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From the ground in Jordan, talking with Palestinians who have family in Gaza


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in non-English language).


Across Jordan on Friday, thousands of people marched in support of Palestinians. This country borders Israel and the occupied West Bank. Gaza is just 90 miles away. For Jordanian Palestinians with family in the Gaza Strip, that distance can feel painfully close and impossibly far, especially now.

HANAN MOHAMMED: Oh, definitely.

SHAPIRO: Last night I met up with two people who live in Amman and have relatives in the Gaza Strip. Hanan Mohammed (ph) is 35. Imad Shawa (ph) is 43. We were going to meet in Imad's apartment, but he said his three kids would make too much noise, so his neighbor let us sit in their elegant living room with tea and snacks while the air conditioning purred in the background. It felt so far removed from the chaos, violence and pain of war. I asked Hanan and Imad what feeling they have experienced most over the last week.

MOHAMMED: Right now, in this moment, when you ask me, it is fear for my loved ones. As you know, there is currently no safe place in Gaza. I actually have never felt this nervous or anxious or scared in my life. One crazy thought that I've been having all throughout this week - how horrible is it when I am checking the news, and then I find that there is a bombing, but it's like a different family name, and I feel relief? I felt relief because it's a different family name.

SHAPIRO: Imad, what, for you, has been the primary emotion you felt this last week?

IMAD SHAWA: I would say it's been pretty confusing, and it's still fresh. The family that I have there were on a WhatsApp group. They keep telling us, don't worry about us. We'll update you. You know, don't keep asking us how we're doing. And they give us updates. So you're thinking about them and their children, nephews and nieces and cousins. And they're a big group now basically moving together as one giant group, some of them strangers, some of them refugees from different neighborhoods moving south. There's 50 people in a small house that has four mattresses.

SHAPIRO: The fact that people don't have reliable electricity, so they can't reliably communicate on their phones the way they otherwise would, must be excruciating for loved ones who are far away, wishing for hourly or daily check-ins to know that their loved ones are safe.

SHAWA: I mean, it's not even the top of the list of the worries. We're thinking about them, even if they do make it, and if they can even go back, they're going back to neighborhoods that have no more infrastructure. So even if your apartment or house is standing, it's among ruins where there's no sanitation, no running water, no electricity. I mean, we're talking millions of people.

SHAPIRO: If you don't mind my asking, I understand you know someone who was killed in Gaza over the last week?

MOHAMMED: Yes, my father's family. I think it was October 8 when their house got bombed. There were 18 of them inside with kids, and they all died. That was the second day of the aggression. And just yesterday another thing happened, the same thing. A house got bombed. There were almost 20 people in there. So from my father's family side, we know at least 40 who got killed. And from his mother's side, he said probably the same amount. He said, everyone speaking in the family here, we're not able to count them. But there is like a funeral house ongoing for the past three days here in Jordan, and everyone is speaking that they have - might have reached above a hundred.

SHAPIRO: A funeral house where people are just mourning those who have died in Gaza, day after day after day as the numbers grow.

MOHAMMED: A funeral house for those who martyred from our family.

SHAPIRO: Just from your...

MOHAMMED: Just from - yes.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to hear your thoughts about being Jordanian Palestinian specifically because we are so geographically close to what is happening, and yet the distance is so great. Tell me what it means to you to sit where we are right now, given what's happening.

SHAWA: Especially since growing up in Jordan as Palestinian, you know, originally, it was never as encouraged to be too forthcoming to pray (inaudible) for Palestine. Growing up in the '80s and '90s, for me, there was a lingering feeling of like, are we, you know, is there a feeling that we're, like, guests in Jordan? Although we are citizens, there is a bit of a separation. It's a very thorny topic that would not please any government official listening to a Palestinian Jordanian complain about being in Jordan (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Hanan, can you tell us what it feels like to you to sit so geographically close to and yet so far removed from the ability to do anything as this situation unfolds as a Jordanian Palestinian specifically?

MOHAMMED: To me, I love Jordan. I consider Jordan my country. I love Palestine and consider Palestine my country. So to me, both are my countries. As people of Palestinian origin, it's actually impossible for us to return right now as the occupation stands. And it's extremely hard for us to visit. I managed, thank God. I consider myself blessed that I have managed to see my light, my country while I'm still alive.

So I once entered the West Bank, and I once entered Gaza, and it was the best experience of my life. I never felt more serene than I have felt there. I just want to say that one of the ugliest feelings I've ever felt was when I was led back or getting out of there as you're escorted and you're just on the bus and you're just leaving and you're leaving the entire land behind you and the people and everything they're going through. And then it felt like I was getting slapped a hundred times on the face, a thousand times on the face, actually.

And then suddenly, I was back in Amman, where everyone was just normal and going to restaurants and going to the mall. And I felt completely dissociated for a week. I couldn't speak to my family. I couldn't just get back to my normal day-to-day life. It was very dissociating.

SHAPIRO: After we've talked about these feelings of powerlessness and confusion and fear and guilt, is there anything you're doing to help with all of that? Is there anything that you have found useful in this last week?

MOHAMMED: In my own nature, I'm not someone who is - who likes to give in to despair. And I'm an activist. I'm an organizer. I am - I've always been a rebel. So I'm always someone...

SHAPIRO: You're wearing an AC/DC shirt.



MOHAMMED: That is telling. So there is sadness. There is anger. There's fear. And there is hope. And then there is also pride. I am very proud of my people, of their non-stopping resistance, of their resilience. I am super-proud of them. We on the outside get our strength and our hope from them.

SHAPIRO: Hanan Mohammed and Imad Shawa, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I'm thinking of your families, and I hope that they are safe.

MOHAMMED: Thank you, Ari.

SHAWA: Thank you.


Our co-host Ari Shapiro reporting from Amman, Jordan. Tomorrow we visit an Israeli army base where they are identifying bodies from the massacre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.