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In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinians are living their lives -- anxiously

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Many Palestinians in Ramallah say they're watching Gaza and feeling threatened. The political and economic center of the Israeli-occupied West Bank is home to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. It's also where countries that have recognized a Palestinian state, like Spain and Norway, would base their embassies. NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi traveled there and sent us this dispatch.

ROLA AL-SHEIKH: (Speaking Arabic).

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: In the middle of Ramallah's hippest restaurant, Rola al-Sheikh (ph) smokes a flavored hookah. She's fashionably dressed with a tight black turban, a breezy green blouse. Al-Sheikh is an academic by day, but tonight, it's mom's night out with her girlfriends. The restaurant, SnowBar, is canopied with fabrics and light. It's packed with young people. Tina Turner plays over the speakers. Al-Sheikh says this is the first time her girlfriends have gathered in months. The war in Gaza made them lose interest in fun.

AL-SHEIKH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "Sometimes we go out," al-Sheikh says, "but it's with this feeling of shame. Shame for living life while Gaza suffers so much." Al-Sheikh stopped posting on social media.

AL-SHEIKH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "Because we have friends in Gaza," she says, "we don't want to show that life seems normal here." But, in fact, life hasn't been normal in Ramallah since October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel and triggered an invasion of Gaza. While it's not the same devastation, a different kind of war is being waged in the West Bank. Israeli settler violence and military raids are on the rise. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to the United Nations. Twelve Israelis have also been killed. An increase in Israeli military checkpoints is paralyzing movement. Everyone in Ramallah feels trapped.

AL-SHEIKH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "I'm afraid they'll grab us on the road," al-Sheikh says. Before the war, Palestinians in Ramallah would go out of town in the summer, go hiking in nearby forests. Now traffic snarls the city every night. The coffee shops are packed with people out late with not much else to do.

AL-SHEIKH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "The only outlet I have is to sit at a cafe and smoke a hookah or drink a coffee," al-Sheikh says.

MAY BARGHOUTI: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "At any moment, settlers or the army could charge in," al-Sheikh's friend, May Barghouti (ph), says. In fact, the Israeli military recently raided a shopping area with vegetable stands and clothing stores in the heart of Ramallah.

(CROSSTALK)

AL-SHALCHI: Here, men selling cucumbers, zucchini and cherries shout out their wares. People jostle past each other. They carry plastic bags of fruit and homewares. Days after the raid, the smell of smoke still lingers. Vendors and local officials say the Israeli military set fire to some shops during the raid. The military told NPR it was dispersing a violent riot after entering the area to make an arrest. They said they killed five Palestinians in the operation. The fire spread, destroying a three-story shopping center and a vegetable market.

(SHOUTING)

AL-SHALCHI: A large group of men survey the blackened walls, twisted iron, all that's left of the shopping mall.

HESHAM AL-FELEFEL: (Crying out in Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: Hesham al-Felefel (ph) wails and slaps his head. Men pull him up to his feet, telling him to trust in God.

AL-FELEFEL: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: Al-Felefel is one of dozens who lost their livelihoods in the fire. Until October 7, the Israeli raids were more common in the villages and refugee camps outside Ramallah, but now residents say they're hitting the heart of the city.

NIHAD ABU GHOSH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: Nihad Abu Ghosh is a Palestinian writer from Ramallah. He says Israel is sending a message with the market raid.

ABU GHOSH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: Abu Ghosh says they want Palestinians to feel like there is no protection for anyone or any place. He says Israel's ultimate goal is expulsion.

ABU GHOSH: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: To make life as uncomfortable as possible so that Palestinians will prefer to escape, Abu Ghosh says. Back at SnowBar, al-Sheikh and her friends worry about what Israel might do next.

BARGHOUTI: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: "I can't bring myself to think about the future past a couple of months," May Barghouti says. She says Palestinians in the West Bank are watching what's happening in Gaza and feel like very soon they may be next.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi, NPR News, Ramallah.

(SOUNDBITE OF JASMINE MYRA'S "1000 MILES") 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.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.