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Who's to blame for the war between Israel and Hamas? Jordanian women look to America

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Amman, Jordan, where we have come to hear what's on people's minds given that the majority of this country's population is of Palestinian origin and given that they share a border with Israel. This afternoon, on the outside terrace of a coffee shop named Astrolabe, we had arranged to meet a woman named Hadeel Shehadeh. She's 37, an entrepreneur, self-described influencer and a big deal on Instagram - 102,000 followers. Her feed has changed recently. Up until the first week of October, she posted about her kids, causes she supports, pictures of herself in pretty dresses. Then Hamas attacked Israel, and now her feed is consumed by the war.

HADEEL SHEHADEH: We need to raise our voices. We need to share the truth. All influencers in the Arab world are using their platforms. Whether they are chefs, makeup artists, fashionista, they are using their platforms to tell the truth.

KELLY: Hadeel brought along three other women who have also decided to raise their voices. They are among the many people from across the region holding a huge range of views that we have been hearing on NPR since the conflict began. You are about to meet Yasmin Al Farra - she's 39 and a communications consultant - Dana Dwiere - 26, a lawyer and activist - and Nisreen Matalka, age 45, a fitness trainer and salsa instructor here in Amman. And we're going to pick up the conversation with Nisreen, whose young kids are boycotting McDonald's to protest American policy in the Middle East.

NISREEN MATALKA: They used to eat Mac every week. They used to love it and now nothing. They don't even crave for it. And this is something. Wow. Their mind are so stubborn. They - if they believe in something - oh, my God, this is amazing. Starbucks - they don't...

KELLY: Sorry. You're talking about your kid, the one who's 10 years old.

MATALKA: Both.

KELLY: Both - at 10 and 8, you're saying.

MATALKA: Ten and 8.

KELLY: And they've stopped eating Big Macs because of the war.

MATALKA: Because of the war.

KELLY: And how would they link McDonald's to what's happening?

MATALKA: They say it's supporting Israel. They will never ever eat it again. And I'm so proud that...

KELLY: I know...

YASMIN AL FARRA: I believe you was asking how did - how do they know? - the kids.

MATALKA: School and from us.

SHEHADEH: Oh, yeah. For me, like, my son and my other son, Mazen (ph) - he's 6 years old. We used to get McDonald's at home. So I showed him pictures of crashed homes in Gaza. And I told him, these are Israelis. They are bombing us in - our brothers in Gaza. And I showed him a little bit of kids crying, so he understand now.

KELLY: This is interesting what - just I want to follow on this before we move on. I also have two boys. They're older than yours. When mine were 3 and 6, I think my instinct was probably to want to protect them from all that is bad and scary in the world, and you're choosing, in this case, to do the opposite.

SHEHADEH: Yes because they need to learn. Kids - they need to learn from early age. We're not doing, by the way, like - Israelis - they are teaching them in the school, you don't need to friend with the Arabs. There is so discrimination in Israel. However, in Islam, we should respect other religions, and we respect Judaism. We are not anti-Jewish. We are anti-Israelis because they took our land, and that's what I want to teach my kids.

DANA DWIERE: Regarding the boycott, I just wanted to say that this war - I think it's the first step to eternal separation from any Western illusions or products or principles. This war has liberated every Arab in the Middle East. I think what Hamas did - and I'm pro-Hamas, by the way, and I'm going to tell you about it later. What Hamas did is that they broke the illusion of the strongest and most powerful army in the world with handmade rockets and handmade tunnels. What they did was that they liberated more than 500 million Arabs in the Middle East, and that's not something to be taken for granted. So the boycotting is the least of our actions.

KELLY: We have interviewed a man at the protests last night around...

DWIERE: Yes.

KELLY: ...From the Israeli embassy, who said - I asked, who do you blame for what is happening in Gaza?

DWIERE: Yes.

KELLY: And he said, America first, Israel second.

DWIERE: Yes.

KELLY: And I asked, in that order? And he said, yes.

AL FARRA: Yes.

DWIERE: Yes.

KELLY: I was surprised, and I'm curious. Does that resonate with you?

AL FARRA: Absolutely.

MATALKA: Yes, of course.

AL FARRA: Absolutely. Blinken has been to Israel three times in the past month. Support to Israel, financial support, in addition to all other kinds of support, has been increasing. The speed of action to support Israel has been unbelievable. When we watched what happened in Ukraine and how the whole world acted overnight and had sanctions and everything and they were so creative in new ways to punish Russia - we haven't seen any of that. We do not have anything against American people. We have a lot of American friends. We go to the U.S., etc. But the American government is giving Israel all the support and making it feel like it can continue to do everything with impunity. So to answer your question, yes, I blame the U.S. and Israel equally in addition to other countries like France and the U.K., who also had their foreign ministers or presidents visiting.

KELLY: So I don't speak for the U.S. government. I'm a private citizen, as are you. When American officials like President Biden or Secretary Blinken - when they say, we stand for human rights of all people; we respect the life of all people...

SHEHADEH: Where's the human rights?

KELLY: You're shaking your head.

SHEHADEH: More than 10,000 Palestinian people died. Where is your stand with humanity or the human rights you're telling us about?

AL FARRA: And also, Blinken promised Shireen Abu Akleh's family that they will have a fair investigation.

KELLY: This is the Palestinian American journalist...

AL FARRA: The Palestinian American journalist who's Christian.

KELLY: ...Who was shot and killed in the West Bank.

AL FARRA: American and Christian. And I'm really sorry for having to mention that she's...

DWIERE: Yes.

AL FARRA: ...American and Christian because she's a human at the beginning. They promised her, and then they never - nothing happened just exactly as quickly as Biden said, we know that the hospital was bombed by the other side.

KELLY: You're talking about the hospital at the Jabalia camp...

AL FARRA: Exactly.

KELLY: ...In Gaza.

AL FARRA: So we've seen the people protesting in D.C. We know that the government is not a representation...

DWIERE: Yes.

AL FARRA: ...Of the people. But, yes, the government is as complicit, especially in this war because we haven't seen anything happen for the Palestinians, anything at all. So, yeah, so I was answering your point about human rights. Where are the human rights for Shireen Abu Akleh? Where are the human rights for these people?

KELLY: OK. Let me pause.

AL FARRA: I'm sorry. I'm sorry about your...

KELLY: No, no, no, no.

AL FARRA: We have very angry features in Jordan. It's a barren environment, so it's not personal.

KELLY: I appreciate it.

DWIERE: We're known for that.

AL FARRA: We're known for that. We don't - we have, like, resting b**** face (laughter).

DWIERE: That's it.

SHEHADEH: We've had - we've changed.

AL FARRA: This changed everybody, and everybody is saying that. It changed them forever.

MATALKA: Forever.

DWIERE: I'm saying from a point of strength.

MATALKA: Strength.

DWIERE: And we've changed forever. But this means the first step towards liberation - the liberation of the whole Middle East, not only Palestine. Palestine is the destination to the whole liberation of the whole Middle East and the Arab nation. (Non-English language spoken).

MATALKA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL FARRA: (Non-English language spoken).

DWIERE: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: That was Hadeel Shehadah, Yasmin Al Farra, Dana Dwiere and Nisreen Matalka. I spoke with them on a cafe terrace here in Amman today.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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.
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Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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