More Flamingos Are Flocking to Mumbai Than Ever Before. The Reason Could be Sewage

Flamingos flock to Mumbai between September and April, but this year there are almost three times more birds than the amount that usually flocks to the area.

Bachchan Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Bachchan Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Around this time every year, tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Mumbai to feed. But this year, there are almost three times more than the normal amount in the city — about 120,000.

The reason for the influx is currently a mystery. But some scientists believe that pollution in the birds’ natural habitat might be one factor at play.

As The Guardian reports, one of the best places to see large flocks of flamingos in Mumbai is near a water treatment plant alongside the city’s Thane Creek. Now, an increase in sewage output and industrial runoff into the creek is thought by some to be fueling an uptick in the blue-green algae that the birds feed on.

“The scene in the Thane Creek when they are wading in the water is amazing,” Rahul Khot, assistant director of the Bombay Natural History Society, says in an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.

Khot and his team aren’t convinced quite yet that sewage output and industrial runoff is why the flamingo population has spiked this year, but they welcome the attention the flamingos of Mumbai are getting right now.

“It’s really good to see large number of birds visiting this metrocity, but that also adds to our responsibility to conserve their habitat so that incoming future coming generation will also enjoy this bird,” Khot says.

NPR’s Audrey Nguyen and Sarah Oliver produced and edited this story for broadcast.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

The ‘Erin Brockovich of Slovakia’ Is Elected The Country’s First Female President

Zuzana Caputova, elected as Slovakia’s first female president, greets supporters on Saturday evening.

Petr David Josek/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Petr David Josek/AP

Zuzana Caputova, a liberal environmental activist and a political newcomer, was elected Slovakia’s first female president Saturday, riding to victory on a wave of public outrage against corruption in government.

With 58 percent of the vote, Caputova edged out European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, a diplomat backed by the county’s governing Smer-Social Democracy party.

In her acceptance speech, Caputova framed her win as a rebuke to the nationalist rhetoric on the rise in central Europe in recent years. Since 2015, nationalist parties have won victories in Hungary, Poland and Austria.

“I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary,” she told supporters.

Voters had been outspoken about their disgust with political corruption. After a journalist reporting on political corruption and his fiance were shot and killed last February, tens of thousands of Slovaks took to the street in protest, chanting “Enough with Smer.” The protests would eventually prompt the resignation of the country’s prime minister at the time, Robert Fico.

Ján Orlovský, who heads Slovakia’s Open Society Foundations, told NPR at the time, “We have lots of these skeletons in the closet, which we need to address and one of the skeletons is corruption.”

Caputova, a vocal participant in the protests that rocked the country, has promised to tackle corruption head-on. Casting herself as the anti-corruption candidate with the campaign slogan “stand up to evil,” she vowed to shake-up the political establishment, which she says is currently run “by people pulling strings from behind.”

Immediately after her victory, Caputova lit a candle at a memorial for the assassinated journalist, Ján Kuciak, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnírová.

First Slovak female president Zuzana Čaputová lit the candle for murdered journalist #JanKucia and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. It was first thing she did after elections.
Photo @tomas_halasz #Nikon pic.twitter.com/TTi7DJhdWU

— Filip Struhárik (@filip_struharik) March 31, 2019

Caputova gained popularity in Slovakia after her decade-long crusade to shut down a toxic waste dump, which was spewing poison into her hometown of Pezinok in western Slovakia. Her campaign to close the site earned her a prestigious Goldman Environmental prize in 2016, along with the nickname “Erin Brockovich of Slovakia.”

Caputova will be Slovakia’s fifth president since the country gained independence in 1993.

As NPR’s Joanna Kakissis has reported, Slovakia’s presidential post is “largely ceremonial,” with the president wielding little day-t0-day power. But, Caputova has been outspoken about her desire to use the platform to promote transparency.

She will take office in June.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

A Game of Thrones Fan Traveled To The Arctic As Part Of A Worldwide Scavenger Hunt

Josefine Wallenå of Sweden sits on the Iron Throne after driving eight hours to find it.

Courtesy of Josefine Wallenå


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Josefine Wallenå

Some fans watch Game of Thrones. Others live it.

The final season of the HBO hit television series premieres in two weeks. But some fans got an early treat this month when the TV network challenged people to a worldwide scavenger hunt.

For those who don’t watch the show, the ultimate symbol of power in the fictional Game of Thrones kingdom of Westeros is the Iron Throne. So, HBO placed six of them in different locations around the world and tweeted the hashtag #ForTheThrone, along with a cryptic 12 second video. Fans could also view hour-long 360-degree videos of the thrones in various terrains.

6 Thrones.
6 Locations.
Who will be the first to find them?
Begin your Quest #ForTheThrone: https://t.co/MTUv2SRuSh pic.twitter.com/SW4GYx5E3x

— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) March 18, 2019

Soon after, fans around the world began their quests.

One of those individuals was Josefine Wallenå, a 25-year-old gamer and project manager from Sweden.

After looking at one of HBO’s tweeted clues closely and its caption, she realized one of the thrones might be nearby.

“When I saw the snow , I was like, ‘Wait a minute. This may actually be Sweden.’ And when I read the first clue, I was sure right away that it was in Sweden,” Wallenå says in an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. “The clue for it said a crown for each of the three stags.”

Three crowns are part of the Swedish national emblem and the Sweden men’s national ice hockey team is nicknamed “Tre Kronor,” meaning three crowns in the Swedish language.

Then she combed through an hour-long video posted on the official Game of Thrones YouTube channel and saw the Northern Lights, so she knew to head north.

Within an hour from when the clue was tweeted, she grabbed her boyfriend and they drove eight hours in search of the throne — without time to even pack a snack.

Their next step was hiking up a mountain in search of the well-known U-shaped valley seen in the YouTube video, called the Lapponian Gate. It was then that they caught a glimpse of the spikes of the throne, hidden more than 150 miles into the Arctic Circle.

“It was this super surreal weird feeling, seeing the throne standing there in the snow,” Wallenå says. “Like, no no no this is wrong, this is supposed to be in the show, it’s not supposed to be in the snow.”

Waiting for them at the throne was a surprise: a man dressed as a character from the television show.

The man, dressed as a member of the famous Night Watch from Game of Thrones, said to the pair, “In the game of thrones you either win or you die, and today you have won.” He then put a crown on Wallenå’s head, crowning her queen of the North.

Besides the throne in Sweden, other thrones have been found in England, Spain, Brazil, Canada, and Queens, New York.

In the end, Wallenå got to keep the crown. We pledge fealty.

NPR’s Audrey Nguyen and Cathy Shaw produced and edited this story for broadcast.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Fantasy Collides With African Culture In Blitz The Ambassador’s ‘Burial Of Kojo’

“The Burial Of Kojo” takes place in Ghana, using a cast and crew made up almost entirely of locals. Above, Cynthia Dakwa, who plays the role of “Esi,” and Joseph Otsiman, who plays “Kojo.”

Ofoe Amegavie/Ofoe Amegavie


hide caption

toggle caption

Ofoe Amegavie/Ofoe Amegavie

On his 2014 album, Afropolitan Dreams, hip-hop artist Samuel Bazawule, also known as “Blitz the Ambassador,” vividly describes his journey from wide-eyed immigrant to multinational success story. In one song he declares: “I think I’m relocating back to Ghana for good.”

And, he did.

Taking leave from his home in Brooklyn and returning to the country of his birth was a fateful decision that Bazawule credits as the inspiration for his first feature film, The Burial of Kojo. The modern fable of a young girl navigating the spirit realm to find her father after his mysterious disappearance, the film takes place entirely in Ghana, using a cast and crew made up almost entirely of locals.

The Burial of Kojo caught the eye of producer and director Ava DuVernay , who acquired it earlier this year for distribution by her production company, ARRAY. On Sunday, the film makes its premieres on Netflix — the first original film from Ghana to be released on the streaming platform.

Bazawule spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about the project.


Interview Highlights

On making the transition from music to film.

I had made music for six years by the time I made Afropolitan Dreams, and I was slowly getting to the point where I realized that trying to communicate this Africanness through music just wasn’t doing it. So I knew that I had to expand the palette. I’ve been a visual artist since I was a kid — I’ve made music, and I felt cinema was the logical next step. It allows us to combine all these things that we know, visual and sonic, and it puts people in the shoes of characters, so it makes sense as a medium.

On the theme of mining in Africa in The Burial Of Kojo

You can’t tell a story currently about Africa without shedding some light on the environment and how that’s become exploited, whether it’s through mining, lumbering or wherever the natural resource grab is. It’s also seeing China make a play on the continent, and some really strong European corporations still running things. So for me, it was very important that that was present. But I never once wanted to make a story that centered [on] that.

On the film’s depictions of family relationships

The film is about two brothers who have a jagged past, and one brother goes missing. We kind of suspect his brother is responsible for it, but his daughter then has to go on this magical journey to find him when nobody else can — the police can’t, and his wife can’t.

The pivotal scene [between father and daughter Kojo and Esi] is in Fante, which is a dialect of Twi. [Esi] says, “You know if you leave me, I will turn into the wind, disappear into thin air and find you.” And the father responds, “You don’t have to turn into air or go anywhere. I’ll never leave you.”

That was one of those moments I feel we haven’t seen much of in cinema in general — father-daughter relationships — but definitely in African cinema where it is tender, it’s heartfelt. Making this film I was very focused on nuclear relationships. I was focused on family and family relationships, family drama, family dynamics, loss, betrayal, love. Things that, again, aren’t often seen in African cinema.

On filming with an all-Ghanaian cast and crew

Story is all about autonomy — who gets to control the story and who gets to tell the story. I felt that many African films haven’t had the kind of autonomy that they should have. And you can tell by the choices that are made cinematically when it’s clear somebody was in the room that just didn’t really understand.
So going into this film, autonomy was the first thing. If we’re going to make a film, then we should be adding to the canon of filmmaking, but specifically to the canon of African filmmaking. That required us to kind of put our heads together with other Africans to say, “What do you know? What do you remember?” And those memories are how I’m going to form the foundation of this film.

For me, my storytelling genesis begins with my grandmother’s stories. You know, late-night nocturnal sitting around listening to fairy tales and folk tales and magical tales and stuff that only your mind could imagine. For me, making this film was central that I continued in that tradition.

On the film’s vibrant color palette

It was about mirroring what I know. Africa is so rich visually, from fabrics in the marketplace to what the clay looks like, to what the earth looks like. It’s so vivid.

And it’s always struck me as odd when I watch movies from the continent that are often desaturated and almost sepia-toned. I’m always baffled because it’s clear that whoever’s coloring this has probably never been to the content, or definitely hasn’t walked through the marketplace, because when you do, you realize that color comes at you.

On wanting a diverse, multinational audience for The Burial of Kojo

For me, it’s the reason I’ve been making art from the beginning. I don’t think it’s right that a continent with over 1.2 billion people has such little visual representation, specifically in cinema.

If you ask the average person how many African films they’ve seen, it’ll baffle you. The numbers are in the single digits. If you ask any African how many American films they’ve seen, that’s their entire life.

So if we understand that cinema is a means of building empathy and for you to walk in shoes of people you’ve never met and to understand their circumstance, then you understand how important it is that our films don’t just play locally, but they play globally. Because within that global discourse, that’s how we form our ideas of each other. And if the films that are made from the continent aren’t made by Africans or controlled by Africans, then the narrative is always one that doesn’t really exemplify Africa.

This story was edited for broadcast by Tinbete Ermyas.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

One Woman Wants To Create This: *Insert Afro Emoji Here*

Kerrilyn Gibson designed prototypes for an Afro hair emoji.

Kerrilyn Gibson


hide caption

toggle caption

Kerrilyn Gibson

For almost a year now, New York-based freelance writer Rhianna Jones has been signing a lot of her emails with, “insert Afro emoji here.”

That’s because there is no Afro hair emoji. Jones, 28, hopes to change that.

She has teamed up with designer Kerrilyn Gibson, 25, to create an Afro hair emoji prototype and started a petition on change.org to include the Afro hair emoji on the emoji keyboard.

“I think an Afro should be included because there’s an entire community of people — black, Afro-LatinX diasporic … the Jewfro — there’s just a lot of people that have hair that grows upward and spherically and defies gravity,” Jones said. “There’s been a big dearth and lack of representation of natural hair and Afro hair in the media. I think the lack of Afro hair in our keyboards is a subtle but constant reminder of that.”


Rhianna Jones
YouTube

Currently, there are more than 2,800 emojis recognized by the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit which acts as the gatekeeper for emojis. Over the years, as people have complained about a lack of diversity, new emojis have been added — there are now more diverse representations of different skin tones, various forms of dress such as hijabs, and nonheteronormative relationships.

Once a year, the Unicode Consortium inducts about 70 new, approved emojis. The group, which includes executives from top tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Google, meets quarterly and considers proposals for new emojis. For 2019, there are 59 new emojis on the way — such as a deaf person signing, interacial couples, and a mechanical arm.

On Sunday, Jones submitted the proposal for the Afro hair emoji to be included in 2020.

“It’s a pretty lengthy process, so I hope that they’re listening and I hope that they know that we all really want this,” she said.

The emoji that she and Gibson designed is named Solange, after the singer Solange Knowles, who Jones said has “absolute fly girl hair.” Jones added that Gibson designed the Afro hair emoji to “take up as much space as you can in the very, very minute parameters of an emoji.”

Rhianna Jones is advocating for the addition of an Afro hair emoji to the 2020 emoji keyboard.

Courtesy of Rhianna Jones


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Rhianna Jones

The design comes in all different skin and hair tones, and tries to be inclusive of all types of hair that grows spherically and upward.

“What’s difficult about Afro hair is you really can’t encapsulate the multi textural complexities — it comes in all different colors and coils and shapes,” Jones said.

Both Jones and Gibson are women with Afros who want to see themselves better represented in the media. For Jones, the inspiration for the emoji came just after she celebrated Black History Month in February when she realized that instead of writing “insert Afro emoji here,” in her messages, she wanted to have an actual Afro emoji to use.

“I just realized that I shouldn’t have to do that anymore, because it’s more than just an emoji — it’s about people being able to see themselves reflected in the conversations they’re having not only on screen but in real life,” she said. “I really just think this is a small step towards making our hair and our culture part of the universal language of beauty and of life. “

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Lessons In Life And Death From 12-Year-Old Lola

Lola Muñoz belts out the words to her favorite songs while she cleans her room on April 28, 2017.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

On Aug. 26, 2016, Lola Muñoz was diagnosed with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an inoperable brain tumor. DIPG affects children almost exclusively, with a 0% survival rate and an average prognosis of nine to 12 months.

Photographer Moriah Ratner spent over a year and a half documenting Lola’s journey, first in New York and, later, in Chicago following a family move.

Lola’s story has been published by The Washington Post and National Geographic. Ratner talked to NPR about the challenges of photographing a long-term project so early in her career and the toll it took on her.

Lola attempts to maintain normalcy by hosting a slumber party on Nov. 4, 2016. Lola’s increased maturity level made it difficult for her to connect with her peers, often leading to exclusion.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Lola and photographer Moriah Ratner share a quiet moment. The two considered each other close friends. Ratner says sometimes Lola would grow sad, knowing that “the only reason” she met Ratner was because of her sickness.

Marianne Barthelemy


hide caption

toggle caption

Marianne Barthelemy

How did you discover Lola?

As part of an assignment for my photography class at Syracuse University, I reached out to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York in the fall of 2016. They said they needed someone to photograph a “rush wish,” which meant the child was terminal.

I met the Muñoz family at their home on Fort Drum in Jefferson County, New York (a 90-minute drive north of Syracuse). We connected by baking chocolate cupcakes and preparing for the annual Halloween fair at Lola’s school. Lola had just completed six weeks of radiation therapy.

After being admitted to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital for severe dehydration, Lola asks her mother, Melissa, “Why is God punishing me?” She lists off her wrongdoings to her mother, apologizing for the mistakes she has made in the past.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Though cooking is one of Lola’s favorite pastimes, Lola feels too exhausted and sick to stand for a few minutes.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

What made you decide to continue this project after your assignment was done?

Lola did not fear dying but, rather, being forgotten. I fell in love with her immediately and promised I would work my hardest to make sure her legacy lived on with integrity and grace. I also wanted to use my photographs to defy stereotypes associated with childhood cancer and create awareness in hopes of stimulating a call to action.

Lola prepares for 10 rounds of radiation by getting a mask made after becoming more symptomatic shortly after her diagnosis. A rushed MRI in August revealed tumor progression. Lola’s radiologist urged Lola to begin her treatment as soon as possible, as her condition could worsen in just days.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

How long did you spend working on this project?

This project became my life. I usually spent four days a week with the Muñoz family. I would drive from Syracuse to Fort Drum — usually on Thursday or Friday — spend the weekend and head back to Syracuse on Monday. I’d even go to Mass with them on Sundays — and I’m Jewish.

All of Lola’s appointments were in my calendar, as well as any school functions, festivities or family outings. I even joined the family on their annual weeklong camping trip; that summer it was near Niagara Falls. Lola would call me “her shadow” and introduce me to her friends as her “paparazzi.”

Melissa comforts Lola after she vomits from taking her chemo. Lola’s physical symptoms were extreme; the medical trial she entered was all about how much she could withstand.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

After Lola passed, I spent a week mourning with the family in Chicago.

About halfway through the project, I know you had a particularly difficult time. Can you talk about what happened and how you worked through it?

I think my lowest point was when the spring 2017 semester came to an end. I declined a prestigious internship offer because I would be away from Lola, and I had promised to see this project through. I knew I needed to be able to live with the choices I made when I looked back on the project. But my dedication came at a price.

One evening in May, my friends invited me to dinner. There was a book laying on the couch called Lessons in Death and Life. I picked it up and immediately became overwhelmed with intense anxiety. I stepped outside and called Lola’s mom, who calmed me down. My friends went to a faculty member expressing concern about my mental health; the professor asked what would be left in my life after Lola was gone if everything I did revolved around her.

Melissa, Lola and Lola’s younger sister, Izel, enjoy down time together as heavy rains restrict the family’s plans while camping in Youngstown, N.Y.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Agustin, Lola’s father, teaches Lola how to float on her back at a hotel swimming pool on April 9, 2017. After four months of experimental chemo, Lola met her breaking point and ended the medical trial — a decision based on her quality of life. Revitalized, Lola gained the energy to enjoy her favorite activities again.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

A few days later, I went home and was able to spend time with my grandpa. He said, “You have a gift, and that gift is you. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. The only person you have to prove is yourself. You have done beyond a mitzvah.” I told him how I didn’t feel like the same person as I was last year. He said that is called growth.

Tell us what it was like to spend a year and a half with a family dealing with a devastating diagnosis. Can you tell us about how you felt?

I felt like I was never doing enough, and I was scared to lose the person I was when I was with Lola. The grief became all consuming. I had low energy and wasn’t sleeping well. I could physically be in a space, but my mind would be elsewhere. I had trouble remembering what day it was, to the point where I’d mix up deadlines. Even though my friends were trying their best to relate and support, I felt they couldn’t possibly understand, because they weren’t experiencing what I was, leaving me feeling very alone.

After symptoms worsened, Lola’s oncologist scheduled a rushed MRI on Dec. 6, 2017. Lola speaks to her mother on the phone, expressing fear that her tumor has grown. Melissa, absent from the appointment because she felt unwell, attempts to calm Lola by listing off foods she will cook for Lola in the coming weeks.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

“Melissa said taking pictures reminds Lola that she’s sick,” Ratner wrote in her journal in 2017. “Lola tells me, ‘No pictures, I want you to have fun.’ Melissa tried to explain to Lola that I could be both her friend and a photographer.”

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Melissa was pregnant with her fifth child and was due in April 2018. A successful ultrasound appointment on Dec. 1, 2017, revealed that Melissa, then five months pregnant, was expecting a girl. Lola (left) prayed to meet her new sister but said that if she didn’t meet her sister on Earth, then from heaven she would watch her sister grow.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Lola becomes extremely exhausted after attempting to build a snowman on her own. The uncertainty of how much time Lola had left to live left the family on edge. Much was unknown about Lola’s brain tumor, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, including how slowly or quickly Lola’s symptoms could worsen. Her family cherished what days they had left to spend together and believed each day was precious.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

At a certain point, I knew I had to be present and stable or my work would suffer. I started journaling and found that a blank page was an open and honest space of release. I began biking an hour a day when the weather was good and indoor rock climbing when it wasn’t. I went to bed earlier, ate well and saw my therapist regularly. As the year progressed, I found the support system I needed to go on and maintain a healthier balance.

When she could no longer move her legs, Lola was confined to her great-grandfather’s reclining chair. Her sister, Izel, still too young for school, would pass the days with Lola.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

On many levels, this was a journey about my own self-discovery.

Lola chose to be buried with her crucifix and rosary; both were always by her side throughout her illness.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Any other experiences you would like to share?

Another tough moment was not being there when Lola passed. I visited her in Chicago three days before her health made a sharp decline. My mom’s 60th birthday was April 1, so I surprised her and flew from Chicago to D.C. While boarding my flight back to Syracuse from D.C., Lola’s father texted me that she had worsened overnight. I wasn’t sure if I should fly to Chicago or go back to Syracuse to grab more equipment. I decided to get on the plane to Syracuse, then catch a flight to Chicago later that evening. When I landed in Syracuse, Lola had already passed.

But I realized that her story is not defined by the moment she took her last breath. This is a story about her life and who she was.

Agustin comforts Lola’s brother Ellis while visiting Lola’s burial site at Mount Emblem Cemetery on what would have been her 14th birthday.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

It has been a privilege and honor to tell Lola’s story. Our relationship has been a gift and taught me that nothing in the world is more valuable than time. I attribute much of my success and identity to her influence.

Selma Bernadette Rose Muñoz was born one week after Lola’s funeral. Selma’s middle name honors Lola (Bernadette was Lola’s patron saint, and roses were Lola’s favorite flower). Ellis (right) helps Lola’s older brother, Soren, change Selma’s diaper.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Agustin shares a moment with Selma.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Izel places a light inside a lantern in remembrance of Lola’s passing. During the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Starry Night 5K in Chicago, hundreds of lanterns were lit in the night sky to symbolize hope for a cure and honor children in the fight against brain tumors.

Moriah Ratner


hide caption

toggle caption

Moriah Ratner

Lola Muñoz passed away on April 2, 2018.


Moriah Ratner is a freelance photographer based in Portland, Ore. Follow her on Instagram: @moriahratner.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

4 Palestinians Killed Along Gaza Border In ‘Great March of Return’ Protest

Protesters run to cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops near fence of Gaza Strip border with Israel on Saturday. The day marked the first anniversary of the Gaza border protests.

Adel Hana/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Adel Hana/AP

Tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters gathered at the Gaza border Saturday to mark the first anniversary of demonstrations calling on Israel to ease its blockade on the territory.

Gaza health officials report one 20-year-old and three 17-year-old protesters were killed by Israeli troops, and dozens of protesters were rushed to the hospitals with bullet wounds. The Israeli army said it was responding to protesters hurling stones and grenades at the border fence.

Despite the gunfire and grenades, the demonstrations were considered calmer than usual.

“This was not something extraordinary, and much, much, much less than what people were worried about,” retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser told NPR. People “thought we should expect some sort of escalation, a wide scale escalation. That has not happened.”

A few days before the protest, the two parties looked to be on the brink of a new wave of major fighting. On Monday, rocket fire from Gaza hit an Israeli home, injuring seven. The next day, Israel’s military retaliated with a series of airstrikes.

Expecting the violence to continue escalating on Saturday, Israel had beefed up its forces at the border in preparation for the demonstration.

But with both parties in the midst of negotiating a truce, the protests were more peaceful than in the past. In a statement, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the day of demonstrations “calm,” and the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza did not vow revenge for the deaths of the four protesters.

This past week, Egyptian mediators have been on the ground in both Israel and Gaza, hammering out a ceasefire that would involve Hamas reducing its violence in exchange for Israel relaxing its stronghold on Gaza’s economy. And despite some minor violence Sunday morning, with rockets fired from the Gaza strip into an open area in the south of Israel, Hamas claims it’s close to reaching a deal.

The protests were a departure from the demonstrations exactly a year earlier, where at least 16 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

The “Great March of Return” protests have been organized every week since the fatal march, an attempt to end Israel’s years-long blockade of Gaza and bring attention to Palestinians “right of return” to the homes lost when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

The year of protests has claimed the lives of more than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)