria, the attachment to Gaza is a much more existential
and much more emotional attachment than anywhere else that I've served in.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, thank you, and we will keep checking in with you and obviously take care over there. Thanks for being with us.
Now, Ukraine has fallen off the headlines recently, though the war there rages on. Fierce fighting continues in the East as Ukraine reports massive
blows to Russian military personnel and equipment.
Meanwhile, chaos in Washington threatens the future of American support. With no speaker in place in Congress, aid requests by the president are so
far dead in the water.
Andriy Zagorodnyuk was Ukrainian defense minister and is now a government advisor, and he's joining me now Welcome back to the program.
Can I ask you, Andriy, whether you feel that your story and your existential crisis there is somehow fallen off the radar? Do you feel that?
ANDRIY ZAGORODNYUK, FORMER UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: No, we don't feel that. We, of course, see that -- you know, that there's another major
conflict started in the world. And obviously it takes a lot of the attention, but rightfully so, because it's an absolutely unjust war and
totally tragic. But we cannot say that this is an area where we're just fighting for attention or something like that.
We expect our partners to be strategically minded. And that's what we see from most of the governments which we work with. And it's not about like
who gets more air, it's about us following the strategic path with our key allies, key partners. So, that's what we're looking at.
AMANPOUR: Yes, yes. So, I understand you. But of course, the narrative and public opinion is very important. But mostly also, it's not just about
being off the air, it's about not getting Congress in the United States to be able to vote to the floor to vote for and to approve or not what
President Biden has asked for. Does that concern you, or do you feel you have enough for the moment to get through this crisis of paralysis in
ZAGORODNYUK: For the moment we have. We also see a massive, massive support of American people. We see the substantial support of both parties. We do
see that. So, there is some political element and there's a lot of political pre-election sort of process, which sometimes some politicians
are using Ukraine as a tool in their political battles. Sometimes they use the -- you know, sometimes they use the verb (INAUDIBLE), sometimes they
use the approaches, which we're surprised to see, particularly when they misinform public about the certain things about Ukraine, particularly how
the war goes, or how the assistance provided and so on.
But generally, we are -- we're seeing a support of a few United States, a few U.S. people, and we are hoping and expecting that they would make a
right decision according to their strategic interests.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about the counteroffensive then. You know, it's obviously -- everybody, you know, raised it to an impossible level and
then started to talk about how it wasn't doing well. But in recent days, we have heard that your forces have broken through in various parts. The
ATACMS apparently have been used against Russian attack helicopters and other such thing. Tell us what you can about the state of the
ZAGORODNYUK: Well, Ukrainian forces are moving in some areas incrementally, in some areas with a limited success. In some areas was a much more
success. For example, there's been a crossing of the deeper in Kherson area, and there's been a whole number of other advances.
But more importantly, also, we need to not to forget that Russia is currently starting its own offensive against Ukraine, particularly in the
north of Donetsk. And it is failing. And we provide a lot of resources there. It's going extremely hard. But there's, again, a lot of casualties,
but Russia putting immense resources there.
In the beginning of this interview, you mentioned that Russia has another - - like a spike in casualties, and that's related to this process, because they're just, again, throwing people to the fire regardless of the
regardless of the outcome. So, that part goes -- is extremely intense. And -- but Ukraine is definitely standing on these positions.
AMANPOUR: Talking about Russia, the U.N. Commission now has found new evidence of Russian war crimes in your country. Deliberate killings, rape,
the removal of Ukrainian children, as we've been reporting ever since the war started. But also accuses Ukrainian forces of abuses, like three cases
of mistreatment of Ukrainians who'd been accused of collaborating with Russia. Talk to us about your response to this.
ZAGORODNYUK: Well, first of all, the -- it's an -- well, first of all, any war is a crisis and different people react differently to the crisis. And
it's always the situation when people are -- and the systems are working in extreme pressures, and not all people making right decisions. And what
government needs to do in this case is to make the right decisions and to make a right response.
However, what we need to understand is that the balance of these situations is totally different because we're talking about thousands of cases from
Russia. We're talking about tens of thousands of children missing. We're talking about immense suffering of the civilian population.
And what we still saw right now from the U.N. report is what we all seen before and that's been reported by reporters, by human rights analysts and
activists like for over a year or over a year and a half now. So, right now, what we see is basically official confirmation of those claims, which
have been done before. And -- but we are very much in the beginning of this process.
We -- there's a lot of the atrocities which haven't yet. been covered by U.N. And so, in the future, we will see more and more of reports like that.
And it's truly shocking. But, you know, for people who read it first time, but Ukraine goes through this sadly on a daily basis.
AMANPOUR: So, clearly, there is no equality between the, you know, atrocities committed against you and some of the abuses by Ukrainian
soldiers. But just to be clear, you believe that your system will hold any Ukrainian soldier or anybody accountable if they're seen to have violated
international law and committed crimes?
ZAGORODNYUK: We see this on a regular basis that all kinds of -- well, first of all, Ukraine is a democratic country and democratic country is
transparent. And everything which goes wrong, whether it's reported by U.N. or it's not reported by U.N. and sometimes it's reported by Ukrainian media
immediately gets into the press, immediately gets through the public knowledge.
This is -- as I said before, to you in a previous interview, this is the most transparent war in the history of the world. And Ukraine shows its
people that rule of law means something in this country. And that we will be -- it's a country which is -- lives according to the European standards.
So, obviously, there's a reaction and obviously there are steps.
AMANPOUR: I want to play a soundbite from President Zelenskyy. It's a while ago. I think it's a while ago, where, you know, he's obviously Jewish
himself and he put all his sympathies and the -- sympathy and support of Ukrainian people to Israel after October 7th. And he encouraged, you know,
leaders to go and see what had happened. But he's recently said this, drawing comparisons between Hamas and Russia. Let me just play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Terrorists like Putin or like Hamas seek to hold free and democratic nations as hostages, and they want
power over those who seek freedom. The terrorists will not change. They just must lose. And that means we must win. We do. It requires patience. It
requires steady and continuous support. We need to take the right steps, step that save lives of the people for real.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, just a brief last question. Do you think he will visit Israel? I don't know whether you're in a position to be able to say that.
And do you think this narrative that he's putting out now and his support - - you know, because you need to get the Global South on side. Do you think that's more or less likely to happen now?
ZAGORODNYUK: Well, I sincerely hope that he visits. That depends on Israel. And so, we have to see what they say. What we need to understand is that
this war indeed has some shocking similarities. So, one of them is abruptness, of course. Secondly, it's the fact that there's been almost
irrational cruelty, very transparent, which the whole world sees, thrown on the civilian people.
And we believe, yes, this is -- there is some common agenda in this case, because the people are -- like, whoever is attacking, whoever the aggressor
is basically threatening the world order and saying, OK, we will do that. The whole world will see that and we will get out of this without any or
some limited repercussions to our side. And that's what the world needs to not to allow because we need the Ukrainian war to become a positive
precedent for the future history. And that is only possible if aggressor loses and aggressor clearly suffers for the -- for what they're doing.
ZAGORODNYUK: If that doesn't happen, we've always been saying that the wars like that will repeat. Some people say, well, Russia will attack other
countries. But as we see right now, it's not necessarily going to be Russia. It could be other wars repeating a Ukrainian war pattern in this.
And that's what we need not to allow.
ZAGORODNYUK: So, that's why we -- the democratic world need to have a very common strategy about this.
AMANPOUR: Understood. Andriy Zagorodnyuk, thank you very much for joining us.
ZAGORODNYUK: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, whether it was Russia's invasion of Ukraine or now the war between Israel and Hamas, people across the globe are voicing their
opinions on social media. With that comes tribalism, deeper polarization, and often dehumanizing narratives. But author Ben Sheehan's viral Instagram
post called for greater compassion and nuance in response, and he now joins Michel Martin to discuss the dangers of propaganda on social media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Ben Sheehan, thanks so much for talking with us.
BEN SHEEHAN, AUTHOR: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: I think some people know your work because you've been in comedy for a long time. I mean, you were the executive producer at the comedy
website, Funny or Die. And then, you pivoted to civics education. So, I mean, you've got a lot of different, you know, constituencies.
The reason we called you is that you posted something on Instagram that just kind of went everywhere, and it just seemed so different from the tone
of so much of what we were seeing on social media at the time. I think it really caught people's attention. One of the things -- what you said was,
if you have less empathy towards victims because of how you feel about their government, propaganda is working on you. That was the first slide
out of five. We'll talk about the others. But just what inspired you?
SHEEHAN: You know, I had been working the last several months on a project around propaganda, actually the history of propaganda, specifically
antisemitic propaganda and seeing some of the posts that were happening on Instagram and other social media platforms, I was seeing echoes of some of
that. So, propaganda was already top of mind.
And my takeaway from all of the research I was doing is that the main goal of propaganda is to dehumanize not just the recipient, but also people
other than the recipient in order to justify support for honestly atrocious actions.
So, I started to see posts that were disrespectful towards Israelis, disrespectful towards Palestinians, and I just wanted to take an
opportunity to remind people that this is about everyone's humanity. This is not about looking at somebody as though they are less than you, and we
need to keep that in mind so that we can inoculate ourselves from propaganda.
MARTIN: Your post was seen by hundreds of millions of people, which is just hard even to wrap your head around. I mean, it was shared by celebrities,
the Israeli actress Gal Gadot, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viola Davis, Padma Lakshmi, the comedian Sarah Silverman. The first slide, I'm just going to say it
again, OK? It said, if you have less empathy towards victims because of how you feel about their government, propaganda is working on you. That was the
The second, the goal of propaganda is to dehumanize. It works to dehumanize Israelis, and it works to dehumanize Gazans. Slide three, propaganda is
everywhere. It seeps into us over time. It seeks to block our empathy receptors. So, when we see violence, we rationalize away our human
response. Slide four, I like to think most of us are above propaganda, but this weekend reminded me how widespread it is because a lot of people
reacted to this violence with justification, not empathy. I guess it's not surprising, but it's still heartbreaking. Slide five, killing innocent
Palestinians is horrific. Killing innocent Israelis is horrific. If you don't feel the same, I think you should ask yourself why that is.
I mean, it just -- honestly, it's just so succinct and it's not poetry, but it kind of feels like it is, in the sense that it captures something so
profoundly. It almost like cuts you. And I was just kind of wondering how you were able to distill something into so few words.
SHEEHAN: Well, not to minimize what I wrote, but, you know, this is the world we live in where I was in a taxi ride to the airport and I just wrote
it down in five minutes. I just sort of tried to distill my immediate reaction. And again, if it wasn't the fact that I've been working on this
research project, which is honestly looking at dog whistles, antisemitic dog whistles, and how those over time -- the repetition of those and the
variety of those can slowly cause people to think a certain way. So, it really is sort of like a faucet dripping rather than a fire hose.
I saw posts like this in 2021, then when there was the last sort of major conflict in the region. And even going back to 2014. And so, really not to
really being aware of just, you know, single post, but also how the totality and the sum of posts over time bit by bit can sort of chip away at
our shared humanity.
MARTIN: You also wrote an essay in the "Daily Beast" about it, also about your -- about the Instagram post, but then also kind of reacting to the
reaction to it and sort of expanding more on your thoughts about this.
The -- how do you see this playing out, if you don't -- you know, going back to sort of the essay, how have you seen this playing out and have you
seen it playing out in any ways surprised you?
SHEEHAN: Sure. So, you know, I talked about in the essay, sort of three different types of propaganda. There's distortion, right? There's taking
something that is a video of an event from a year ago, five years ago, several weeks ago, and purporting as if it happened yesterday or the day
You know, we can take videos out of context and change the caption and suddenly people will latch onto it as if it's real and gospel and start
sharing it, and that can have legitimately damaging consequences. And that is not in any way exclusive to one side of this conflict. The other thing
is, you know, I've talked about this a lot of my own work around civics that applies to history as well, is that we Americans are not well
educated, any of us really, the vast majority of us in the history of this region.
And so, there are bad actors sometimes that will take framing devices that are overly simplified that condense things down into really easily
understandable framework, and that's appealing because it's really daunting to self-educate. And then, the third thing, and that's sort of a false
compare -- the false comparison, I like to call.
And then, the last thing is omission, right? Is -- you know, and this is where I talk about my own blind spots. And that came -- it took me a long
time to realize the blind spots that I had as somebody who has studied this region, but definitely was given a slanted version of it growing up in my
own religious education, my Jewish education, my school education, university.
And so, really looking inward at myself, always challenging myself to keep reading reliable, legitimate, factual sources. but the truth is that we are
always trying to find ways to fill our knowledge gaps and that we're always going to have knowledge gaps. So, being aware of what our own shortcomings
is, is I think something that, myself included, a lot of people can relate to and have a responsibility to keep trying to correct.
MARTIN: How did you come to that insight for yourself that you had knowledge gaps, even though, you know, you're Jewish by heritage, have, you
know, certainly connections to the story as well as the religious importance, the personal importance of Israel to so many people, people in
your family? So how did you see that in yourself, those knowledge gaps?
SHEEHAN: So, I have, you know, talking to Palestinian friends. It's important to have people who have different backgrounds than mine and
having conversations with them. And they were kind enough to take you know, the time to have those conversations, which I'm sure are painful. I don't
want to make it anybody else's responsibility to educate me, but it's good to have friends, you know, of varied backgrounds who are willing to take
But it really was a conversation that I had in 2019. I went on a trip to Israel and Palestine. So, we spent most of the time in Israel but we did
spend some time in Ramallah. And it was a conversation --
MARTIN: Which is on the West Bank.
SHEEHAN: In the West Bank, yes. In the West Bank. And it was a conversation that I had with a young Palestinian DJ about my age and talking with him
about his own experience and his family's experience, and going back, you know, to the founding of Israel and also before, and it caused me to
question my own background, to do more research, but to find, you know, little gaps in my knowledge and things that may have been omitted.
And the thing that's hard with omission is that you can present something that is entirely 100 percent factual, but simply leaves out information.
So, you're not distorting the information, you're just not giving the entire picture. And it's very hard when there are things that we don't know
that we don't know. And so, it really is important to have conversations with people of different backgrounds, to go to these places, if you were
fortunate and lucky enough to have the opportunity as I was to go on a sponsored trip to the region.
But the other thing I sort of talked about in the essay is that social media works to put us in silos, right? The algorithms game it so that we're
constantly being fed things that we tend to already agree with. And so, we're not just breaking out of knowledge gaps in our own lives, we're also
breaking out of this sort of, you know, silos that we put into just by the nature of using social media.
So, hopefully, people can be more aware of that. Follow creators that may be different, have different backgrounds, talk to people who have different
backgrounds, if you're able to go to places, but this is a lot of responsibility. But as I mentioned yesterday, it's honestly the least that
we can do.
MARTIN: I wanted to go back to something you talked about. You talk about false comparison. You have an interesting analysis of -- in your "Daily
Beast" essay of people who compare the relationship that black Americans have -- many black Americans have with law enforcement in the United States
and the one that Palestinians have with the Israeli Defense Force. Could you just talk a little bit about your thoughts about that?
SHEEHAN: Yes, of course. So, you know -- and I respect the approach of many journalists to try to find ways to create analogies where their audience
can understand a situation. The problem is, is when you stop at the analogy.
So, like I mentioned, you know, in a vacuum, the relationship between Israeli Defense Forces, the government defense forces and Palestinian
civilians is analogous to a relationship between, you know, the police force and police officers in the United States, which are local
governments, and African American civilians.
But aside from that, we have different countries. We have different religions. We have different peoples. We have different relationships and
dynamics. There's so much history outside of that. So, I think the risk is in an effort to create an understanding of what's going on we tend to leave
out all the context of what makes it a different situation.
And that involves a lot of -- again, a lot of research because we don't teach this stuff enough in our schools. We don't teach history enough. We
don't teach civics enough. And I would also add, we don't teach media literacy enough. This is something that's become more and more of an
important focus for people to understand how to be good, responsible news consumers on the internet and on social media platforms when you are being
inundated with both accurate sources. And also, I would say, more often than not, inaccurate sources.
MARTIN: What's the through line of your career? Do you see one? I mean, so comedy to civics education to -- I mean, I don't know. Are they related?
SHEEHAN: Either I get bored easily or there is a through line that exists. I often think about an event that happened when I was five years old. I was
sitting at the dinner table and my parents worked in the government or with the government in politics. And my mom took a napkin and she drew a house
and on one side of the house she wrote the number 435, and on the other side of the house, she wrote the number 100. And that was my first lesson
about Congress. And it was very simple, it was literally back of the napkin.
And, you know, several decades later, I'm trying to find ways to take that napkin, take that pen and simplify things for other people so that they can
have more of an understanding of it and really just have it be an entry point for a lifetime of learning and self-educating.
MARTIN: And how does that loop into your concerns, fears about propaganda, especially in the social media age? I mean, is part of your fear that the
reason -- part of the reason we are susceptible to propaganda is we don't really know how the government works, are supposed to work or something? I
mean, what's the what's the through line there? Is there one?
SHEEHAN: I think it's even deeper, you know, in a democracy of representative democracy, a democratic country where people ultimately
choose their leaders if we don't have a common foundation of just simple facts on which to agree, then we're going to start to fight each other.
We're not going to be able to make a well-educated decision on who our leaders should be. And then, we start to have people coming to power who
are not representative of the people's wishes.
And I think that is very much the case in both with Israel and with Palestine. You have governments that are led by people that don't represent
the majority of the civilians, of the voters, as we've seen by the way, in Israel in the last year. We had people, hundreds of thousands, taking to
the streets to protest Netanyahu's attempt to weaken the Supreme Court, a whole branch of the government.
So, we're seeing the results of something when we have extremist leaders that don't represent who I believe to be the majority or the majority
sentiment of civilians. And I'm seeing the beginning stages of that in this country, with things like with gerrymandering, other ways to sort of tilt
the playing field. And so, I think it's really important for people to be aware of that.
And through all the work that I do, whether it's, you know, political, historical, comedic, I'm always coming back to that same point, which is we
need to have a shared understanding of facts and reality in order to make the best decisions for who our leaders should be.
MARTIN: But wait, wait, wait. Aren't we already there? We already don't have a shared version of reality. I mean, you have members of Congress who
do not accept -- at least they say that they do not accept, that the January 6th mob attack on the Capitol was an effort to overthrow the
government. I mean, you have elected leaders, elected officials saying that these were just tourists taking a tour.
MARTIN: And they were there. And they were there. And so, you know -- I don't know, I kind of -- aren't we already there in a way, or is that one
of those false comparisons that you're warning us about?
SHEEHAN: No, I think we definitely are there when it comes to certain things like what happened on January 6th. I also want to note the role
that, you know, gerrymandering plays in selecting our members of the House, right?
We have -- the vast majority of districts are not competitive and they're drawn in a way so that only a minority of districts in the House are
competitive. So, it's sort of things like that that are manipulating who ends up in Congress and I don't think, because of that, that they are
accurately representative of public opinion.
MARTIN: You talk about the need to retain empathy at a time like this. And, you know, you and I are sitting here in our respective places, and we're
clean, safe, warm, and dry, right? And I'm thinking about these people who watch their relatives get gunned down in their kitchens. Who watch their
loved ones get shoved in the back of a car by their hair and dragged to Gaza to be held as hostages, right? Not knowing what is happening to them.
And I'm also thinking about people who've watched their loved ones or other people they care about, like, digging their kids out of rubble with their
What do you do with all that? Is that your argument that the need to retain empathy is that for all of us or is that for those of us who have the
luxury of being dispassionate at this moment, if I could put it that way? What do you think?
SHEEHAN: I think that -- I have friends of mine whose family members were abducted by Hamas from their kibbutz and brought to Gaza and my friends
have no idea what's happening to them. I have friends who are Palestinian whose relatives have experienced unimaginable things happening to them and
their homes over the last several decades people who have been driven from their homes and can never go back. And I think there's a tendency, and I'm
not here to lay blame on the news media, exclusively or mostly or anything, but I think there's a tendency to report things in statistics that kind of
are hard to grasp our heads around, right?
If we hear stats of the X, 50 people are killed, 100 people are killed, 500 people killed, it sounds horrible, and the numbers that escalate are even
more horrible, but we don't relate to it as much as an image of a child who survived a bombing and is shell-shocked and doesn't know how to respond. We
don't respond to it as much as a single case study of a child, and that child being in Gaza. We don't respond to it as much as seeing a video of a
child who lived on a kibbutz finding out that none of his family members survived.
There's a specific humanity that is awoken in us, stimulated us a locked in us by seeing a single case study of a person, and I think great literature
does that and I think great news media does that because it allows us to see ourselves in that person, at least -- at the very least, maybe not
understand what they're going through, but recognize the humanity and feel empathy.
MARTIN: Ben Sheehan, thanks so much for talking with us today.
SHEEHAN: Thanks for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Fascinating. And finally, tonight, from the archive, my 2009 report after one of the last Gaza wars, when I told the story of the battle
for the youngest hearts and minds. I saw the impact of war on these children. No one, not their parents or their teachers, could protect them
from inescapable violence. So, who did they turn to? Take a look. It's a cautionary tale.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Children usually love to crowd around our cameras, but war has terrified them. And at first, they stayed away because we were
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You're welcome.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): We brought them stickers and toys to try to put them at ease. But it was hard work with some of them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want it? They're convincing him.
AMANPOUR: Deeply suspicious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. There you go.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): He would only take the ball after I had left it on the ground. And even then, he needed comforting.
AMANPOUR: They're sweet to each other, the children.
MONA ABU RAMADAN, "ANERA" CHARITY WORKER: Yes, they are.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Mona works for an American charity called Anera, whose mission is to give these children a positive future and interrupt the
cycle of violence here.
RAMADAN: I think if we don't help them out of this, they will be not open to the world. They cannot progress in their education or in their work. I
don't think they will become beneficial members of the society.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): During the war, heavy shelling right next door to the school damaged classrooms and destroyed the homes of 35 of these children.
AMANPOUR: Do you think these children are going to learn from what they've seen and lived through and become more violent?
RAMADAN: Of course. They've acquired some violence being subjected to this violence. And, you know, this -- it is a circle. That's why we have to act
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Since this latest round of war teachers have noticed not just sadness, but anger.
Hamza (ph) hits a boy with the ball that we've given him. When an adult tells him to share, he makes an extraordinary threat. He wants to bring in
the Hamas militia. For him, they are the strongest authority.
RAMADAN: He thinks they are the strong ones.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Hamza's (ph) reaction is not unusual.
AMANPOUR: What are you seeing in terms of --
AMANPOUR (voiceover): According to prominent child psychologist Dr. Ayad Sarraj (ph), war has taught them that not even their parents can protect
DR. AYAD SARRAJ (PH): A young boy will start to look for another symbol of power to identify with, and the replacement was the militant. And that was
the way in, into the militant groups.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Dr. Sarraj (ph) now sees a disturbing trend. When he asks them what they want to be when they grow up, a third of them say --
DR. SARRAJ (PH): I would like to be a martyr.
AMANPOUR: Really? That's very high.
DR. SARRAJ (PH): It's very high. When you have an abnormal environment, you're going to create abnormal reactions.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): We followed Hamza (ph) and his sister on the long walk back to the refugee camp where they live. Damage is everywhere. Hamza
(ph), his nine siblings and his parents live here.
AMANPOUR: Oh my God.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): They tell me their home was hit by missiles, twice. It's so frightened their 90-year-old grandmother that she now spends her
days sitting outside in the dust.
Unprompted, Hamza (ph) launches into a tour of his devastated home. Complete with sound effects and a stream of explanations.
HAMZA (PH) (through translator): That missile's small. This is a big one.
AMANPOUR: And this was your mattress?
HAMZA (PH) (through translator): Yes.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Hamza's family survived in a shelter. Now, they cannot afford to move because the family business is ruined. The men are
wedding musicians, but their instruments have been destroyed.
HAMZA (PH) (through translator): A tank was shooting at the house. It hurt the drums. But I did not die.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Hamza's mother had wanted something so different for her son, for all her children.
AMANPOUR: What do you want to be when you grow up?
HAMZA (PH) (through translator): When I grow up, I will be a doctor and have money.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Right now, Hamza's (ph) prospects are bleak.
HAMZA (PH) (through translator): I want to live like other children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (on camera): He wants to be just like other children, a cautionary tale indeed. Hamza (ph) must be nearly 20 now. Maybe he joined the
militants, maybe not. But what's clear is the endless cycle of hopelessness clearly favors radicalization. And so it goes.
Thanks for watching. Goodbye from London.