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Ask Me Anything: Mideast Correspondent Emily Harris Answers

Just over a year ago, NPR's Emily Harris packed up and moved to Jerusalem, where she covers plenty of politics and everything else related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It also means stories about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman running for office, a program that teaches children how to be Facebook users, ice cream sellers working amid tear gas, and — coming up Thursday on Morning Edition — innovative Palestinian architecture that looks like a spaceship landed in the ancient city of Jericho.

She's also been covering the story of three Israeli teenagers who disappeared in the West Bank and were found dead this week.

Before taking the NPR reins in Israel, Harris covered central and Eastern Europe, and reported from Iraq during the first two years of the war that began there in 2003.

She fielded questions about life in the Middle East, covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and her favorite ice cream flavor during her Reddit Ask Me Anything on Wednesday.


On Israel as a religious state

Clearly it's religious — the rabbinate sets lots of rules about social issues (marriage, etc.) that affect any Jewish person no matter how religious they are individually. Saturday traffic is way, way, way down — more in Jerusalem than Tel Aviv, as it's the Jewish Sabbath and many people don't drive. There is a wide range of how strictly people practice their faith. And there is a strong stream of secular society. And that's just skimming the surface of the Jewish sector of society (about 75 percent).

On being a woman and working in the Middle East

I've not been overtly denied access to anything based on my gender. Although when I did a story on ultra-Orthodox males in the Israeli military, the IDF press people wanted me to bring a guy because I wanted to record ambi [note: ambient sound] around the base and they weren't sure that would be okay. (They brought people to interview into a certain room — and that was okay with them.) But I didn't take a guy and nobody actually on the base cared as I walked around recording. More generally: in conservative societies being female can give me better access than being male — I get to talk to the women because I'm a woman, and to the men because they are who talk to people. Then in certain situations, I feel like as a Western female reporter, I am akin to a creature from outer space.

On the scariest situation she's been in while reporting

That was back in Iraq. I was walking across a bridge outside the Green Zone — going home from an interview. I started imagining what would happen if someone drove up and shot me. (The chance of that was extremely low, by the way!) I wondered if I could survive if I jumped in the river — and then should I swim toward the Green Zone — or would U.S. soldiers shoot? Or away, where I would emerge alone, wet, and bloody? How did I deal with it — just kept walking!

On violence in the Middle East

It can be extremely violent and deadly and much of that is very localized. Meaning if you're not there you don't know it. Some of the confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians are relatively predictable — Fridays are often a day when confrontations happen — and often in the same place, for example. So you can go find it. But other times — all bets and [predictions] are off.

On the average person's perspectives on a two-state solution and on the constant state of violence

Whether the two-state solution is the right solution is being debated among Palestinians and Israelis. Of course, the visions of a one-state solution can look very different — many Palestinians who support one-state envision one state where everyone has equal rights. Some Israelis propose annexing parts of the West Bank that aren't Palestinian cities. Others propose a unilateral withdrawal — a different way to get to two-states than negotiating. But generally polls still show broad support for two-states as the best solution.

On the best ice cream flavor she's had during her posting

Most interesting ice cream I've had is the chewy ice cream in Ramallah. Best topping — shredded halva. Available on any Israeli grocery shelf!

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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