Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and
Major General Giora Eiland,
Head of IDF Planning Division National Media Center
Jerusalem, March 31, 2002
FM Peres: 120 innocent Israelis lost their lives over the last month – babies, children, women, young and old, praying and participating at the Passover dinner, in restaurants, in clubs – for no good reason, without any justification.
The Israeli army has entered the territories, not in order to reoccupy them, and not in order to stay there. The Israeli army entered the territories in order to do the things that the Palestinian Authority was supposed to do and was committed to do so – namely, to bring an end to violence and terror, to arrest the troublemakers, to collect the illegal arms, to control the traffic of violence in the West Bank and Gaza.
I think General Zinni has suggested a fair proposal to us and to the Palestinians. General Eiland will speak about this soon. Actually, Arafat could have done it, because General Zinni asked Israel to do things which are tangible, and Arafat is supposed to do things which are basically declarative. So Israel has accepted the proposal of Zinni, the Palestinians have refused it.
Most of the terror is done in a terrible manner by suicide bombers, including a 16 year old girl, hardly matured, who hasn’t tasted the taste of life, by a 13 year old boy, with a belt of explosives on his chest, going to kill himself. It goes against all cultures, all civilizations, all religions. The idea to return to the sacrifice of human life on the altar of political ambition is barbaric and dangerous. I think it is dangerous not only for Israel but for the rest of the world. If this will become a tactic or a strategy, everybody may use it. I think we have to do whatever we can – morally, legally, politically and militarily – to stop it and to enable people to enjoy their lives in freedom.
Our enemy is not the Palestinian people – we didn’t go to fight the Palestinian people. The army will be very careful not to touch any innocent person, any civilian. We are fighting terror, and as far as fighting terror is concerned we shall do it in a determined manner.
Major General Eiland: I will say a few words about the background of this operation and then I will say a few words about the goals of this operation.
Besides what has been said by the Foreign Minister, there are two points I would like to make:
First, as many people have said, there is terrorism and the Palestinian Authority doesn’t do enough in order to prevent it. Unfortunately, this is in a way an underestimation of the situation. As a matter of fact, the PA is involved in a very active way in the terrorist activities. It is not only that the organization that is responsible for most of the recent events is the Tanzim, which is part of the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinian officials whenever receiving information about possible terrorist attacks, do nothing in order to stop it. I can say even more than that – they try to encourage it. They try to facilitate the way that these kinds of activities can be carried out. I will give you two examples.
Last Sunday we had an information about a possible terrorist attack that was supposed to be launched from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. We hesitated what to do. Should we take action in order to stop it in advance, or should we do something else. Due to the presence of General Zinni here, we preferred to convey this information to the Palestinians. We gave the Palestinians all the necessary information. They did nothing in order to prevent it. Even more, the person who sent these people to carry out this operation is an official officer in one of the Palestinian security organizations. The result was that two days later, on Tuesday, these two men came and tried to penetrate Jerusalem. Fortunately, in this event we managed to stop them and their car was blown up and in this case there were no casualties.
Another example, about two weeks ago there was an explosion in the Moment coffee shop. The man that carried out this suicide attack was in a Palestinian jail. He was in a Palestinian jail due to the information that had been given to the Palestinians a few weeks earlier that that man was going to carry out a suicide attack. Despite the knowledge of this information, the Palestinians preferred to release him although they knew that he was going to do just what he did.
So these are just two examples of the past two weeks and only about events that took place in Jerusalem. We have dozens of other examples like this. So it is not only a matter of not preventing. It is actually being involved in a very active way.
The second point I would like to make is about the mission of General Zinni here and what are the consequences of his visit, of his attempt to achieve a cease-fire.
General Zinni came here because both parties, the Israeli side and the Palestinians, said that they would like to find a way to implement the Tenet work plan. The Tenet work plan is a good plan, but it is not self implementable. It is a list of principles. It should be interpreted or clarified in a much more detailed way, regarding the timetable, the sequence, the actual activities that should be taken by both sides. So we made a proposal and we gave it to General Zinni. It was a proposal how to implement this work plan.
The Palestinians did something quite similar, and it is fair and understandable that there might be some differences between both sides. A few days later General Zinni made his proposal and said: This is the best way that I can bridge the gaps between both sides and I recommend that both sides accept it.
Last Tuesday evening we made a decision to accept this proposal, although we had some difficulties because we did not achieve everything that we wanted, but it was part of the deal and we could understand it. So, we gave a positive answer.
We are still waiting for the Palestinian response, and as far as we know they tried to do anything that they could in order to escape it. During these two weeks of General Zinni’s visit here, we tried to avoid any action. We did suffer a lot of casualties. We suffered daily, if not more than that, suicide attempts and attacks. Fortunately, we managed to prevent some of them. And we waited until there would be some way to reach an understanding. Unfortunately, the Palestinians did nothing in order to make this agreement possible. So when they refused to implement that work plan and when they actively participate in terrorist activities against us, I guess that we didn’t have much choice but to do what we are actually doing now.
The goal of this operation, as was said, is not to re-occupy the Palestinian areas, but to control a wide part of the Palestinian areas for a significant period of time, as long as is needed, in order to achieve two things:
1. To reduce the possibility of access of Palestinian terrorists to Israel. During the last operation in Ramallah about two weeks ago, during that week, there was no successful Palestinian operation that was launched from Ramallah, simply because we were there. And we hope that if we do something like this, not only in Ramallah, but in some other cities, we can reduce the number of terrorist attacks as we experience right now.
2. To arrest as many terrorists as we can. In Ramallah we are quite successful. We managed to capture several hundred people, some of them are not only suspects, they are real important people who have been involved in many activities in the past few weeks. Just one example is the man that sent the suicide bomber to blow himself up on King George Street here in Jerusalem a few days ago, an operation in which an Israeli couple – husband and wife – were killed. Their two children, aged 7 and 4 are now alone. The man who sent this suicide bomber is in our hands now.
Just to conclude my presentation, when I think about these two orphan girls left without their parents, I think that there are so many questions asked by the media in the past two days. What is the condition of Mr. Arafat? Does he eat well? Does he sleep well? Does he drink well? Is he okay? I haven’t heard too many questions regarding the condition of these two orphans and so many hundreds of other Israelis who have suffered, because 120 people killed in such a short period is something that has caused a lot of misery and suffering in the Israeli population.
Q & A – Foreign Minister Peres:
Q: Foreign Minister, since Israel went into Ramallah, Palestinians have intensified their suicide bombings, killing many Israelis. Many believe that Israel’s military action is not working. The UN has called on Israel to withdraw. You are a self-declared moderate. Do you personally support what Israel is doing in Ramallah?
FM Peres: I am a member of the Cabinet and I carry the responsibility that any other member of the Cabinet carries. But I want to tell you: I think that the right thing for the Palestinians to do was to accept the Zinni proposal. The American President sent an envoy here, he made proposals which, as General Eiland has said, we accepted. There is no reason why the Palestinians should not accept them. General Zinni, for example, asked that Arafat declare that he calls to stop terror and violence – for that he doesn’t need anything, just a microphone; that he will give orders to his own troops to fight terror. He has something like 30,000 policeman. He can do it. Also, for example, to reduce the incitement. He can do it. The things that he is supposed to do really don’t demand such a great investment and effort, and I think that all of us, including myself, have to do all we can to get to a real cease-fire by all the necessary means and possible ways.
Q: So do you support personally what is going on in Ramallah?
FM Peres: I said I carry responsibility like any member of the Cabinet.
Q: In the last few hours we have been hearing some quite serious reports from senior Palestinian sources that Israel has an intention to deport some of the Palestinian citizens who have been arrested in Ramallah in the last few days to Egypt and Jordan. Is this allegation true? And, if this is the case, have there been prior situations with Egypt and Jordan to allow this to come to happen?
FM Peres: The answer to your two questions is negative. We didn’t intend to expel, so we didn’t have to negotiate with Egypt and Jordan.
I want to say one thing. Over the last 24 hours, there have been so many allegations and rumors. I received calls throughout the day and night uninterruptedly, and I assured all the people who called me that they are totally unfounded. Like that we cut electricity, we cut water, that Arafat was left without food – this was totally unfounded. And now you can see that those allegations were really invented rather than realistic.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, how to you assess the danger that the situation politically and in terms of security in the region could spiral out of control? We have seen protests in other countries, there have been warnings from Jordan.
FM Peres: May I say, that it is not our intention to escalate the conflict. We would like rather to keep it contained for the immediate needs. But if this were the only question, maybe I would have an answer. But we also have to answer to the Israeli people. What are we going to do in face of repeated killing, suicide bombing.
We have a people, and believe me nobody in Israel can understand why the Palestinians are fighting and killing, since almost whatever they were demanding was offered to them in Camp David. In Camp David they were offered a Palestinian state, most of the land – there was supposed to remain a difference of 3-4% – and a position in Jerusalem. This doesn’t justify killing and terrorizing. We don’t understand – Why kill? Why terror? This is our first question. The second one is, what we can or should do to defend the lives of our people.
By the way, from many quarters in the Arab lands, I heard almost no condemnation of the killing of people praying – religious Muslims who saw on TV an attack of a group of Jewish people in a religious suburb being attacked – nobody said a word.
Q: You have just said that Israel offered the Palestinians a state in Camp David. But this state was such a state that Israeli soldiers would be put on the borders between the Palestinian state and Jordan? I interviewed Mr. Arafat and he explained why he did not accept Camp David.
FM Peres: We didn’t reach that point. You can interview some other Palestinians and they will tell you that the fact that they didn’t accept Camp David was a mistake. That’s my view too. But even if there was a difference, why not sit down and air it out – without guns and without bombs. It’s normal. You negotiate, suppose you have some differences, the best way is to continue to negotiate.
Q: Your stated intention is to isolate Chairman Arafat. However, he seems to be gaining strength as a result of this operation. He is in a good mood, people are getting sympathy for him. Are you concerned that this approach is going to backfire and Arafat will come out stronger among his own people and in world opinion as a result of this?
FM Peres: I think it is too early to judge, but I believe that in some publications the attention that is being paid to the condition of Arafat is a little bit in disproportion to the attention which should be paid to the terrible killings all over – in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, in Haifa, in small villages – of innocent people. We are not fighting a war of prestige. We are fighting a war of existence, and our first consideration is not our image but our lives. We have to
do, finally, things, which I wish we wouldn’t have to do. We don’t like it.
Q: As of now, it looks like the military operation also contributes to a Palestinian escalation. Even if Arafat would declare a cease-fire right now, the Palestinian mood as far as I understand is such that they would not accept it. What are the options in case the military operation will not succeed?
FM Peres: Well, it’s very hard to measure a mood and even if you measure, you should remember that it may change. I hope that once that the terrorist organizations of the Palestinians will be convinced that terror leads to nowhere, maybe reason will again prevail.
Q & A – Major General Eiland:
Q: Why did the government decide earlier today that all international media have to leave Ramallah?
A: What was today is that dozens of reporters and some other people who came with them, came with a very clear purpose to try to sabotage. They tried to penetrate to the compound where Arafat is kept. We did not say that reporters cannot be in the city of Ramallah. You are right, they can be there and they have been there for a long time. But the compound itself is a closed military area and it was formally announced as such. The reporters were told that they were not allowed to enter the building, and despite very clear instructions that were given to them, they simply ran into the building. The soldiers didn’t want to confront them. When they abuse the Israeli openness in such a way, we are not sure that we will be able to keep cooperating with them.
We took them to an Israeli facility to understand what went on. Besides, the number of the people who penetrated the building was one number, but the number of the people who came out was double. So, besides or among these reporters, there were probably some people who are wanted, who are responsible for some of the very terrible and deadly suicide attacks that took place in the past few weeks. So, if they use the Israeli openness to help these terrorists to escape from this building, at least some investigation should be carried out before we can make a decision what is going on with these reporters. We will see after the investigation what the purpose of the penetration was, what kind of cover they gave to which terrorists, and then we will decide.
Q: The IDF has assembled a massive force in the West Bank now. Is it enough, or are you going to consider drafting more reserves? And do you feel that you have a sense of urgency, that the mission has to be done now before there are some constraints put on by the international community?
A: So far, we don’t feel any constraint, and we did draft thousands of Israeli reserve soldiers. We did not deploy them so far, but we are going to do it quite soon. I guess that when and if we do it, then some of the problems that we still have in some other cities besides Ramallah will be solved in a very similar way.
I want to speak about the military situation around the compound of Arafat. There is a lot of disinformation that is given by the Palestinians – not a very new phenomenon. Remember their saying that Israeli Mossad is responsible for the demolition of the Twin Towers in New York, that Israeli soldiers are giving poisoned candies to the Palestinian children, etc. They also say that Israel is using uranium.
Before I give you more details about the situation in the compound, I’d like to give you some interesting information about material that we did find there. Besides a lot of ammunition and weapons, we did find other interesting things. One of them is money – forged money. Money that was made by the Palestinians in order to be used in Israel. We also found some religious items. We found some other interesting things – for example, a ‘kipa’ worn by religious Jews – and I wonder what was the purpose of this specific item in the compound unless it was used to dress some people in Israeli costume in order to carry out some suicide attack, as they do very often.
The soldiers have been given very strict orders to avoid penetrating Arafat’s apartment. Even more, they have to avoid shooting at the building itself and to take care that Arafat personally will not be hurt. But, in the same apartment, there are a lot of armed people who shoot quite often, whether from the building, or they go out and shoot from the doors of other places. Of course, when soldiers are under fire they shoot back. So, we asked the Palestinians to let all these armed people leave the building – if there are no armed people there, then it will be easier to secure the Chairman. Unfortunately, they are not cooperating with this request. The orders are not to shoot deliberately, but only when they are under a real threat. When a soldier is fired at, this is sometimes the only way he can protect himself.
At the same time, we do take care that food, water and electricity will be supplied in a normal manner to the building. Whenever there are casualties, we take care that they will be evacuated and actually there is no humanitarian or any other real problem, despite all the Palestinians claims.
Yesterday we had a similar event when an ambulance came to evacuate two wounded, and besides the two wounded, there were another 14 people – very healthy ones – who were evacuated simply because they used this ambulance.
The reporters were not allowed to enter this building because it was declared a closed military area. This was said to them in a very formal and clear way, and despite this they decided to try to penetrate. If this is the code that they use to abuse the Israeli openness to the press, as they did, we have to reassess our attitude to these specific reporters, so they are now under investigation and we will have to make our decisions.
Q: Does that mean that all the reporters are not allowed to do their job in the city of Ramallah at the moment?
A: I didn’t say that they are not allowed to be in the city of Ramallah. I did say that they are not allowed to penetrate the specific area when they have been told not to penetrate a specific area.
There are some places under some circumstances where reporters are not allowed to penetrate or to enter. I want to remind you that in the past 18 months, free access to reporters every place was our clear policy. You did enter some places, but the results of such participation is journalists who are hurt, including one who was wounded today, I don’t know where the fire came from, and I am not sure that this is the right thing to do when the tension is so high in these specific areas. This is an IDF decision.
Q: What is happening right now in Bethlehem and Dahaisha?
A: Last night, there was a mortar attack on Jerusalem. At least one shell fell on an Israeli residence. So, as a response, we sent some forces forward to part of the neighborhood of Beit Jala to capture some buildings that these mortars or other fire can come from. We now expanded this operation because we understand that if we don’t do it, then some other fire will be made from the area of Bethlehem and Beit Jala to Jerusalem. This is part of the operation, and of course Ramallah and Bethlehem are not going to be the only Palestinian cities where Israeli troops are going to be deployed in the next few days.