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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More people are expected to be allowed to leave Gaza today through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. Several hundred, including foreigners and severely wounded Gazans, got out yesterday. And President Joe Biden says the U.S. is working with regional partners to get more people out and desperately needed aid in.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're continuing working to significantly step up the flow of critical humanitarian assistance into Gaza. The number of trucks entering Gaza continues to increase significantly, but we still have a long way to go.

MARTÍNEZ: All this while Israel continues pressing further into Gaza in its war against Hamas and as international condemnation of civilian casualties, especially from airstrikes in the Jabalia refugee camp, continues to grow.

MARTIN: Joining us now from Tel Aviv to tell us more about all this is NPR's Elissa Nadworny. Elissa, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So can we just start with the people who are getting out? What can you tell us about who they are?

NADWORNY: Yeah. So today, the list of people allowed to leave includes about 400 people with American passports, according to a list provided by Hamas. The list also includes people with passports from other countries, including Croatia, Mexico and the Netherlands. And it is a time-consuming process at the border, so it's not clear everyone on the list from today will actually get to Egypt. Yesterday, we saw the first people to leave Gaza since the conflict began. There were critically injured Palestinians, like you said. There were a handful of American aid workers and about 300 people with foreign passports from places like Australia, Bulgaria and Jordan.

Our producer Anas Baba was there on the Gaza side at the crossing yesterday and talked with Jamila Muhaisen (ph), who is 24 and has a Bulgarian passport. She just got her medical degree in Gaza, where she has family, and she told us leaving is bittersweet.

JAMILA MUHAISEN: It's not the greatest feeling, to be honest. It's not. It's like I'm running away with my life, you know? OK, I lost the house, but I have family here. I have friends here. And it's just not OK to just leave a burning city away, you know? I'm not 100%, like, OK with it.

MARTIN: So we know a little bit more about who's getting out. What about relief supplies going in for the people who desperately need it?

NADWORNY: Yeah. There have been an increased number of aid trucks allowed into Gaza in recent days. At first, you know, it was just 20 or 30 trucks with things like medical supplies and food, but that has more than doubled. Israel has agreed to allow a hundred trucks of humanitarian aid a day. Aid organizations say it's still not enough, you know, given how dire the situation is there.

I talked with Hiba Tibi about this. She is the country director of the NGO CARE in the West Bank and Gaza. And she's been talking to her colleagues in Gaza who are sheltering in crowded homes, sometimes with up to a hundred people in one house. They are running out of water, and they are running out of food.

HIBA TIBI: My colleague mentioned that yesterday they had the last bread that they tried to save for the kids since two days before.

MARTIN: And, Elissa, tell us, where does Israel's ground assault stand?

NADWORNY: So according to the Israeli military, ground forces pushed further into Gaza. They are now in the outskirts of Gaza City. Before the war, that city had a population of about half a million people in it. The Israeli military for weeks has told civilians to leave the north of Gaza and head south, but the U.N. estimates there are still 300,000 Palestinians there. And Israel has said again and again they believe that Hamas is operating extensively in tunnels underground, under very densely populated areas, under hospitals, under places like the Jabalia refugee camp, which they struck repeatedly. And as long as they believe Hamas is doing that, the Israeli military says they're going to continue to go after what they see as legitimate targets, despite this growing international outrage over civilian deaths.

MARTIN: NPR's Elissa Nadworny. Elissa, thank you so much for this reporting.

NADWORNY: Thank you.

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MARTIN: President Biden is announcing new plans to develop a strategy to counter Islamophobia.

MARTÍNEZ: But what might have been seen as an overture to Muslims comes as the administration is facing widespread frustration from Muslims in America over the Israel-Gaza war.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been reporting on this, and she's with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So tell me more about this frustration. What is the White House hearing?

KHALID: There is a deep cynicism among Muslims in the United States right now because of the president's support for Israel's military actions in Gaza. And there was this striking poll that was released this week by the Arab American Institute that found support for Biden has plummeted. It showed support had fallen from 59% in 2020 to now just 17%. Likewise, a survey of Muslim voters found a staggering number of people say they cannot vote for Biden's reelection. And, Michel, I have covered campaigns for years. I will acknowledge that Arab Muslim voters are a sliver of the electorate. But this is a major shift in a very short amount of time, and that is extremely unusual.

The president knows that many Muslim voters are unhappy. He heard about it directly when he met with a handful of Muslim leaders at the White House. The group included Rami Nashashibi. He's a community organizer in Chicago. And more than an Islamophobia plan, he wants to see the specific issues they asked the president about during the White House meeting addressed and acknowledged.

RAMI NASHASHIBI: I think a lot of people are going to have extraordinary cynicism right now with this White House until and unless there are much more explicit ways that we begin to see policy shifts, including the utter dehumanization of Palestinians here and across the globe.

MARTIN: Asma, this is a very sort of delicate and sensitive issue. I mean, this is a president who campaigned on healing the soul of the nation. And this is a very fraught time, and you're talking about some very deep divisions.

KHALID: Yeah. I spoke with multiple people who feel like the White House policy in the Middle East is itself contributing to Islamophobia at home. I'm hearing even from some Muslims who work within the administration. And, you know, when it comes to this specific Islamophobia initiative, some people feel like it's a distraction from the fundamental issue of civilian deaths in Gaza. The White House has invested also in a very important antisemitism plan, and some people told me that they felt like this Islamophobia initiative was an afterthought.

You know, then there are others who say it's going to be a challenge for Muslim voters to hear this message from Biden, given their anger about Middle East policy. But it is still important. And here's Salam Al-Marayati with the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

SALAM AL-MARAYATI: I think it's an error on our part as American Muslims to consider this a throwing a bone to our community. It's not. It's very serious. And it's very important not just for our community, but for American society.

KHALID: You know, but it's not easy. He pointed out that in this current climate, there are new challenges specifically around how support for Palestinians may be cast as anti-American or perhaps antisemitic.

MARTIN: So I assume we'll hear more about this in coming days. But as briefly as you can, what is this White House plan to counter Islamophobia? What does it do?

KHALID: The announcement itself is not much. So there is no strategy yet. This is basically a plan to come up with a strategy. It'll be spearheaded by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council. You know, months before this immediate crisis in the Middle East, the White House did meet with a number of Muslim organizations who had expressed concerns about things like the terrorism watchlist and harassment at airports. So this has been a work in progress, but there is certainly a newfound urgency to show some action.

MARTIN: That is White House correspondent Asma Khalid for NPR. Asma, thank you so much.

KHALID: My pleasure.

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MARTIN: Schools in Portland, Ore., are closed for a second day today as a teacher strike continues.

MARTÍNEZ: The strike is the first for Portland Public Schools, which serves around 45,000 students. The Portland Association of Teachers have been negotiating with the district since their last contract expired in June. Here's Renard Adams from the Portland Public Schools bargaining team.

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RENARD ADAMS: We have already offered a cost-of-living increase that is more than our increase in revenue. We know the union's bargaining team believes that it's insufficient, but we cannot responsibly accept their proposed 23% increase.

MARTIN: Lisa Balick, a reporter with KOIN-TV in Portland, Ore., is with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Lisa.

LISA BALICK: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: Lisa, just tell us a little bit more, if you would, about the conditions that led to this strike - or at least the conditions that the teachers say led to this strike.

BALICK: There's really just some key issues - obviously, higher pay. They want smaller class sizes and more planning time. You know, we talk about the pay. The district is offering currently a 4.5% the first year, 3% each of the next two years. Teachers want almost double that.

MARTIN: And what are you hearing from teachers?

BALICK: They are strong in support of a strike action. There were hundreds that turned out for a rally yesterday. They believe the district really can find the money - it's about $200 million - by making cuts and further depleting the reserve fund. Now, the president, in fact, of the National Education Association was here in Portland yesterday for rallies. It's really a sign we may be seeing more of these strikes around the country.

MARTIN: You know, in other parts of the country, we've also heard that it's not just the pay, but it's also the working conditions, like the conditions that the buildings are in, for example, or things like that - lack of heat, lack of AC. Is that part of this as well?

BALICK: Definitely. These are some of the issues they are discussing at the table, for sure.

MARTIN: Now, school closures - look - are very disruptive to students and their families. Do you have a sense of - I know this is early days. Do you have any sense of, you know, how the broader community feels about this?

BALICK: Yes. I have been talking to a lot of parents as they were getting ready for this because the teachers had given their 10-day notice, and there was a sense this was going to happen even before that. Families really want more for the teachers. Having the kids home during the pandemic, I think they're painfully aware of how much work it is to help kids with their academics, behavior issues, mental health issues, very grateful that the teachers take on that responsibility of caring for many, many students in their day.

MARTIN: And say a bit more, if you would, about how - what officials from the Portland Public Schools are saying.

BALICK: They were saying at their news conferences yesterday that to meet the teacher demands, they would have to make massive cuts - laying off teachers, shortening the school year, possibly. Even the governor, who is a labor supporter, says the teacher demands would send the district off a financial cliff. The district is blaming the state for not giving them enough money for education. But what happened in Oregon back in 1990 is that voters passed a measure to limit the property taxes, which essentially pushed the biggest burden - paying for schools - to the state through income taxes.

MARTIN: So what's next? Do we have a sense of when the two sides might return to the bargaining table?

BALICK: I talked with both sides, and they both tell me that Friday they will both be at the bargaining table. But essentially what this means is no school for a second day today or on Friday, which was a scheduled day off.

MARTIN: That is Lisa Balick of KOIN-TV in Portland. Lisa, thanks so much for joining us.

BALICK: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.