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Anger and sadness about the state of Gaza dominate at Hitteen refugee camp in Jordan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are in Zarqa, Jordan, a little outside Amman. This is one of the United-Nations-run camps for Palestinian refugees - second biggest one, we're told. And when I say camp, I'm looking around. We're at a vegetable market on the main street, but around me there's no tents. It's paved roads. It's concrete buildings. It's cramped. It's narrow alleys. And we have come to see if we can speak to people who may have been born here, may have lived much or all of their lives here, but who say home is Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

KELLY: The market is hopping, even though it's Friday, the holy day here - the first day of the weekend. People are preparing for Friday prayers, which start in a few hours. We strike up a conversation with a man named Samir Musri. He's out shopping with his 8-year-old daughter.

SAMIR MUSRI: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: As we're talking, an older woman walks up, starts yelling.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Shouting in non-English language).

KELLY: She tells us whole families are being eliminated in Gaza - that so many people have been killed. She says, no one is helping them, not even fellow Arabs. I turn back to Samir Musri and his daughter.

People here are very angry at what's happening.

MUSRI: (Through interpreter) Of course we're angry because children are being massacred. In the morning today, hospitals were bombed. So yes, it is a massacre, and people are very angry in the camp.

KELLY: Samir was born in Amman, he tells me, through our interpreter, but he has lived in this camp for years. He identifies as Palestinian - from the West Bank. I ask if there are people from Gaza in this camp. He nods, gives me directions...

MUSRI: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: ...To a neighborhood just down the street where many Gazans have settled. There we meet Saleh Nakhleen. He's head of logistics on the committee that runs the camp. He also lives here in Hitten. He tells me that some 90,000 other people do, too - 20,000 in this area alone, the Gaza neighborhood. None of them are refugees from this current war.

SALEH NAKHLEEN: (Through interpreter) No - because the borders are closed, the Gazans cannot leave, not even to Egypt. So no, we haven't had new refugees coming in.

KELLY: Many were born here. Others arrived during moments of conflict and tension - the Nakba - meaning catastrophe - the mass displacement of 1948, the exodus sparked by the six-day war of 1967. All told, today, Jordan is home to more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees. As we wander with Saleh through the narrow alleys of the camp, people peek out windows. Kids run behind us and wave. Small crowds gather to lean close and listen. One older man greets us.

Hi - Mary Louise. I'm with NPR from America.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

ABU EMAD AL DIN: (Speaking Arabic)?

KELLY: America.

Abu Emad Al Din says he despises President Biden, but he agrees to talk with me. He says he understands there is a difference between people and their government. We have been hearing that a lot here. Abu Emad Al Din is from Gaza. He was born there in 1945. He was three when his family was forced out during the Nakba. He has lived here in the camp ever since.

There have been so many troubles for your home - for Gaza. Do you think you will see it again? Will you go back?

AL DIN: (Through interpreter) I wish I can go back right now. Yes, I would go in a heartbeat.

KELLY: Then, another man comes up and invites us into his home. His name is Majid Ghawanmeh, and he's a pharmacist.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

KELLY: Other men follow us inside. We are not quite sure who everyone is - relatives, nosy neighbors - can't tell. We take seats on rows of brown, flowered cushions lining the wall. A huge TV is tuned to Al Jazeera Arabic, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is holding forth about the war. Our host makes a confession.

MAJID GHAWANMEH: (Through interpreter) To be honest with you, we don't entertain or host the enemy. And today, the enemy is America.

KELLY: Still, plump dates and tiny thimbles of coffee are offered. Then the grievances begin to flow.

GHAWANMEH: (Through interpreter) I never imagined in my life that a democratic country would be against a cease-fire - to stop killing civilians - despite any political motive or objective.

KELLY: You are - I want to make sure I understand. You're talking about - the U.S. has called for and is pushing for a pause.

GHAWANMEH: Yes.

KELLY: You want a cease-fire?

GHAWANMEH: Yes.

KELLY: What's the difference? - and explain.

GHAWANMEH: (Through interpreter) You know what's a humanitarian pause? It's a way that the Israeli military can regroup and restrategize. That's what it means to us - a humanitarian pause.

KELLY: Majid is not from Gaza, but his wife is. Her whole family is there.

Around this point, I look up, realize an older woman has plunked down on the cushion beside me. It takes a moment to figure out she does not actually know anyone in this room. She'd seen us on the street, wanted to talk with us and followed us right into a stranger's living room. She is from Gaza, came here when she was married. She asked us to identify her as Um Mohammad. She doesn't want to give her full name because she is wary of the police - of the potential security risk for her daughters who live in Gaza.

UM MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) I don't cook anymore. I don't eat anymore because of what is happening in Gaza.

KELLY: She says she's exhausted.

MOHAMMAD: (Through interpreter) I don't sleep. You know what my children did? They intentionally broke my TV so I don't watch what is happening there. So I'm on the phone all the time.

KELLY: Her two daughters, still in Gaza, are at Rafah Crossing, trying to leave. They're sleeping at a U.N. school that's been turned into a shelter. Um Mohammed has lived in Jordan for 46 years. I ask her, where's home? Around the corner, she says. And then...

MOHAMMAD: (Speaking Arabic).

KELLY: ..."My heart is in Gaza."

Do you think you will see Gaza again?

MOHAMMAD: (Speaking Arabic).

KELLY: "God willing," she says, and throws up her hands.

The men around us nod and begin to ease themselves off the cushions. The call for Friday prayers has begun to echo from the many mosques nearby. We stand, step outside, watch as they walk down narrow alleys to pray.

(CROSSTALK)

KELLY: So many people who are physically here in Jordan today - but their hearts, the people they love, are in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSLIM CALL TO PRAYER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSLIM CALL TO PRAYER)

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Mary Louise's trip to the Middle East this week was produced on the ground by NPR's Kat Lonsdorf and Erika Ryan. Stories from this trip were edited by NPR's Courtney Dorning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSLIM CALL TO PRAYER) 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.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.

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