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http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nm/20010501/wl/mideast_israel_shinbet_dc_1.html

Tuesday May 1 10:21 AM ET

Former Israeli Spymaster Takes Palestinians' Side

By Howard Goller


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Ami Ayalon once headed the Israeli security organization the Palestinians despise the most, but now the former chief of the Shin Bet says his country must learn to understand their pain.

Israel's Channel Two broadcast an interview with Ayalon late Monday that revealed a sympathy for the Palestinians' plight and a readiness to blame Israelis rarely seen from a member of the security establishment past or present.

For nearly four years starting in 1996 Ayalon headed the Shin Bet intelligence service, set up with the state's founding in 1948 with the twin purposes of fighting secret hostile activity and protecting Israeli leaders.

In the interview, he acknowledged permitting the Shin Bet to use what he said others would call torture -- he prefers to call it ``physical pressure'' -- to coerce information from Palestinian prisoners. He said it was justified to save lives.

After leaving the Shin Bet, he acted as go-between for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Now 55, Ayalon is known for his contacts with Palestinian officials.

Normally taciturn, Ayalon said he wanted Israelis to know he rejected the ``ethos'' of the present right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which he said dated back to the 1950s when Israel believed it had ``no choice'' on how to deal with Palestinians.

Says Israel Has A Choice

Ayalon said that since a 1993 breakthrough peace deal with Arafat, Israel had another choice. But he said Palestinians had lost faith in Barak, ousted by Sharon in a February election.

``We never manage to understand their pain just as they to a very great extent don't understand our pain. I believe we don't understand their fears. We speak of our fears, we speak of our fear of being thrown into the sea. We don't understand that all of the Palestinians are afraid of being thrown across the (Jordan) river,'' Ayalon said.

Chief of Palestinian preventive security in the Gaza Strip, Mohammad Dahlan, told Reuters: ``We have differed greatly with Ayalon, and we also agreed with him when he was still in his job, and he dealt with the Palestinians as a people with dignity and he always admits his mistakes.

``Other Israeli leaders are still dealing with the Palestinians from the occupier mentality,'' Dahlan said.

Ayalon denied having political aspirations of his own.

The interview, with Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan, was a nearly no-holds barred exchange of views in the thick of more than seven months of raging violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel.

Ayalon said Palestinians feared a repeat of what they call the ``Nakba'' or ``Great Catastrophe'' of Israel's creation in formerly British-mandated Palestine when many left or were forced to flee their homes never to return.

Israelis Must Understand

``Until we understand what a Palestinian child draws when he looks at an Israeli, what is the meaning of an Israeli soldier, what is the meaning of an Israeli checkpoint, what is the meaning of humiliation, we won't truly understand what they are going through or where we want to go,'' he insisted.

He said the Palestinian Authority had in the past arrested thousands of Islamic Hamas group militants opposed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and had even killed, interrogated and tortured them in order to ensure Israeli security.

He said they did this believing it would help them reach their goal of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Violence had erupted, he said, because Palestinians lost hope. ``What they are saying is that 'we will reach our aim in another way'. They haven't given up on the aim and so naturally we have no choice but to give them a state,'' he said.

``We are so strong, so strong from a security standpoint -- and I personally want to believe also from a societal standpoint -- that we can live with the reality of there being a Palestinian state beside us.''

He likened the Palestinians to Israel's Siamese twin. Separation was a complex surgery which must offer the Palestinians a full life, he said. ``When this twin will feel he has no life whatsoever, he will cause us very deep suffering.''


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