CNN's Sciutto Frets Israelis Using 'Excessive Force,' Shooting 'Unarmed Protesters'

On Friday's Wolf show on CNN, during an interview with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, substitute host Jim Sciutto cited a quote from State Department Spokesman John Kirby accusing Israeli security forces of using "excessive force" against Palestinians as he charged that Israelis have been using "live fire" to shoot at "unarmed protesters."

After the Israeli ambassador recalled that Palestinian protesters often are armed either with guns or engage in stone throwing with sometimes deadly results, Sciutto moved to bring up international criticism over Israeli settlements and pressed Dermer to admit that Israel bears some of the responsibility for the absence of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

After utilizing his first question to ask whether a visit from Secretary of State John Kerry would help calm the violence, Sciutto moved to bring up the charge of "excessive force." Sciutto:

Now, this meeting will come as you heard Secretary Kerry's spokesman, John Kirby, using the term "excessive force" earlier this week to describe some of the actions by Israeli security forces. I want to ask you specifically about this because we've been watching -- and Ben Wedeman is on the ground there as well -- the use of live fire in conflicts with unarmed protesters. In your view, is that justifiable use of force?

The Israeli ambassador began his response:

Well, these are not unarmed protesters. These are people who are sometimes using guns and they are throwing rocks that have killed Israelis many times. You know, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, an Israeli was killed driving home from a rock that was thrown by Palestinians. So let's understand you have violent protests, and Israel is using force in order to make sure that this thing does not get even further out of hand. And sometimes-

It also deserves to be noted that firebombs are also sometimes utilized by "protesters." The CNN host then jumped in to ask essentially the same question a second time:

Is live fire justifiable even if the others are not armed?

Dermer responded:

There are clear rules of engagement of how we do it, and Israel is a country of law, and we will respect the law, but sometimes you have violent protests. This is not some peaceful march somewhere. You saw those images on the screens where you have things on fire, you have gunshots, you have people attacking, and sometimes you have to take action in order to prevent this from getting out of control.

But I want to say something. The spokesman of the State Department, he made it very clear yesterday that he does not think Israel has used excessive force in responding to any of these terrorist activities.

Sciutto then brought up suggestions by Secretary Kerry that construction within Israeli settlements has helped "inflame" tensions:

Well, I don't want to go anywhere near justifying this kind of violence, but I do want to get at this relationship here. Secretary of State John Kerry, he mentioned settlements recently as contributing to the tensions in the region, saying that Israel having expanded settlements in recent years. He didn't, you know, use that as justification for violence certainly and knife attacks, but he did use that to accuse Israel of helping inflame the situation. And I wonder what your response is to that?

After Dermer recalled that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has existed since well before any settlements existed, Sciuttto then made his final question asking for an admission of partial "responsibility." Sciutto:

Let me ask you this because it goes to the peace process. Let's talk about the conflict because no one is trying to justify terrorism, by any means. But do both sides share responsibility for -- I don't want to say the death of the peace process because who knows, it might be resurrected on any day -- but for the intransigence or the paralysis of the peace process. Do both sides share responsibility?

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Friday, October 16, Wolf show on CNN:

JIM SCIUTTO: First, this news you confirmed to us just moments ago, Secretary of State John Kerry now to meet with the Israeli prime minister in Europe next week, what effect do you believe he can have on the situation to calm now the tensions in Israel and the occupied territories?

(RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.)

SCIUTTO: Now, this meeting will come as you heard Secretary Kerry's spokesman, John Kirby, using the term "excessive force" earlier this week to describe some of the actions by Israeli security forces. I want to ask you specifically about this because we've been watching -- and Ben Wedeman is on the ground there as well -- the use of live fire in conflicts with unarmed protesters. In your view, is that justifiable use of force?

RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, these are not unarmed protesters. These are people who are sometimes using guns and they are throwing rocks that have killed Israelis many times. You know, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, an Israeli was killed driving home from a rock that was thrown by Palestinians. So let's understand you have violent protests, and Israel is using force in order to make sure that this thing does not get even further out of hand. And sometimes-

SCIUTTO: Is live fire justifiable even if the others are not armed?

DERMER: There are clear rules of engagement of how we do it, and Israel is a country of law, and we will respect the law, but sometimes you have violent protests. This is not some peaceful march somewhere. You saw those images on the screens where you have things on fire, you have gunshots, you have people attacking, and sometimes you have to take action in order to prevent this from getting out of control.

But I want to say something. The spokesman of the State Department, he made it very clear yesterday that he does not think Israel has used excessive force in responding to any of these terrorist activities.

SCIUTTO: He said he wasn't going to go into detail. He didn't, though, reject his earlier comment. And I don't want to speak for him-

DERMER: He was not talking about Israel's action against terrorism. As to what he was specifically referring to, you'd have to ask him, but certainly there was this sense that -- or people had alleged that Israel had used excessive force. Look, we have a situation in Israel over the last two or three weeks where you have knife-wielding, a lot of times teenagers, who are running around stabbing people. We have to take the action in order to protect our population, and that's what we're doing.

SCIUTTO: Well, I don't want to go anywhere near justifying this kind of violence, but I do want to get at this relationship here. Secretary of State John Kerry, he mentioned settlements recently as contributing to the tensions in the region, saying that Israel having expanded settlements in recent years. He didn't, you know, use that as justification for violence certainly and knife attacks, but he did use that to accuse Israel of helping inflame the situation. And I wonder what your response is to that?

DERMER: I think they were very clear that they don't see a linkage between those two things, and I'll let their words speak for themselves. Look, I think it's very important, Jim, to make a distinction between the conflict and terrorism. And people confuse the two. We can have a discussion about what is the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and there are some people who believe that settlements is a major cause of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Unfortunately, those are people who seem to believe the world began in 1967. Because we had a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians for 50 years before there was a single one of those settlements. And guess what: When we left Gaza, and we took down every single settlement in Gaza, and we went back to those 1967 lines, we didn't actually get peace. We got an Iranian terror base where thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel. We can have an argument about what the source of the conflict. For Israel, it's very clear. The conflict remains the refusal of the Palestinian national movement to accept the idea of a nation state for the Jewish people on any boundary.

But there's a separate question: What is the root cause of terrorism? Not every conflict around the world leads people to have knives and guns and are killing innocent civilians. It doesn't happen in so many conflict. You have hundreds of conflicts. Gandhi had a legitimate grievance in India, right? He was fighting for national independence. Why didn't you see all these terror attacks happen? Because he wasn't a terrorist. He was a democrat.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because it goes to the peace process. Let's talk about the conflict because no one is trying to justify terrorism, by any means. But do both sides share responsibility for -- I don't want to say the death of the peace process because who knows, it might be resurrected on any day -- but for the intransigence or the paralysis of the peace process. Do both sides share responsibility?

DERMER: No, look, we can try to twist all the facts. Let's just understand what has happened over the last 20 years. You have had five, six different Israeli prime ministers, including this prime minister, who has tried to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. You've had sweeping offers made by Israel. You had one in 2000 at Camp David. Then, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he made a sweeping offer to Arafat, everything Arafat said that he wanted, he actually got on the negotiating table, and  he walked away and he began an intifada, and he called it the Al-Aqsa Intifada at the time.

Then, in 2008, you had another sweeping offer from Prime Minister Olmert to President Abbas, and he didn't even respond to it. He just walked away. And for the last six or seven years, President Abbas has refused to even negotiate for peace. And you have to ask yourself: Why are the Palestinians refusing to even sit down at the negotiating table? Why are they doing that? Because the Prime Minister is prepared to negotiate peace tomorrow. They're not doing it because they think that they can have a peace process where the only party that will make concessions is Israel. They don't think they're going to make concessions. And in order for us to make peace, Jim, both sides have to make concessions.

SCIUTTO: That, I think, I imagine, all sides can agree on. Ambassador Dermer, thanks so much for joining us.

Israel/Palestine Middle East Guns CNN Mahmoud Abbas Yassir Arafat John Kerry