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American Morning

Interview with Adam Shapiro, Huwaida Arraf, Activists

Aired May 10, 2002 - 07:06   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: As events unfold in the Middle East, Adam Shapiro and his fiance, Huwaida Arraf, are here in America watching. The couple had been working in Israel with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group advocating the non-violent end to Israeli occupation.

You might remember that Shapiro, a Jewish New Yorker, tried to evacuate the wounded during the Israeli assault on Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound, and was trapped inside along with Arafat.

Last week, his fiance helped a group of pro-Palestinian activists get food to those holed up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. She was later detained by Israeli soldiers. The couple returned to America, so that they can get married on May 26.

And Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf are with us this morning -- congratulations on...


ZAHN: ... the marriage news.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

ZAHN: What happened to you when you were essentially arrested for trying to get food and water into the compound -- or into, you know, Bethlehem?

HUWAIDA ARRAF, INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT: Well, after we had approached the Church of the Nativity and got the food inside, food that was desperately needed by the Palestinians inside that had been denied this for months, we also put international activists inside in the hopes of providing an international civilian shield, if you will.

After that, the 13 activists that remained outside and did not go into the church started leaving the area. We got the food inside, we got the activists inside, and we tried to leave nonviolently. We were, of course, detained, dragged off the scene by Israeli soldiers, and then detained inside the Peace Center for about seven hours.

In the middle of the night, we were taken out of Bethlehem, split between men and women. There were eight men and five women. We were tied, hands and feet tied and thrown in the back of a jeep. And then at least the women -- we didn't know what was happening to the men. At least the women were driven around Jerusalem in the middle of the night after they had taken our phones. They had taken our IDs, and they dropped each woman off in a different location in the middle of the night with nothing on us.

After we saw this happening to the first woman, we all protested, and I got slapped across the face. We were dropped off, told to shut up and just report to a certain location at 9:00 in the morning, which we did in good faith.

And after that, we were all split up again in different locations. I was with a British woman by the name of Jo Harrison (ph). We were taken to a detention center at the airport, not being told what was going to happen to us, except that we were being deported, which we protested right from the beginning. We said we are not going to accept being dragged out of Palestinian territory, in which Israel has no sovereignty, and then put on a flight out.

ZAHN: How did you expect to be treated though, when you clearly were in an area that the Israeli military had declared off limits to everyone and including journalists?

ARRAF: Well, as international civilians, we are concerned with upholding international law. We don't respect the sovereignty -- Israel has no sovereignty in Bethlehem. And according to -- as according to international law, what they were doing by denying civilians food and medical treatment was illegal, and we were just concerned with providing this humanitarian aid to the civilians no matter what that meant to us.

ZAHN: Adam, what is the release of these Palestinians represent to you? Is this the first step on getting things back on track in terms of a potential political settlement?

SHAPIRO: Possibly. However, I think it's a very dangerous precedent to set. We have the Israeli army surrounding the church, surrounding the presidential compound, forcing negotiations upon the Palestinians at their own discretion, at their own will.

And what we have here is the exiling of basically 13 Palestinians out of the West Bank to foreign countries, and 26 to the Gaza Strip. I hope this doesn't represent the beginning of large-scale expulsion of Palestinians, which as we have heard from members of the Israeli cabinet, this is what many people on the right wing in Israel, many people who support the solidarity movement, want. They want Palestinians out of the West Bank.

ZAHN: I'm going to give both of you a chance to something that was written about you in an article that -- well, actually you co- authored the article. There has been much analysis of what the two of you said. Let's put those up on the screen now.

You wrote that the: "Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both violent and nonviolent. But most importantly, it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. Nonviolent resistance is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation."

And then "The New Republic" concludes that -- quote -- "Shapiro and his fiance are indeed activists, just not for peace."

Now, if you read what was up on the screen, some people could lead to the conclusion that you were promoting suicide bombing.

SHAPIRO: If I may...

ZAHN: Why would they be wrong?

SHAPIRO: If I may answer that. The article that we wrote was actually in response to another article written by a Palestinian, who said the Palestinians could not be nonviolent. And so we were addressing within the context of the debate over whether the Palestinians could use violence or could not use nonviolence or could use nonviolence. So it was, first of all, within that context.

Secondly, these are, of course, taken from -- at the very end of a longer piece...

ZAHN: Sure.

SHAPIRO: ... in which we were advocating that you have to deal with the reality on the ground. The reality on the ground is that Palestinians are living in a context of extreme violence. The occupation itself is violence, as has been pointed out by many international organizations, including the United Nations.

And the Palestinians, you know, they feel, unfortunately, that they are helpless against this overwhelming force of Apache helicopters and F-16s, and sometimes feeling this hopelessness that they must act out violently in order -- the only way to be heard and only way to get their message out.

And so we were trying to say that the emphasis actually was that we had intended to put, which was taken out of context, was that it can be both violent and nonviolent, that it doesn't have to be just violent. That there can be nonviolent resistance, and this is what we were calling for. This is what we advocate.

ZAHN: But you advocate violence...

SHAPIRO: That there should be...

ZAHN: ... in some situations?

SHAPIRO: That -- no, no, that there is already violence. The resistance, I mean, as you see, you report on suicide bombings all the time and on the military attacks, but that there has to also be nonviolence. That's what we are calling for.

There already is violence. We're not advocating it. It's already there. It's on the ground. We're working with people and with Palestinians who want to promote nonviolence, and that was the context of the whole article. ZAHN: And you have been subjected death threats for some of what you have said. How is your family getting along?

SHAPIRO: Thankfully...

ZAHN: Can you go back home?

SHAPIRO: Yes, I have been home, and thankfully my family is safe, and the death threats are subsiding. But actually just recently, my father lost one -- he teaches mathematics, one in a public school and one in a Jewish day school, a Yeshiva, and just this week he was fired from his Jewish day school job.

ZAHN: And you think that's a result...

SHAPIRO: Absolutely.

ZAHN: ... of maybe some of what you have said and the reaction to it.

SHAPIRO: Absolutely.

ZAHN: All right, Adam and Huwaida, we've got to leave it there this morning. Thank you very much for coming in.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate your time.