As a new Palestinian leader signs a truce with the Israelis, there is hope that after four years of bloody fighting, Middle East peace talks might resume. This summer Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is planning to remove Jewish settlers and return the disputed Gaza Strip to Palestinian control. But Israel is bracing for a reaction from the settlers in both Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli security forces are warning that extremists among the settlers could, with one major act of violence, raise the prospect of civil war in Israel or trigger a conflict with the wider Muslim world. As the possibility of peace once again seems real, Frontline takes a close look at the small group of Israelis who are vowing to derail it.
Watch "Israel's Next War?" on Tuesday, April 5, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Executive producer Zvi Dor-Ner was online Wednesday, April 6, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the report.
The transcript follows.
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The coverage given to "Jewish extremists" is way out of proportion to the threat they pose. How many civilians have they killed in comparison to Hamas or Al Aqsa, let alone the broader Islamist movements elsewhere? Do you see AK 47s or M16s brandished at every meeting, as yo do with Hamas etc.? Yet because they are Israeli and Jewish, PBS likes to target them.
How much coverage have you given to the virulent racism punted by Hizbullah (which many reckon is as great a threat to the U.S.`as al Qaeda)? Hizbullah's Al Manar station is so anti-semitic that France had its French broadcasts cancelled.
How much coverage have you given to the fact that Hamas et al openly and continually say that they aim to kill all Jewish civilians and drive all Jews from the Holy Land?
It is one-sided to focus on Jewish extremists who pose a small threat, and to try exaggerate the threat they pose. During the Sinai pullout from Yamit, when Israel gave the Sinai to Egypt, the media made similar noises. Did any of the Jewish residents of Yamit resist violently? No.
If Frontline really wants to report an under-reported story, it should prepare a programme about the millions of Israelis whose parents fled Arab lands. There is almost constant coverage of the descendants of the Arab refugees; what about the equivalent number of descendants of Jewish refugees? Israel is still punished for uplifting them, while Arab lands are rewarded for keeping descendants of Arab refugees stateless.
Zvi Dor-Ner: This program is intended to provide one set of backgrouds to the current politcal events in Israel. Many of the other subjects you have raised have been covered by us in past programs. It is not intended as a comparison between the extremist groups among the Jews and the Arabs. But rather to explain the difficulties faced by the Israeli government as it moves ahead to reliquish the Jewish settlement in Gaza and the Northern West Bank.
Is there anyone/group in Israel, or elsewhere for that matter, who is trying to mediate an understanding between the Government of Israel and these settlers/Kahanists? Otherwise, it appears that a horrible civil war is brewing and "others" can just sit back and see Israel self-destruct.
Zvi Dor-Ner: The group, however extreme, is of no danger to Israel. Israel has the political will and the security sevices to deal with such extremist groups. Also Isreal is a democratic counrty and believes and ideas are not censored.
The danger from this group is their ability to act as a spoiler of the political processes now taking place. If they kill the Israeli prime minister or preform in mega terrorist attacks against the Arabs they can derail, at least for the time being, the Israeli-Palistinian negotiations.
New York, N.Y.:
Hmmmm.... We are not political activists nor lovers of extremism or contriversy but we must speak up. You used the word "terrorist" when identifying Jewish extremists more times than the New York Times has used the same for the thousands of Palestinian homicide bombers, kasssam rocket makers, and destroyers of potential peace during the whole intifada. By your name, we know you are a brother and you know the truth of the bigger story. We are sad that your portrayal of this issue was narrow and misleading to the general public. We don't condone the acts of extremists on either side, but the portrayal of these Jews as terrorists without a comparable mention of the acts that drove them to this state is unacceptable. Frontline should consult with reputable news agencies like the Wall Street Journal before touching this topic again.
Zvi Dor-Ner: The term "terroirst" used to describe this group comes from a statement by the head of Israels security service. While he might not be an expert on American journalistic usage of the term, he understands it well. He's using the same termonology in reference to this Jewish group as he has used to describe similar actions by Arab groups.
I believe we have provided adeqete context to the portrayal to this group. That includes the context of the Intifada and their sense of ritiousness. But, the intented act speaks louder than any reason.
Now that PBS has decided to put on TV an hour's examination of a group of settlers that are obviously extreme, but that are actively followed by Israeli security forces, is it possible that PBS can explore in equal length such topics as in films by Pierre Rehov, for example "The Road to Jenin" which shows not only the world's hypocrisy by keeping the lie of a massacre going, but also showing the Palestinians actually rehearsing the lies that went into it. I know Mr. Zvi Dor-Ner, you are interested in your film, but aren't you interested as well in showing the people who want to eradicate all Jews, and the means to which they will go to achieve that end? If you are interested, won't you consider pushing this and his other films on PBS?
Zvi Dor-Ner: We have spent an hour examining a group whose action are most probably going to be important in the next several months and about which relatively little is known by the American public.
The "Jenine Massacre" story is really an old hat. Anybody who is interested in the subject knows it was a hoax.
We are a public affairs series, and while we recognize that some might use the information in the program to score propaganda points it has nothing to do with our intention.
If Ariel Sharon were up for reelection, and were to campaign on a platform of pulling out of Gaza, do you think he would win reelection in Israel (actually his party would win, as how voting is done in Israel)?
Zvi Dor-Ner: Several pools of Israeli voters suggest that Sharon, or any party he would leed, would win such elections with a wide margin.
New York, N.Y.:
How do you think the disengagement will affect the political climate portrayed in the documentary?
Zvi Dor-Ner: It would eliminate a tremondous point of friction which Gaza is and would increase the strive about West Bank settlement. It is still a very hard way ahead.
There is always danger in success and now that Israel sees peace, there is a temptation to want too much and take too much. What happened to "land for peace?"
The true nature of the region is that both the Palestinians and Israeli could work so much better together and really take over the Middle East. The war has been a disaster for all involved.
The sooner peace comes and all learn to work together, the sooner we will have an age of plenty and reason. I find it interesting that for all their posturing and missed opportunities, that the Arabs have the same goals. they just need to recognize what a good partner Israel could be for the process.
Zvi Dor-Ner: The "Land for Peace" was initially an Israeli idea but when peace did not come fast attitudes hardened. The major problem is the introduction of religion, on both sides, into the Arab/Israeli conflict.
It might be impossible but the conflict needs to be seculerized, people in nation should look for their self-interest not for the dictates of religion.
To what extent are the Jewish extremists equated with their counterparts within Arab society? Do you expect suicide missions from them as a form of escalation?
Zvi Dor-Ner: This extreme Jewish group is similar in many ways to Hamas. But they do not share the Islamic cult of death. I don't beleive that the Jewish religious extremism will trun to suicide bombing.
New York, N.Y.:
Thanks for an excellent program. Can you tell us what kind of numbers those depicted are representing?
Zvi Dor-Ner: Thank you. The number of the organized Jewish underground is impossible to gauge but it is very very small. The community that share the convictions in the West Bank, but will not act violently, is much larger and might amount to several thousand. Even greater number possibly up to half a million express agreement with ideas of Rabi Kahana including those that Arab should be "tranfered" out of "the land of Israel."
As a matter of course, Israeli public opinion hardens at times of strife such as the Infada and moderate with the prospect of peace.
Has this documentary been broadcast in Israel? If so, what was the reaction to it?
Related question: Do you think the average Israeli is conscious of the danger these extremists represent?
Zvi Dor-Ner: A long version of this documentary has been shown in Israel and has been received as a useful and important program.
Israelis are very conscious of the danger of extremism, many know of the historical context leading to the distruction of the second temple. It doesn't stop others from believing that "god has given us the land."
A history professor of mine once said that if there was peace between Israel and the Palestinians, along with the rest of the Arab world, a civil war would start between religious and secular Israeli Jews. Do you think that's a possibility in the future?
Zvi Dor-Ner: I believe that peace and war create its own dynamics. And therefore, I believe that if peace, or significant movement toward peace happens, the vast majority of the Israeli population will support the neccessary compromises with the Palistinians whole heartedly.
If Israel was to withdrawl from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or any part of these areas, won't the terrorsts proclaim a victory, as they did in south Lebanon? Won't this only fuel more terrorist attacks against Israel?
Zvi Dor-Ner: An agreement with the Palistinian entity in West Bank and Gaza should take care of that. The Palistinians will have to control their extremists.
Why is it that only Arab refugees are discussed during peace negotiations? There were several hundred thousand more Jewish refugees expelled from Arab occupied lands since 1948. Where is the talk of their right-of-return or statehood? These negtiations are always unfairly based on Israel giving and Arabs receiving. That just doesn't seem like a fair settlement.
Zvi Dor-Ner: The position that the war in '48 caused an exchange of population between Arabs and Israel is strongly held Israeli position. Clearly the Palistinians would have a problem with it . Why should they be responsible for the emmigration of Jews from Egypt or Morocco. In other words, it is not an exchange between Israel and Palistinians. I'm sure that when both sides return to the negotiations table both arguements will be heard and we will report on them.
Thank you for the show last night; it was well-done and very informative. My question is this: Did you have the opportunity to delve at length into the religious doctrines underpinning the Kahanists' political ideology? Several in the show indicated that the Torah provides support for their view that the land they seek was promised by God to the Jewish people. This, of course, is something that was already widely known. Did you, for example, ask any of them where in the Torah is the support for the kind of terrorist activity some of the Kahanists favor? Did you explore the issue of whether the Torah supports the view that Gaza was promised to the Jewish people? Did you find out whether the Kahanists believe in the literal truth of the words in the Torah? Basically, I would like to see a sequel to your excellent program that explores the religious (or textual) basis for their ideology. Would that be possible?
Zvi Dor-Ner: These are all very good questions and all of them are friercly debated among Jewish religious scholars. The interpretaion of the extremists is undoubtly extreme.
I don't know that we will return to these issues any time soon, there are a lot of other subjects and other places Frontline should deal with. But we will follow the Middle East and come back to it when events bring it forward again.
With all due respect, do you really think the settlers are the obsacle to peace when Hamas, Hezbullah and all other terrorist groups openly admit that they'll never make peace with Israel, even if Israel withdrawls to the pre-67 borders?
Zvi Dor-Ner: Hamas and Hezbullah are now joined by the extremists Jewish group. Again, I believe that this conflict needs to be seculerized to help its resolution.
Thank you very much for your documentary. More
people need to be looking at exremism on both
sides and finding ways to minimize the violence.
Do you think that the Isreali army helped to
facilitate extreme views from the setttlers, by
enabling them to attack Arabs unprovoked? Do
you think Isreali settlers are a greater barrier to
peace then Hamas?
Zvi Dor-Ner: Thanks for the intriging question and your interest. It is time to go and work on other programs.
Best to all,