In Jerusalem, And Caught In A Crossfire Of Thrown Stones

Following the deaths of three Israeli teens and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian, Jerusalem is as tense as it has been in years. NPR's Ari Shapiro and his translator found themselves victims of rock-throwing there. Their story offers a window into a city on edge.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Fighting continues today between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel said that Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel. There were no serious injuries reported. That came after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza overnight. Israel denies Hamas claims that those strikes killed some militants. Tensions are high after the recent killings of three Israeli teens and one Palestinian youth, and now, Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem both talk about being afraid to walk the streets at night. NPR's Ari Shapiro begins our coverage. He experienced one flare-up firsthand today.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Arabic spoken).

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: NPR's Arabic translator, Nuha Musleh, and I were in Jerusalem's Old City interviewing a young Palestinian woman named Haneen Ashhab. She works in a pharmacy and attends Hebron University. She told us things are so frightening right now, she's thinking about buying pepper spray to defend herself.

HANEEN ASHHAB: (Arabic spoken).

SHAPIRO: She says the neighborhood Palestinian boys throws rocks at the Israeli soldiers and the settlers. The soldiers respond, she says, by spraying sewage water or shooting rubber bullets.

NUHA MUSLEH: Our question is have you been that afraid before? (Arabic spoken).

ASHHAB: (Arabic spoken).

MUSLEH: (Translating) I've never been so scared - so frightened for my safety.

SHAPIRO: What makes this situation different...

MUSLEH: (Screaming).

SHAPIRO: Are you OK? Are you OK?

Everyone falls to the ground. Musleh clutches her shoulder. Someone threw a rock. And fat, sharp chunk of concrete lies on the ground. Another rock hit the woman we were interviewing. The attackers are gone. Both women are bruised but OK. Musleh takes a few minutes to catch her breath, then decides to investigate.

MUSLEH: And he saw - another stone.

SHAPIRO: A merchant pulls out an identical piece of concrete and points to his broken display.

This is where it hit the cigarette lighters.

Everyone is asking who were the attackers? Where did they go? A young Palestinian boy steps forward.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Arabic spoken).

MUSLEH: (Arabic spoken). He chased them.

SHAPIRO: You chased them?

MUSLEH: (Arabic spoken).

SHAPIRO: What do they look like?

MUSLEH: (Arabic spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Arabic spoken).

MUSLEH: They are religious Jews. They're wearing black.

SHAPIRO: At first it's impossible to know whether this is true. Someone says the police have a man in custody, so we find two uniformed officers with rifles just outside the Old City gates. They say I have to stop recording.

MUSLEH: No, this is important. (Arabic spoken).

SHAPIRO: I'm a - I was reporting when the stone was thrown.

MUSLEH: OK, tell us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Arabic spoken).

MUSLEH: He's now in jail. He is now in jail.

SHAPIRO: Next stop - the police station. Officers confirm that they have arrested an ultra-Orthodox man. It feels extremely tense here. Over the last few weeks, things have steadily escalated. It's a tit-for-tat that seems to be getting worse by the day. The young woman who was hit by a rock is already at the police station with her grandfather who's visibly upset. The police officer speaks to them in Arabic.

So the police officer says don't stir up the situation, and the grandfather says, I will stir it up as much as need be. My granddaughter was hit.

Another officer named Nati Atias takes me by the arm and physically shoves me away from NPR's translator into the stairwell. After she gives her witness statement, Musleh explains that her conversation with the police officer became almost a microcosm of this larger conflict.

MUSLEH: He was telling me I'm used to people being hit by stones. I know how it feels to be hit by a stone because we have many people who come here reporting being hit by stones, and they are all Jews.

SHAPIRO: Later I ask Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld to respond. Rosenfeld says, quote, "the officer was just giving information that most of the people who are injured in these incidents are Jews." Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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