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Palestinians in the West Bank say U.S. college protests give them hope

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Palestinians in the West Bank are following the protests on U.S. campuses and say this movement is giving them hope. Many are angry with U.S. policy and continued military aid to Israel. And while the Biden administration says that it supports an eventual Palestinian state, few see things moving in that direction, as per Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Student youth activist Muath Salaheddin finds it hard to talk about a future Palestinian state when he's only known Israeli occupation and the checkpoints that can turn a 15-minute ride through the West Bank into an hourslong ordeal.

MUATH SALAHEDDIN: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: He doesn't know when he leaves his house. He's not sure that he will come back to his house. Maybe he will get killed. Maybe he will get arrested. Maybe, you know, he will go back to his house and find it destroyed.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

KELEMEN: Speaking through an interpreter, the 27-year-old accounting student shows a video of a house being demolished in his village. The Israelis said it didn't have a permit. He says that's happening more often now. As for Gaza, well, he's never even been there.

SALAHEDDIN: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: It is as if you are asking him, can you go to Mars or Jupiter? Is it possible to go to Mars or Jupiter? It is the same thing. Is it possible to go to Gaza?

KELEMEN: Salaheddin has a hard time seeing how the war in Gaza will end. The reality is, he says, the West sends us aid by parachutes while also sending Israel more bombs, so the American protesters give him hope.

SALAHEDDIN: (Through interpreter) These students are the future, and they feel that what is going on now is not against the Palestinians - only it's against humanity in general.

KELEMEN: That thought was echoed by the governor of Ramallah, Laila Ghannam, who was attending a small gathering in honor of Palestinian reporters killed in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAILA GHANNAM: (Speaking Arabic).

KELEMEN: "What's happening in the United States is historic," she says, and she compared the U.S. protests to those against the war in Vietnam and against apartheid in South Africa.

Here in the West Bank, many are angry about U.S. policy. They point out that the Biden administration talks about a future Palestinian state but recently vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to a full member state. Thirty--year-old Saif Aqel , who's been to the U.S. on a State Department program, says Secretary of State Antony Blinken is not welcome in Ramallah.

SAIF AQEL: First of all, if I had the chance to meet the Blinken, I will not meet with him - seriously - because I cannot sit with someone who has - he is trying, like, to promote - he has, like, provided, like, the full protection with the Israelis. His policies is actually fully complicit with the crimes that it's committed with the Israeli government.

KELEMEN: Blinken did not come to Ramallah on his latest trip. But in recent months, he has been here, mainly pushing for reforms of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu doesn't think that would make any real difference.

DIANA BUTTU: You can bring in the best person in governance in the world. They won't be able to govern the PA because it doesn't have sovereignty. It just - it doesn't have control over anything - its own currency, its own economic policy, its borders, what it can import, what it can export, the road system. You know, it's a government that, on paper, has ministers but, in reality, can't do anything.

KELEMEN: Israeli officials say all this talk of Palestinian statehood is just a reward for the Hamas-led attack on October 7. Saif Aqel, who's with the Fatah (ph) youth movement, says Israel created a pressure cooker in Gaza.

AQEL: We knew that the explosion will come eventually. We knew it. We knew it, you know?

KELEMEN: But he was surprised by the scale of the attacks and of the Israeli retaliation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: In a noisy coffee shop where older men are smoking and playing cards, Eyad Abu Ghoush (ph) says Palestinians have a right to resist occupation, though he doesn't think that justified the Hamas attack.

EYAD ABU GHOUSH: It's not justified. And I know I can't make it, like, justified. But if you want to justify it, 35,000 dead in Gaza - is that justified?

KELEMEN: The 62-year-old used to run a convenience store in the U.S. He's been to Gaza before in the 1980s to play soccer and dance at weddings. He hopes to return one day to a Gaza that is part of a Palestinian state.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Ramallah, in the West Bank. 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.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.