On Monday, March 27th, 60 Minutes II aired a segment entitled “The Killing Zone” on the experiences of the Israeli and South Lebanese armies in the security zone, with a special focus on why Israel is withdrawing and the difficulty Israel's South Lebanese allies face once the Israelis leave. Simon was also able to get a rare interview with Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Naserallah. While airtime with Naserallah was briefer than with the other interview subjects, he did have the opportunity to answer the questions most relevant to the subject: what does Hezbollah want to happen to the Lebanese who sided with Israel and will Hezbollah end their violence against Israel once Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon.
Simon's segment offered insights from the Israelis, the southern Lebanese allied with Israel, and from Hezbollah. Simon also mentioned the consequences to ordinary Lebanese when ceasefires break down. It was a fair and professional report. Please read the complete transcript below to judge for yourself.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is asking its membership to condemn the segment because, among other strident allegations, it “humanizes the [Israeli] army.” Simon and CBS News have previously broadcast stories focused on the perspectives of the Lebanese and Hezbollah. It is entirely logical and appropriate to also report on the experiences and feelings of the Israelis and South Lebanese, particularly since 1) Israel's planned withdrawal from Lebanon is currently a hot topic and 2) other viewpoints are shown in the same segment.
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Transcript of 60 Minutes II (March 27, 2000,10:00 PM ET)
THE KILLING ZONE
BOB SIMON: At the same time the pope was leaving Israel yesterday with a prayer for peace, President Clinton was trying to convince Syrian President Assad to move towards peace. He failed, and that could mean a major explosion before very long. The battleground? Almost certainly southern Lebanon where a war you may not know about has been going on for more than 20 years. The Israelis call this chunk of Lebanon their security zone because it serves as a buffer to protect northern Israel. But it's become a killing zone, where Israel's own boys get bloodied in a conflict which has lost all public support. That's because every time Israelis turn on their TVs, they're afraid they're going to see the kind of pictures we're going to show you tonight. We must warn you, they're violent and disturbing.
(Footage of Simon and Israeli Brigadier General Benny Gantz)
BRIGADIER GENERAL BENNY GANTZ: This is the--this is the--the border, if you wish, right here. SIMON: So this is Israel, and this is Lebanon? Brig. Gen. GANTZ: That's it. SIMON: (Voiceover) Keeping that border safe has been the reason for Israel's 22-year occupation of the strip. Brigadier General Benny Gantz is the Israeli commander in charge of governing the zone. One way or another, he will be the last commander.
GANTZ: All this area over there is actually part of the security zone as well, and from there to the right, actually, it's Lebanon over there.
(Footage of Simon and Gantz putting on flak jackets)
SIMON: (Voiceover) When you take a ride into southern Lebanon, you see why the Israelis are so anxious to leave this place behind. Brig. Gen.
GANTZ: When we go inside and when we pass the fence, we have to put our helmets on.
(Footage of war zone)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Hizballah, the Islamic guerrillas largely controlled by Syria, are watching every convoy and attacking as many as they can, which is not all that hard for them, because they live in the zone. They hide high-tech bombs in fake rocks by the roadside. Sometimes their propaganda teams manage to film as the bombs are detonated by remote control. So when we're driving around, this is the most dangerous thing, huh?
GANTZ: Yeah, this one can hit more than one soldier. This is the main threat in the security zone.
SIMON: The main threat of booby traps.
GANTZ: Yeah. Yeah.
(Footage of Hizballah attacks)
SIMON: (Voiceover) That's exactly what happened to this convoy bringing fresh troops into the zone. These scenes were shot by an Israeli cameraman as Hizballah detonated a roadside bomb. The camera's lens was cracked, but the tape kept rolling. The cameraman lost a foot. These pictures from another camera crew capture a deadly Hizballah one-two punch: detonating one bomb, then waiting for rescuers to arrive before setting off a second. At the top of Hizballah's hit list, General Gantz.
(Footage of funeral)
SIMON: (Voiceover) In fact, Gantz got this job when his predecessor, General Erez Gerstein, was ambushed. General, you got this job about a year ago, but it wasn't under very happy circumstances, was it?
GANTZ: No, it wasn't. Unfortunately, we lost Erez with another three guys.
SIMON: He was killed by?
GANTZ: He was killed by a road bomb.
SIMON: So Hizballah gets a big propaganda victory by killing your predecessor. They'd certainly like nothing better than to get another one by killing you, right?
GANTZ: Well, I guess they would--they probably could gain points for that as well.
SIMON: You've been described as the most wanted man in Lebanon. How does that feel?
GANTZ: Well, I think--I take it in consideration, and I know what I'm doing. And I think I can do my job, even though they want to kill me.
(Footage of Gantz's convoy)
SIMON: (Voiceover) And the general is determined not to make it easy for them. The Mercedes in his convoy may look battered, but they're heavily armored and jammed with high-tech electronics. The cars go barreling down roads that have been swept by bomb squads. But Hizballah keeps on trying. While we were traveling with Gantz, our convoy changed routes to avoid bombs, and made a tense stop while the bomb squad exploded weapons discovered nearby. And at the end of the road, the Israeli bases are hardly safe havens. They're regularly under attack. When's the last time this place got hit?
GANTZ: A few weeks ago. It always gets hit.
SIMON: The Israeli army came into this part of southern Lebanon to protect Israel's northern towns and villages, and by and large, it's worked. There have been fewer attacks on northern Israel, fewer casualties among Israeli civilians. But what that's meant, there's been a whole generation of Israeli soldiers hunkered down here in Lebanon, prisoners in their own bases, inviting targets for Hizballah guerrillas. It has been a tradeoff at best.
(Footage of wounded soldiers and protesters)
SIMON: (Voiceover) A steady stream of dead and wounded Israeli soldiers has been flowing out of Lebanon for years now, scenes all too familiar to anyone who remembers America's final days in Vietnam. The impact on Israeli public opinion has not been all that different. Israeli parents have taken to the streets, demanding that their sons be brought home. And this month, the government finally agreed, announcing a withdrawal by July with or without a peace accord. It's a bitter victory for families who recently lost their sons in Lebanon. (Photo of Noam Barnea)
AARON BARNEA: We called him our 'sunny son.' He was always pleasant, al--always smiling. He was beautiful person.
(Footage of Simon and Barnea looking at photos)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Aaron Barnea's son, Noam, was one of Israel's best and brightest. At 21, he was a member of an elite army bomb squad. He had only five days left in his final tour of duty when he volunteered to defuse one last bomb.
BARNEA: He asked to be the first, to lead the--the--the--the unit at that moment because he was more experienced than the--th--than the other one.
(Footage of ambush point; video of explosion)
SIMON: (Voiceover) But the guerrillas who had planted the device were hiding nearby. One had his finger on the detonator; the other one held a video camera. The tape was broadcast by Hizballah's TV station. The Barneas have saved one of Noam's possessions, a peace button given to him by his mother.
BARNEA: When he went to his mission, he took the button, he put it on his pouch. And he was killed with the button on him.
SIMON: Wha--what does it say?
BARNEA: 'Leave Lebanon in peace.'
SIMON: Do you think Israel is leaving Lebanon in peace?
BARNEA: Let's hope. Let's hope. (Footage of night warfare)
SIMON: (Voiceover) And if there is no peace, Israel has shown just how bad that will be for the Lebanese. When Hizballah stepped up its campaign earlier this year, Israel bombed Beirut, knocking out its power plant and turning the lights off all over the city. The message: Israeli troops may be pulling out of the zone, but Israeli warplanes will still be in the skies, ready to punish Lebanon instantly and massively.
(Footage of soldiers)
SIMON: (Voiceover) And if this is sounding more and more like Vietnam, meet the people who are playing the role of the South Vietnamese, the South Lebanese Army, Israel's loyal allies in the zone, afraid they're about to get sold out by their powerful friends. The SLA, Israel's very own militia here, was founded by Major Saad Haddad in the late 1970s.
(Footage of Haddad's statue; of Haddad's daughter)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Haddad died in 1984, but his statue is still here, and so is his daughter, Dolly. She runs a hospital funded by Israel. So the Israelis brought you some good things.
DOLLY: Regarding this hospital? They brought everything.
(Footage of Israelis and Lebanese)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Some 90,000 people have remained loyal to Israel and have benefited from Israel's occupation of the zone. That has made them traitors in the eyes of other Lebanese. They've been paying a high price for that, and are terrified that once their protectors are gone, they will pay the highest price of all.
DOLLY: It's like growing up on an island, alone--alone, all alone. We had no one with us, and we couldn't go anywhere. And now that we are opening to the world, we find that everyone hates us, and we don't know why.
SIMON: Do you feel like your island is about to disappear?
DOLLY: Yes, I do. I think it's just about the end. We're going under.
(Footage of Gantz with group of people)
SIMON: (Voiceover) General Gantz's toughest job these days is to convince these 'islanders,' that they're not going to sink, that they will not be abandoned to the mercy of the people they've been fighting all these years.
GANTZ: I think that even if we won't have an agreement, those people who are bitter about us going will understand that we are going and doing it with taking--while taking care of them. So no matter how you look at it, at the end, they won't be hurt.
SIMON: You really are confident that the Israeli government is going to take care of the southern Lebanese who have sided with you all these years?
DOLLY: We feel pain for each Israeli soldier the same way as we feel pain for each SLA soldier. And we stayed with them. They didn't stay with us. And they should understand this. And they should know that for 23 years, we have been taking most of the load for them. They should know this.
SIMON: And now the Israelis are leaving you.
DOLLY: Yes. After all these years now, even they are leaving. I don't know. I think it's--it's a pity, after all these years. So many dead soldiers, so many dead civilians, and for nothing, finally.
SIMON: For nothing.
DOLLY: For nothing, yes.
(Footage of attack on SLA post)
SIMON: (Voiceover) How will the SLA do once their Israeli allies are gone? Take a look at this Hizballah video of an assault on an SLA post. The guerrillas captured two SLA soldiers and an armored personnel carrier. They then drove all the way to Beirut to deliver their spoils to their spiritual leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah granted us a rare interview. We asked him what'll happen to those Lebanese who've been friendly with Israel?
SHEIK HASSAN NASRALLAH: (Through Translator) They have committed massacres, killing off women and children. So we are talking about a bunch of murderers and traitors. The right solution for these people is to turn themselves in to the Lebanese authorities and to stand trial.
SIMON: (Voiceover) And as for Israel? Nasrallah promised a victory parade the day Israel withdraws. But he did not promise to end the war.
NASRALLAH: (Through Translator) If the question is whether we will continue our fight beyond Israel's border, this is something we won't answer.
(Footage of fighting)
SIMON: (Voiceover) Israel will keep its big guns by the border, and has every intention of using its firepower if there's no peace deal. But it's no longer willing to put its own boys in the line of fire, because when it comes to taking casualties, the Israelis are becoming more and more like Americans. Is Israel pulling out of southern Lebanon because it has become unacceptable in Israeli society for Israeli boys to be killed in southern Lebanon?
GANTZ: Of course, the--the society is--is--is taking it harder than it used to. That's true. The Israelis are not exactly the same as they were before.
SIMON: How do you think they've changed?
GANTZ: They became more of a normal country.