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Israel Considers Ways To Hinder Flashpoints For Violence


And now let's talk with NPR's Emily Harris, who's covering this story in Jerusalem. Hi, Emily.


INSKEEP: Let's work through what it looks like and feels like in Jerusalem right now. How do these Israeli roadblocks work?

HARRIS: Well, I saw three of them yesterday as they were going up. One was big concrete blocks that were sealing off a road with a couple of soldiers standing there. So no cars could go in and out. Other places had soldiers stopping cars. I saw Israeli security forces checking trunks, getting young men out of the cars, having them lift up their shirts and turn around. Police say that these roadblocks are not meant to completely seal off neighborhoods. But human rights groups have raised concerns that this practice, essentially, is punishing people who are uninvolved in attacks who live in those neighborhood by making it more difficult for them to get to their jobs, to school, to run errands and treating everyone in the area as if they were suspects.

INSKEEP: And we should mention, these roadblocks are not in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. They're in Jerusalem itself. What do Israelis think about that?

HARRIS: Well, there's an interesting debate cropping up in the Israeli media, questioning whether by putting up the roadblocks the government is essentially admitting that Jerusalem is a divided city, divided Palestinian and Jewish halves. And this is true in a lot of practical ways - which days which shops are open, for example. But it's a key part of the Israeli point of view of this conflict that Jerusalem is united and it's Israel's united capital, which is in conflict with Palestinians' view of East Jerusalem being their future capital. So putting up roadblocks is raising the question of whether the capital's being divided. Netanyahu's government officials say this is ridiculous; this is a security measure.

INSKEEP: Well, here's something else the Israeli government is doing, not returning the bodies of Palestinian attackers who've been killed - not returning the bodies to their families. Why refrain from doing that?

HARRIS: Israeli officials say that when they return bodies of people who've been killed by Israelis who are often treated like martyrs or heroes among Palestinians, the funerals can become very political and can lead to further confrontations with Israeli security forces. This is an ongoing practice in certain cases. Now the government has decided to not return the bodies of anyone who's been killed during attacks in this particular escalation of violence. The Palestinian families say that this is unfair, and they want to bury their loved ones.

INSKEEP: And let me ask about the Palestinian government response to this. We heard Mahmoud Abbas. He's talking about extrajudicial executions and saying a little bit more that has Israelis very upset with him. What did he say?

HARRIS: Well, there's a big picture here, Steve. And then there's a particular incident that Abbas mentioned. The incident is very, very emotional on both sides because it involves an Israeli 13-year-old who was very seriously wounded in a stabbing attack and 13-year-old and 15-year-old Palestinians who are accused of carrying out this attack. The older Palestinian was shot and killed. The other, the 13-year-old, was neutralized - that's the only word police will say in this case - and taken to the hospital. Last night, when Abbas spoke on television, he mentioned this child by name. He held up his picture. And he used him as an example of a child who has been executed in cold blood. But the thing is that this kid is alive. And the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has - during this whole rise in violence - has been accusing Abbas very strongly of nurturing the violence through incite-ful statements. Israeli officials and the media are expressing outrage this morning about this misrepresentation of facts in Abbas' speech. By the way, the official translation of Abbas' speech does not use the word executed, but it's there in the Arabic. And when I spoke to a PLO member of Abbas' Fatah party about this, he said, look, the details aren't important. It's symbolic; the 13-year-old is a symbol of what Israel is doing to our children. So that's the incident. The big picture, Israeli officials sound like they're ready to be done with Abbas in many of the very dismissive and critical statements that they're making. And Palestinians are focusing on overall that too many Palestinian children have died in this conflict over the decades.

INSKEEP: Emily, one other thing. I've seen these attacks by Palestinians on Israelis described as an uprising. Is that the right word for what's going on?

HARRIS: Steve, that's a question that's being batted around quite a lot. I think the bigger question is, what if it is an uprising? What if it is the third intifada? What does that mean? Does that mean another five years of continued violence? Does that mean there's no chance of going back to the negotiating table right now? I'm not sure if the label makes that kind of difference or not. But people are certainly trying to figure out what to call this.

INSKEEP: Emily, thanks as always.

HARRIS: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Emily Harris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Harris
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.