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The Israel-Hamas war is at risk of spreading out into the Middle East


The first thing you notice when you arrive in Amman, Jordan, as our team did today, is Palestinian flags. They are everywhere, flying from balconies taped in shop windows, slung around people's necks. Now, Jordan borders Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Gaza and the war unfolding there is 90 miles away. But people here in Amman say the war is having a huge impact on their daily lives.

AHMED SHADID: (Through interpreter) The people - they stopped drinking. They stopped eating. They stopped shopping. All they do is watch TV, wondering what is going to happen to Gaza.

KELLY: That is 45-year-old Ahmed Shadid (ph). He works in a dress shop in central Amman. Not everyone would speak with us. More than one person refused because we are American, and anger here against America is running high. The first man we tried in Hashim (ph), a hummus cafe, declined for this reason. The second was a 40-year-old man named Amir (ph). He didn't want to give his last name. He is worried about the police and his safety. He told me he is watching events in Gaza with horror, but he does not want the war to end. On the contrary...

AMIR: I'm very hopeful that it will escalate very quickly. But I truly believe that there is something happening with the people here. The people are truly thinking about picking up arms and fighting. Just do something.

KELLY: Back to that anger at U.S. government policy, some Jordanians are boycotting American products to protest American support of Israel. Adel Kilani (ph), who is Palestinian and owns a coffee shop here, has pulled Pepsi from his shelves, replaced it with local Jordanian cola.

Have your customers complained? Do they support this?

ADEL KILANI: (Through interpreter) My customers - they are encouraging this subject.

KELLY: Across town tonight, we stopped by a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protest - more Palestinian flags, posters that appeared to show dead children in Gaza, pro-Hamas slogans. They chant in Arabic. Sometimes it's free Palestine, sometimes this.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Arabic).

KELLY: An old Palestinian song. Take away the soldiers from the borders and the West Bank, they're saying. We pull aside a young woman who asked us to identify her by her nickname, Ronde (ph), because she says her job does not allow her to speak to the media. She's 29, Jordanian of Palestinian descent with family in Gaza.

RONDE: I am boycotting, too. I'm feeling the feeling of helpless person towards what's happening, so all I can do is boycott, is protest and do the small stuff I can do and share on social media, talk to my non-Arab friends to tell them about what's happening.

KELLY: Well, I was curious how what we are hearing here in Jordan lines up with the rest of the region. So we have called NPR's Jane Arraf, who is reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, where she is seeing some of the immediate effects of this war's spillover. Hey, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK. Let's start - I want you to start, actually, in southern Lebanon because there has been shelling between Israel and another group, Hezbollah. What is the situation like now?

ARRAF: Hezbollah is the biggest political and military force in Lebanon, and it's backed by Iran. It says there's a real danger of the war widening in reaction to these mounting deaths in Gaza. More than 10,000 people have been killed so far in Gaza - almost half of those are children - since the Hamas attacks across the Israeli border killed about 1,400 people last month. So Israel and Hezbollah have been launching rockets and artillery across the border pretty much every day since the war began. But on Sunday, after a Hezbollah attack which it said was aimed at an army outpost killed an Israeli civilian, things escalated. Israel launched an airstrike that killed a Lebanese woman and three children in a car. Hezbollah responded for the first time in this conflict with heavier firepower, launching Grad rockets in what it said was retaliation for those deaths.

KELLY: This is interesting. So it sounds like the war is already having a huge effect in Lebanon.

ARRAF: It is, particularly when you get down to that border area. We visited a center for displaced families in Tyre city just 12 miles from the border with Israel, and there are more families arriving there every day. From the seaside that the city is built around, we could actually hear explosions and see smoke rising from the Israeli strikes. In Tyre, we spoke with Mohammad Ali Jaber. He's the chairman of the city's technical school, and he talked to us next to classrooms were students were studying car mechanics just one floor above displaced families who are living in classrooms.

MOHAMMAD ALI JABER: Everyone aims to live a life which is full of peace and happiness and ecstasy and pleasure, but it's with the hands of God.

ARRAF: He also says, though, that it's in U.S. hands because they're providing arms and money to Israel. And that's a sentiment that's growing across the region. As you pointed out, that boycott of U.S. brands in places like Jordan - that's also happening in Lebanon and in other countries because there really is a widespread belief that if it weren't for the U.S., Israel wouldn't be able to continue its bombing campaign.

KELLY: Touch, if you would, Jane, on some of those other countries. I want to just skip around the region. What are you picking up on?

ARRAF: Well, this war, Mary Louise, has really hardened anti-Israeli sentiment in a lot of Arab countries, including some of those that were moving to normalize ties with Israel. Yemen's Houthis, backed by Iran, said this week they had launched drone attacks against Israel. Yemen, of course, is not one of the ones that was normalizing relations, but it is an interesting development. And U.S. installations in Iraq have also come under increased attack from Iran-backed militias. Iran, of course, is a key part of whether this war escalates. It backs Hamas, which Israel is fighting in Gaza, as well as other powerful militia groups in the region.

KELLY: One other thing I want to ask about, which is this. I have not been in Jordan long at all, but I am already struck by how angry people are here at the U.S. I want you to listen to one thing somebody told me tonight. This is Tamar Shunuk (ph). He was at the protest tonight, and I asked who he blames for what is happening in Gaza. He told me he blames America first, Israel second.

TAMAR SHUNUK: So America is the main leader in the world and is the biggest who has the force or who has the power in America. And they give all the abilities to Israel to do all of that since 1948.

KELLY: So I want to make sure I understand. It's Israeli soldiers, not Americans, who are shooting missiles, who are in Gaza. But you blame America first because America is the bigger, more important power and is the - should be the world leader.

SHUNUK: Yes. And the missiles they are using is made in USA.

KELLY: Jane, are you hearing things similar to that in Lebanon or other parts of the Middle East?

ARRAF: Absolutely. I guess I would say first that you're hearing those really visceral reactions in Jordan, though, because so many of its citizens - a majority, actually - are Palestinian in origin. But definitely there's more anger across the region at the U.S. And what so many Arabs see is double standards regarding the loss of so many civilian lives. It's a kind of anger I haven't seen since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its disastrous aftermath.

KELLY: NPR's Jane Arraf in Beirut. I will say thank you and goodnight from Amman.

ARRAF: Thank you. Goodnight from Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS' "FF4") 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.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
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 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.
Larry Kaplow edits the work of NPR's correspondents in the Middle East and helps direct coverage about the region. That has included NPR's work on the Syrian civil war, the Trump administration's reduction in refugee admissions, the Iran nuclear deal, the US-backed fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.