What Has The Unrest In Gaza Meant For Palestinians?

May 29, 2018
Originally published on May 29, 2018 11:58 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People in Gaza have had a couple of weeks now to ask a big question - did they gain anything from weeks of protests? Thousands of Palestinians approached a barrier at the edge of that small territory. Some tried to get through the barrier. Israeli troops killed more than 100 Palestinians. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been in Gaza asking what changed. He's there now.

Hey there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where have you been talking with people around Gaza?

ESTRIN: I've been going all around Gaza in the last couple days. I met with someone whose leg was amputated, an 18-year-old who was at the border. He said he was throwing rocks but that he was sitting down at the border and not doing anything when Israeli troops shot him. His leg was amputated. And I asked him, you know, did these protests achieve anything? He said, nothing. I asked him what he was doing there. He said he was at the border to liberate Jerusalem. But, you know, here we are. He's at home. He has no leg. He regrets it, and his situation is the same. His - the majority of his family have no jobs, and they're looking at their future and not seeing a bright future at all.

INSKEEP: Every part of this story must be repeated many times, Daniel, starting with the amputated leg - because Israeli troops were using live bullets and firing at people's legs, as I recall.

ESTRIN: That's right. The majority of wounds - there were thousands of people who were shot in lower limbs. Several dozen have had legs and other limbs amputated. So the price that Palestinians have paid over the last couple weeks has been very high. And so that's the main question I've been asking people here, is, was the price worth it?

INSKEEP: Well, I'm remembering when you and I were in Gaza a couple of weeks ago, we went to meet a spokesman for this group Hamas, which runs Gaza, and he argued that the protests that were still underway at that point were a success because they'd called the attention of the world to Gaza. You're telling me people on the ground don't see it that way.

ESTRIN: Many people I've been speaking with don't see it that way, including many students I met trying to cross through the Egyptian border. The Egyptians have opened their border with Gaza for the month of Ramadan for the next couple of weeks to - as President Sisi said, to ease the pressures on Gaza. And I asked people there, don't they see the protests as achieving that, at least - opening the border? And they said, no, this is - this border should be open; this is our right to cross. And all they want to do is leave. They see no future.

But I spoke with a Hamas official. I told him about these Palestinians I met who feel that nothing has changed here, and he said, yes, it's hard to see the accomplishments of these border protests. But, he said, there are accomplishments. He says - as you say, Steve - the world is paying attention to Gaza once again when there's plenty happening in Syria and Yemen and other places here. He also says Hamas has been approached by various international mediators - Qatar, Egypt, the U.N. has been involved - trying to mediate some kind of solution, some kind of long-term cease-fire here, which is exactly what Hamas wanted.

INSKEEP: So let's talk about a couple of news events now. First, the Israeli military says that Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired out of Gaza. What happened?

ESTRIN: The Israeli army says several rounds of mortar fire - mortar shells were fired - about 28 mortar shells. No injuries were reported. Israel says it shot down most of the mortars. But this is significant. It's the biggest mortar fire attack in years. And we've been seeing violence mounting on the Gaza-Israel border in the last few days with attacks across the border, Palestinians - Israel saying Palestinians trying to carry out attacks on the border, Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza, some Palestinian militants killed. And the Israeli prime minister today is threatening a forceful response to today's mortar fire.

INSKEEP: So we're going back to more traditional warfare there. What about protests? Are there also more kind of nonviolent protests going on?

ESTRIN: Well, I'm sitting on the hotel balcony here, looking out at the sea, and I'm seeing dozens of boats - small fishing boats heading out into the sea, and 20 Palestinians are on some of these boats - students, some people wounded at the protests. They say they're headed for Cyprus, and they want to block a sea blockade that Israel imposes in Gaza. And all of this is a Palestinian cry for help at the very harsh conditions here in Gaza. Of course, Israel says Hamas, a militant group, is trying to instigate violence.

INSKEEP: Trying to break out of an area that people inside often regard as an open-air prison. Daniel, thank you very much.

ESTRIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting today from Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.