“That’s a rare thing to hear.” “What?” I asked. “That you have a Jordanian friend living in Amman. You just don’t hear that often here.”
This comment irritated me, a bit, even thought I’m very much aware that it is indeed something you don’t hear often in these here parts. Israel and Jordan have a peace treaty between them, they share many things, least of all a border. They also share “the Palestinian problem” with Israel, but for Jordan it’s their brothers that are at stake making it much more complicated by wreaking havoc on their social and financial economy in a more severe and debilitating way.
In Amman, my Jordanian friend explained, Palestinians make up more than a chunky minority of the political and social web of the country. Officially and in terms of the monarchy, of course Jordanians run their own government. But unofficially, socially, not so discreetly, and legitimately, Palestinian refugees play a major role in the shape of the country – literally. The argument that Palestinians and Jordanians are one cultural nationality has been expressed and argued to an exhausting amount. About 2.6 million of the Palestinian diaspora population live in Jordan, where they make up approximately half the population of the entire country. HALF the population of Jordan are Palestinian – this is more than a problem, this is the reality that created a civil war for Jordan in September of 1970. Black September was a conflict between two major components of the Jordanian population, the Palestinians represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and the Trans-Jordanians represented by the Jordanian Armed Forces under the leadership of King Hussein. At its core, the civil war sought to determine if Jordan would be ruled by the PLO or the Hashemite Monarchy (Wikipedia, Black September).
We drove through a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman; it looked more like slums than a camp, however. “It’s just a poor area of Amman,” FuFu (we all developed nicknames on this trip, mine is now LiLou) explained over our morning coffee as I perused the international news headlines explaining why the U.S. government was shut down.
It’s a cold peace, it’s true, but it’s peace written on paper and signed. Maybe not in blood but the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted by Israeli PM Itzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein, despite the major water issues that remain. Jordan regrets not demanding a clause that would secure their access to the same fresh water sources Israel has. More than water, the issues of the Palestinians, as discussed, the Western nature of the Arab country and it’s friendship with the U.S., the extremely expensive price of gasoline, the politics and possibility of an Arab Spring all loom in the heavy, traffic-ridden air of Amman with horns honking and music blaring. “Not going to happen,” I was told regarding the Arab Spring possibility. “Jordanians are too tired to start a revolution.” Historically, in the Arab world, monarchies hold up well and provide for a less antagonistic public, or so it seems from this Western angle (Morocco too doesn’t seem to be enraged but they are arguably not an Arab country). The HaShemite Kingdom of Jordan shares another thing with Israel – a name “HaShem” meaning “the name” in Hebrew, a way to refer to God.
Anyways, Amman is effn’ rad and the Jordan Valley even cooler on my second visit to this country. We got our hair and nails did, we ate knafe, we went fishing on a farm about two hours north of Amman and dangerously close to the northern border with Israel, and sang catchy Arab songs that allowed us to repeatedly exclaim “Mash’Allah” – a way to show appreciation or thankfulness. You can’t really say no in Jordan – not to food, not to gifts, not to friendship, not to shooting guns (a rare sight), and not to feeling like you’re outside looking in while simultaneously being within and without (an explanation) for why a shared border has to be so cold on a hot Autumn afternoon.
In a place where intersections are called junctions, and borders, frontiers; a license plate from Damascus in front of us, Kuwait’s to the left, you are most welcome, indeed.