PHILLIPS: Well, we’re about to get an eyewitness account now of the Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. Adam Shapiro is an American living in Israel. He volunteered to help attend to wounded Arafat guards inside the compound. He joins us now live from Ramallah.
ADAM SHAPIRO, VOLUNTEER RESCUE WORKER, INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT: Hello, how are you doing? I’d just like to correct one thing from the start. I’m an American citizen living in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, the occupied Palestinian territories not Israel.
PHILLIPS: Let’s talk about — let’s get down to why you are there, Adam, and this organization, The International Solidarity Movement. Give us a little background and tell us why you are there and what this group is about.
SHAPIRO: The International Solidarity Movement together with the Grassroots International Protection For The Palestinian People are two groups of activists working together with Palestinians to try and provide protection for Palestinians in such cases of invasion and intense military terrorist invasion and assault on the Palestinians. They cannot walk in their streets. Ambulances cannot drive around to pick up wounded and dead people without being shot at, without being confiscating, and the medics being arrested.
I was riding on an ambulance yesterday helping to secure the safety of that ambulance, to go around and pick up wounded people, innocent civilians who are being hit by Israel force, by tanks, by gunmen, by snipers located throughout the city. Towards the end of the evening, we received a phone call that there were injured inside the presidential compound and that no ambulance had been able to get in, that they were being shot at. We approached — I spoke in English and identified myself as an American to the soldiers and that seemed to give us the opportunity to negotiate for about three hours before we were finally allowed in. I then proceeded to stay inside for about 24 hours to try and mobilize international attention as to what was going on.
PHILLIPS: And I understand that you spent time with Yasser Arafat. And I want to get to that in just a moment. But Adam, I have to ask you; first of all, you come from a Jewish family. Are you a practicing Jew?
SHAPIRO: No, I’m not and I believe that is an issue of personal decision in terms of religion. And it has no bearing on what I’m doing here. The Palestinians, whether they know that — my family name or not, it does not matter. I’m a human being here to try and help fellow human beings. This is not about politics between Jew and Arab, between Muslim and Jew. This is a case of human dignity, human freedom and justice that the Palestinians are struggling for against an occupier, an oppressor.
The violence did not start with Yasser Arafat. The violence started with the occupation. There is something, as Mr. Wayne Owens said, that the Americans can do and there’s something that Israel can do to end this and that is to lift the occupation, to remove the settlement, to remove the military occupation of Palestinian land and allow the Palestinians to live in freedom and independence.
General Zinni, if he’s willing, he has the opportunity — I’m sure he’s been active talking on the phone. I went into President Arafat’s compound and I am willing to escort General Zinni in there myself, to go with him. He knows how to reach me. We contacted his office to try and get more assistance inside. If he is willing to go inside, to meet with President Arafat, to really put an end to this and to try and present a picture to the world of what is really happening, we can make this happen.
PHILLIPS: Adam, I got to tell you, I’m just fascinated. I’m fascinated by your background and why you are in Ramallah. And I’m even more fascinated by the fact that you sat down and hung out with Yasser Arafat. I want to know, what did you talk about? What did you tell him? Did you have any influence on him?
SHAPIRO: I don’t know if I had any influence, but he certainly was pleased that were internationals here in Ramallah, in Bethlehem, who are trying to help, trying to bring attention to what is going on, trying to bring pressure from the media, from the diplomatic community on what is happening. The compound is under complete siege. There are soldiers, now I’ve heard, on the ground floor of President Arafat’s compound and they have shut up the place.
PHILLIPS: And Adam…
SHAPIRO: The building constantly shakes…
PHILLIPS: … we have been reporting that, absolutely.
SHAPIRO: … from tank fire.
PHILLIPS: And we have. We’ve been reporting that. I’m just curious, have you — did you take the opportunity to say to Yasser Arafat, why not come and condemn what is going on, come out and make a statement in Arabic because that is what the President of the United States is just asking for?
SHAPIRO: President Arafat has done this repeatedly. I understand Arabic. I read the newspapers and I listen to the TV stations here. President Arafat, after every terrorist incident, every suicide bombing, after every action, has condemned this loss of life, of civilian lives on both sides.
The Sharon government, sometimes will apologize after it kills an innocent civilian, but it does not apologize for raping the cities and for going in and carrying out terrorist actions, going to house to house much like the Nazis did in World War II, going house to house to house tearing holes through the walls, roughing up people, killing people, assassinating people. This is a terrorist government funded, by the way, by the United States government to the tune of $300 million a year in U.S. military aid. These are American helicopters and tanks and F-16s doing this damage to the Palestinian people.
PHILLIPS: Adam Shapiro, we appreciate you coming on with us this morning. You have quite an interesting story. Thank you.
We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
SHAPIRO: Thank you very much.