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Israeli Reporter: Palestinians Ready for Next Uprising

Over a dozen Palestinian protesters were killed over the weekend as thousands marched from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank toward the Israeli border. The protests coincided with the anniversary of the creation of the Israeli state. Host Michel Martin speaks with Avi Issacharoff of the Israeli Ha'aretz newspaper about the recent clashes across the Israeli border and President Obama's upcoming address about U.S. policy in the region.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up later in the program, we'll return to an issue that we know is of concern to just about every American - the economy. We'll talk about news that there's been a recent increase in manufacturing jobs in this country, more than 140,000 since January. We'll try to find out why and whether this is a sign of things to come or just a moment in time. That conversation is coming up.

But first, we return to our conversation ahead of President Obama's upcoming speech about U.S. relations with the Arab world. As we mentioned in the previous segment, his remarks will be closely followed not only by Arab nations, but by neighboring Israel. And the speech comes at a time when the annual demonstrations that mark the founding of the state of Israel, which Palestinians call the catastrophe, were marked by massive demonstrations.

Over the weekend, thousands marched from Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza strip and the West Bank to Israel's borders. Israeli soldiers killed more than a dozen Palestinian demonstrators trying to illegally cross into Israel. We wanted to talk more about all this, so we've called upon Avi Issacharoff. He reports for Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. He's the Palestinian and Arab affairs correspondent. He's also the author of a number of books. He's reported across media platforms. He's done television as well. He's with us on the phone from Tel Aviv. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.

AVI ISSACHAROFF: Thank you.

MARTIN: Can you just tell us a little bit more about - obviously we want to hear about your sense of how President Obama's speech is being anticipated, you know, where you are. But can you just tell us a little bit more about the clashes over the weekend? Was it a surprise that the demonstrations were as large as they were? There have been annual demonstrations, as I understand it, but was this an unprecedented turnout?

ISSACHAROFF: The turnout, the surprise was that actually the masses of the demonstrators came from Syria and the north - and south Lebanon towards north Israel. I guess that the Israeli army and the Israeli military intelligence were preparing themselves for huge demonstrations in the West Bank. And maybe even in the case of Gaza that those demonstrators in Gaza will try to approach the southern border of Israel.

But as a matter of fact, they're more surprised by this attempt of thousands of people who from Syria, Palestinians, mostly, and thousands of Palestinians who came from Lebanon trying to break the border, trying to break the fence in order to go into Israel and to express their feelings toward the day of the disaster which actually memorized the foundation of the state of Israel.

For them, of course - not of course - but for them it's a disaster for us. The Israelis, it's they're independence day. Now, at the end of the day, there were 13 people have gotten killed, most of them, I must say we don't know the identity of all of them, but most of them worked were Syrians that came from Lebanon and Syria.

But at the end, the general feeling here is that actually we're just at the eve of a kind of a (unintelligible). Or maybe now we should use some other definition, but another outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and Israel.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you - I do want to save some time to talk about your thoughts about President Obama's upcoming speech. But I wanted to ask how the weekend's demonstrations were being reported in Israel. Much of the coverage here has been the Arab Spring comes to Israel's borders. So, at least that's what many of the activists who participated in the demonstrations are saying. How is it being reported where you are?

ISSACHAROFF: Well, actually, pretty objectively, I must say. Meaning that simple facts, simple numbers, what happened here and there. I wouldn't say that too many analysts use this Arab Spring as a way to describe the demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and also in Lebanon and Syria. I think that we pretty much understand the case, especially in Syria, was different. It wasn't just by mistake that thousands of people suddenly just one day managed to get to the border, the Syrian-Israeli border and for years they didn't do it.

I think that in this case, of Syria at least, that President Bashar al-Assad or many Arab people in Syria allowed them to approach the fence. Because it (unintelligible) for the interest of the regime in Damascus. And I'm not telling you big secrets. I think that the American administration understood that also. And I think that was even the case of Lebanon. It's very convenient now for Hezbollah and Lebanon and for Syria with Bashar al-Assad to make the world public opinion to focus on the Palestinian struggle and not on the Arab Spring that might come.

MARTIN: Talk, if you would, about how President Obama's speech is being anticipated. And I should also mention that it comes just before he also hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's here for talks in Washington on Friday. So, talk to me, if you would, about how President Obama's speech is being anticipated and what are the concerns about it and what do people in Israel hope to hear?

ISSACHAROFF: Well, if - the question should be, which people - who the people that you are asking about are? I guess that this government, the current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu is expecting less, meaning that they hope that President Obama won't say too much - won't bring too much news into his speech, won't say anything regarding the future borders or the future of Jerusalem and the negotiation between the two states.

Although today, in at least one of the newspapers, the main newspaper in Israel was dealing heavily with the option that actually President Obama is going to discuss the future of Jerusalem as a capital of the two states. Now, of course there are many other people in Israel that would like to see President Obama laying clear parameters in order to let the two people, Palestinians and Israelis, follow this lane, follow this path in order to bring them to peace.

Now, I can understand that some of the officials in the American administration approach - that are saying that we cannot push the two people for peace if they don't want them to. But in the end, yes, many people in Israel expect President Obama to do the things that our prime minister is not doing.

MARTIN: Avi Issacharoff reports on Palestinian and Arab affairs for Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper and he was kind enough to join us from his office in Tel Aviv. Avi, thank you so much for joining us.

ISSACHAROFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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