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The bombing of a hospital in Gaza sparks protests across the Middle East

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The bombing of a hospital in Gaza has sparked fury across the Arab world.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Amman, Jordan, security forces tear-gassed protesters trying to reach the Israeli Embassy.

MARTIN: And that is where we have NPR's Jane Arraf. Jane, good morning to you.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: You were at the protest. Can you tell us what you saw?

ARRAF: Sure. When I got there, people were leaving because security forces were pushing them out. But there are still about a thousand people, most of them young men, wearing Palestinian flags. The tear gas was hanging in the air, and ambulances were coming and going. The riot police had kept the protesters away from the embassy, which is, as you would imagine, heavily fortified, but not before some of them set fire to some tires nearby.

Now, protests here aren't unusual. The majority of Jordanians are originally Palestinian. They're forced from their homes - their families were forced from their homes in the West Bank during the wars with Israel. And among East Bank Jordanians, there's a strong affinity for the Palestinian cause. But this protest felt different. I spoke to one of the protesters, Omar, a 22-year-old engineering student, who told me why he had come.

OMAR: It doesn't mean anything. He just came here to witness the genocide in Palestine.

ARRAF: There, he's talking about what he thought Biden would accomplish if he came here. But he also said that he was spurred to come because he saw the bombing of the hospital in Gaza on TV, which is a big reason a lot of them came. Another young man told me he and his friends came because the world had forgotten about Palestinians. And that's a key part of the anger here. There are millions of Palestinian refugees who have languished for decades, and there's a feeling that it can't go on like this.

MARTIN: How is the government of Jordan responding?

ARRAF: Well, they're deeply worried, as you saw with the cancellation of the summit with President Biden. And here's what they're worried about, mostly. It's that having taken in waves of refugees from Palestine and other places, they fear that more Palestinian refugees could be pushed into Jordan because there has been an Israeli thought that perhaps Jordan is the alternate Palestine, which, of course, Jordan rejects and Palestinians reject. Egypt has much the same fears, by the way. It fears that Palestinians from Gaza would be pushed into Egypt. And that's basically the bottom line.

So what you have are people who are trapped with nowhere to go and countries that want to help them but can't take any more of them. They also don't want to see Palestinians giving up their land. That would make it even harder for them to come back. And I think we also need to say that both Egypt and Jordan, like a lot of countries in the region, they're having tough times to begin with - severe economic hardship, widespread discontent.

MARTIN: And as briefly as you can, Jane, what about elsewhere in the Arab world?

ARRAF: Well, in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, returned to be greeted by hundreds of protesters. And it's a sign that although the catalyst for the protests last night were what's happening in Gaza and the hospital bombing, there's also a vein of all sorts of other resentments, this one lack of leadership. And people are using the opportunity to come out and show their anger.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jane Arraf. Jane, thank you so much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.