Starting A Family, Reporting From A 'Burning Land'
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Next we have a story of two veteran foreign correspondents who married each other. Jennifer Griffin and Greg Myre moved to Jerusalem to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the time, it seemed to be heading for a resolution.
GREG MYRE: We almost felt a little disappointed. It was so calm and it was so quiet we thought this is actually a good time to start a family.
INSKEEP: They did, though history intervened. Jennifer Griffin recalls the day an Israeli politician, Ariel Sharon, paid a controversial visit to the holiest site in Jerusalem.
Ms. JENNIFER GRIFFIN (Correspondent, Fox News): I was pregnant actually with our first daughter at the time and I had a little bit of morning sickness. And I thought, oh, I really don't want to go over there. And our bureau chief said, you know, you've got to go. It's something - this is too tense.
INSKEEP: That day in the year 2000 marked the start of a Palestinian uprising the continued for years. Today, Greg Myre is an editor here at NPR's MORNING EDITION. Jennifer Griffin is a correspondent for Fox News. Together they have written "This Burning Land," a book about their years in the Mid East. Their kids were born in a hospital that also treated the wounded from suicide bombs.
You guys actually write about the experience of being in the hospital where both of your children were born, right, both of them?
Ms. GRIFFIN: That's right.
INSKEEP: Would you read a little bit of that?
Ms. GRIFFIN: (Reading) It was in a Jewish neighborhood surrounded by Palestinian ones, and a sign at the hospital entrance told patients and visitors to hand over their weapons. There was an armed guard manning a metal detector to make sure they did.
Everyone seemed to check their hostilities at the door, as well. Walking the halls, we heard almost as much Arabic as we did Hebrew. In the nursery, Muhammad and Moshe were both popular names for newborns. If you could replicate the atmosphere in Israeli hospitals, Arabs and Jews would have made peace decades ago.
MYRE: This is some of the duality of life there. There were certain places -and hospitals being the leading example - where people seemed to just set all those hostilities aside. There was a sense of we're all facing the same issue. We're all people trying to get through our lives here. We're having babies. We have illnesses.
This was the nature of the place. There could be peaceful situations that would give you hope one minute, and there could be scenes of great friction and violence the next.
Ms. GRIFFIN: I mean, it was an amazing time to be there. And those seven years I think really changed the conflict. There was a period in March of 2002, when every other day there was a suicide bombing. That changes your psychology. And you have to live through something like that to understand how the Israelis and Palestinians really changed during that period.
INSKEEP: Okay. How did it change your psychology as individuals, as a couple, as a family?
Ms. GRIFFIN: You know, I remember one instance in particular where it was a Saturday night and you had this sort of gut-wrenching feeling that when the sun would go down and Shabbat, the Sabbath, would end, that's usually when activity would start up again, and you knew that a Palestinian bomber was on its way to sites in Jerusalem.
And I remember one night when we were putting Annalise, our six month old to bed, and the windows in our apartment shook because the caf� down the street, Moment Caf�, had just blown up. And the owner lived upstairs from us. We heard the door slam as he ran down the street. It was a very intense time.
INSKEEP: And this happened day after day after day, week after week after week? Is that right?
MYRE: Certainly, back for a couple of years, in 2002 - 2003. But over a course of really five years you had to worry all the time. You could go about your day and it would look like a normal day. You got up, took kids to school. You went to work, you went shopping, did what you needed to do. But then, all of a sudden, you could be sitting drinking coffee in a cafe and, pow...
Ms. GRIFFIN: We didn't spend a lot of time in cafes for that reason, Greg.
Ms. GRIFFIN: I mean we had certain rules with the children. You wouldn't take them to grocery stores. You wouldn't take them to the movie theaters. I mean we lived within certain parameters so that we could live safely. Now, that being said, you're right, that certain aspects of it felt very normal. But it also was very surreal when at 1 p.m., I could be up in the, you know, in Jenin, in the West Bank, interviewing masked gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and I'd have to call Greg at 1 and say, oh, can you pick up the kids from preschool?
INSKEEP: Oh, man.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MYRE: Jennifer would travel around routinely with a breast pump and a flak jacket.
INSKEEP: What did you tell your children about what was going on around them, particularly as they got a little older?
Ms. GRIFFIN: Well, there was one moment when we realized maybe we had stayed too long, when Annalise and her friend Benny, whose parents worked for the Washington Post at the time, and our babysitters came home laughing. They said the kids said they were probably four years old and they had taken their cell phones and Annalise had said, there's been an explosion in Tel Aviv. And Benny took the other cell phone and said, have you sent a photographer?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GRIFFIN: And we realized they had probably overheard a little too much from their journalist parents.
INSKEEP: Oh my goodness. What did Israelis and Palestinians, or at least some that you knew, tell their children about the conflict that they were in the middle of?
MYRE: Well, this was, again, I think a very, very important part of what we were trying to tell. Anybody that's, you know, 63 years old or younger has lived with this conflict their entire life. And it starts from - at a very young age. If you're a young Israeli - boy or girl - you know you're going to go into the military out of high school for two or three years. You may continue to serve after that. If you're a young Palestinian, this is not a place that has soccer heroes or movie stars or rock stars. So they often look to the militant group that they feel they most identify with, and their friends are out maybe throwing stones at Israeli soldiers patrolling in their neighborhood.
Ms. GRIFFIN: Greg describes how young Palestinian boys would carry around, during this particular period of the uprising, their school photos or the photo that they wanted use on their so-called martyrdom posters if they became suicide bombers.
INSKEEP: Are you saying people would pick out the photo that they most wanted to have on the martyrdom poster after their death?
Ms. GRIFFIN: And carry it in their breast pocket to school.
INSKEEP: Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin are authors of "This Burning Land."
Thanks very much.
Ms. GRIFFIN: Thank you.
Mr. MYRE: Thank you, Steve.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Jennifer Griffin is a correspondent for Fox News, as she was for years in Jerusalem. Her husband, Greg Myre, reported for The New York Times and now edits MORNING EDITION.
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