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Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin returned to Jerusalem last October, for a Race For The Cure breast cancer event. The walls of Jerusalem's Old City are in the far background, lit by pink lights for the occasion. (Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin)

Starting A Family, Reporting From A 'Burning Land'

by NPR Staff
Apr 15, 2011 (Morning Edition)

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Cover of the book This Burning Land, by Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin.

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For nearly eight years, married journalists Jennifer Griffin and Greg Myre covered the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. During that time, their life was about reporting on street violence, suicide bombings — and starting a family.

That's the story Myre — who is now a senior editor at NPR — and Griffin — a correspondent for Fox News — tell in their new book, This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

'Duality' Of Life In Israel

When they moved to Jerusalem in 1999, Griffin and Myre had already covered several other international conflicts. And Israel and the Palestinian territories were far more peaceful than they had expected.

"It was so calm, and it was so quiet," Myre tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. "We thought, this is actually a good time to start a family."

But that calm soon erupted into violence. The trouble began in September 2000, when Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Palestinians as the Noble Sanctuary. Griffin says she was pregnant and experiencing morning sickness when she was assigned to the story.

She went — and "shortly thereafter, the rocks started flying, and within days, the intifada, the Palestinian uprising had begun."

The book includes a description of the hospital where their daughters were born, one of the few places, Griffin and Myre say, where Jews and Arabs seemed to mix easily.

Griffin reads an excerpt about the hospital:

It was in a Jewish neighborhood surrounded by Palestinian ones, and a sign at the hospital entrance told patients and visitors to hand over their weapons. There was an armed guard manning a metal detector to make sure they did.

Everyone seemed to check their hostilities at the door, as well. Walking the halls, we heard almost as much Arabic as we did Hebrew. In the nursery, Muhammad and Moshe were both popular names for newborns.

If you could replicate the atmosphere in Israeli hospitals, Arabs and Jews would have made peace decades ago.

The hospital represented what Myre calls the "duality of life" in Israel, where hostilities were set aside.

"There could be peaceful situations that would give you hope in one minute," Myre says, "and there could be scenes of great friction and violence the next."

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians only grew more intense.

"Those seven years really changed the conflict," Griffin says. "There was a period in March of 2002, when every other day, there was a suicide bombing. That changes your psychology. And you have to live through something like that to understand how the Israelis and Palestinians really changed during that period."

Having Children In A Violent Time

The couple's second daughter was born in December 2002, shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the time, Israeli officials were gravely concerned that Saddam Hussein might use Scud missiles to attack Israel with chemical weapons.

"I was given a certificate at the hospital that was for a gas mask tent for the baby," Griffin says. She adds, "That took my breath away."

"There's a line in the book where we say, it is no exaggeration to say that on the day that they are born, Israelis begin to prepare for war."

To keep their children safe, the couple adopted some basic rules. They avoided cafes, for instance.

"You wouldn't take them to grocery stores," Griffin says. "You wouldn't take them to the movie theaters."

And often, the competing duties of mother and reporter created what Griffin calls "surreal" moments.

"At 1 p.m., I could be up in Jenin, in the West Bank, interviewing masked gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades," Griffin says, "and I'd have to call Greg at 1 and say, 'Can you pick up the kids from preschool?' "

"Jennifer would travel around routinely with a breast pump and a flak jacket," Myre says.

A Long-Term Conflict

The violence that prompts such measures has been a constant presence in the lives of many Israelis and Palestinians. The two sides fought their first major war in 1948.

"Anybody that's 63 years old or younger has lived with this conflict their entire life," Myre says. "It starts at a very young age."

For instance, he says, all young Israelis — boys and girls — know that after they finish high school, they will serve in the military.

And for young Palestinians, "this is not a place that has soccer heroes, or movie stars, or rock stars," Myre says. "So they often look to the militant group that they identify with."

Some analysts say the Israeli-Palestinian violence could go on for many more years, with people on both sides believing that the longer it lasts, the stronger their side will become.

And on both sides of the conflict, Griffin says, "they all think they can wait out American presidents, because they see presidents come and go. And I think often the sense is, 'Hold on a little bit longer, a little bit longer.'"

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