Daniel Estrin | New Hampshire Public Radio

Daniel Estrin

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

Since joining NPR in 2017, he has reported from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. He has chronicled the Trump Administration's policies that have shaped the region, and told stories of everyday life for Israelis and Palestinians. He has also uncovered tales of ancient manuscripts, secret agents and forbidden travel.

Estrin has reported from the Middle East for over a decade, including seven years with the Associated Press. His reporting has taken him to Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Russia and Ukraine. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, PRI's The World and other media.

Updated at 2:14 p.m. ET

The coronavirus did not stop the tradition of the Holy Fire on Saturday, the centuries-old ceremony held annually at the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem the day before Easter on the Eastern Orthodox Christian calendar. But some adjustments were made.

Usually tens of thousands of pilgrims pack the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and surround the Edicule, the inner sanctum that houses the spot where tradition says Jesus was entombed and resurrected.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are confronting the coronavirus crisis using familiar tactics from half a century of Israeli military occupation.

Village councils and political committees, well-schooled in community organizing through years of confronting Israel, have mobilized.

In the shadow of Israeli watchtowers and settlements, they have co-opted an emblem of their occupier and set up improvised checkpoints — to enforce a Palestinian Authority lockdown in areas where Palestinian police are not permitted to patrol.

For centuries, Hindus gathered to burn corpses on funeral pyres along the Ganges River. Jews received condolences at home during a seven-day mourning period. Muslims huddled together to wash the corpses of loved ones in Iraq and across the Arab world.

But global burial rituals are being dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some devout Orthodox Jewish communities have been slow to follow lockdown orders in Israel, helping drive a surge in coronavirus cases that officials are struggling to contain.

Known in Israel as Haredim, or those who tremble in awe before God, ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12% of Israel's population — but they account for as much as 60% of Israel's COVID-19 cases in major hospitals, according to estimates. More than 6,000 Israelis have been infected and at least 31 have died.

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As COVID-19 spreads through Israeli and Palestinian communities, Israelis and Palestinians now have a common enemy to battle — and reason to lean on each other.

The coronavirus has infected more than 2,000 Israelis and killed at least eight, including a man who survived the Holocaust. In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it has infected more than 70 Palestinians and killed a Palestinian woman. At least nine Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are infected with the virus, too. Everyone is under increasingly stringent lockdowns.

A Holocaust survivor is the first reported fatality in Israel from COVID-19.

Israeli media report that 88-year-old Arie Even moved from Hungary to Israel in 1949. He died Friday.

He was one of several residents and staff at a retirement home in Jerusalem to catch the coronavirus, after a social worker reportedly caught the virus from a French visitor at a wedding.

His family said they were saddened not to be able to be with him during his final days. They were asked to stay away in order to not catch the virus.

Hundreds of Israelis were startled Wednesday by an unsolicited text message.

"Hello. According to an epidemiological investigation," it began, addressing each recipient by name. "You were near someone sick with the coronavirus. You must immediately isolate at home [14 days] to protect your relatives and the public. ... This information will be used only for this purpose and will be erased when no longer needed. Sincerely, public health services."

In a setback for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's president said Sunday he will give centrist retired army general Benny Gantz the first chance to try to form a new government following this month's inconclusive elections.

Gantz was tapped after a majority of 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Parliament told President Reuven Rivlin they support Gantz over Netanyahu. A coalition of Arab parties, including a staunchly Palestinian nationalist faction, decisively helped tip the scales by unanimously endorsing Gantz.

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Now let's get reaction from around the globe. I'm joined now by NPR correspondent Deborah Amos in Beirut, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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After weeks of raucous, jubilant protests and sometimes violent attempts to quell them, there was celebration in the streets of Beirut today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

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Lebanon's mass street protests resemble other outpourings of anger in places like Chile and Ecuador. But the Lebanese never miss an excuse to party.

Faced with years of war, Lebanese have coped with strife by using satire, humor and lots of dancing. This thawra or revolution, as anti-government protesters in Lebanon call it, is no different. It's accompanied by clever handwritten signs, profanity-laced chants and even "Baby Shark" singalongs.

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This is what Lebanon sounds like tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

As the five-day cease-fire along Turkey's border with Syria continues to falter, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) tells NPR he thinks the deal is "really terrible."

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The United States military and Kurdish militias were allies for five years fighting against ISIS. Now that has changed. President Trump unexpectedly pulled U.S. troops from near the Syria-Turkey border, and the Kurds were left to fend for themselves.

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, faces his toughest political battle for survival in years, as the country holds unprecedented repeat elections Tuesday.

This is the second time Israelis are going to the polls in less than six months. Netanyahu, 69, forced the do-over in a last-minute move, just weeks after April elections, because he secured a narrow win but failed to build a parliament majority.

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Now for a view of the Gaza Strip that few people get. It's what a tourist might see if tourists were allowed; they haven't been since Hamas militants took over Gaza 12 years ago.

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In Israel, the new education minister has caused an uproar by saying gay conversion therapy works. The practice has been widely discredited. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

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