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Ask Me Anything: Correspondent Emily Harris Discusses Gaza

Emily Harris is NPR's international correspondent based in Jerusalem.
Stephanie Federico
Emily Harris is NPR's international correspondent based in Jerusalem.

For the past month, NPR's Emily Harris has covered the intense Israeli-Palestinian fighting from the Gaza Strip.

She has reported from the front lines of the fighting, from the chaotic scenes at Palestinian hospitals and onthe funerals that took place even as the battles raged.

She also wrote about the long history of the tunnels in the territory, noting that Alexander the Great expressed frustration about the underground passageways when he besieged Gaza in 332 B.C.

Harris, who has been based in Jerusalem for the past year, took questions Wednesday on Reddit's Ask Me Anything on the the Gaza fighting as well as other topics related to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here are some of the highlights:

How do Palestinians feel about Hamas?

A big range. Several people told me basically that "Hamas is all of us" — meaning there are people who are members of or sympathetic to Hamas in lots of people's family or social circles.

A Fatah businessman told me he "respects" Hamas but he flew the yellow Fatah flag above his house. Some people I met said they didn't like Hamas at all but they liked that someone was fighting Israel on their behalf (their words).

I happened to be standing with a woman I had just interviewed ... when a funeral for a person who had just been killed by an airstrike went by. There were about 60 people following. She pulled my ear down and said, "This is how small Hamas has become."

Of course, many processions were smaller because of war logistics. Also, many people predict Hamas' popularity will be affected by political circumstances that follow.

What about the claims that Hamas was firing rockets out of or next to residential buildings, using civilians as human shields, or instructing families to stay in their homes in defiance of Israeli warnings?

Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired rockets from all over. I don't personally know of instances where Hamas instructed people to stay in their homes after a warning.

I do know of a man who went back into a building after evacuating for a warning because he thought one of his kids was still inside. The kid was outside. The man died.

While at Shifa Hospital (in Gaza City), I asked two people what they thought about Hamas spokespeople being around Shifa. One person was a doctor who worked at Shifa. He seemed uncomfortable with the question. The other was a young Palestinian who had just spent 24 hours filming whatever happened over that period at Shifa. He said why shouldn't Hamas choose a safe place to speak?

Did Hamas place restrictions on reporters in Gaza?

I felt that I personally could report on whatever I wanted. I posted some photos of rocket smoke across the sky and put the audio of the one rocket launch I managed to record in a piece, noting that it was fired in the middle of Gaza City ...

I know in the past they have called in Palestinian journalists who work with foreign reporters when they (Hamas security people) were not happy with certain stories being pursued ...

During the war and over the year prior that I've been periodically reporting from Gaza, there have been times that people seemed uncomfortable with certain questions.

For example, at a house crushed by an Israeli airstrike, asking if someone in the house belonged to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. But if you talked to people in private, they'd tell you what they knew, or at least had heard. Often on the street, crowds of men gather to listen in on interviews, and sometimes people show up who make interviewees appear nervous.

What did journalists know about the Hamas tunnels?

Everybody knew about the commercial and smuggling tunnels from Egypt (into Gaza). It was reported that arms came through these along with cigarettes and cheap gas, and while it's hard to get pictures of this, it seems pretty darn likely.

The other tunnels people outside Gaza started to become aware of when the Israeli military publicized what they'd found. I asked Gazans about what they knew about tunnels for a piece recently — besides what I cite here, people knew of times roads collapsed for no reason, and there were occasionally Palestinian media reports about people dying when tunnels collapsed.

What was life like for Jerusalemites? Are markets open? Even in Arab areas? Are tourists still roaming, visiting sites?

I just got back yesterday, the day the cease-fire, that is still holding, started. Seems like there is a lot of relief. Although there are always tensions in Jerusalem. A colleague here told me that the on-hold message at his bank was saying something like, "Now the war is over, it's time to ... " something happy. I do know tourism dropped. Canceling flights was one thing that affected that. Israel's Tourism Ministry put together a big promotion encouraging people to holiday domestically.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.