Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The East Bank

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged in a while is I was waiting for something to happen—some more developments in the reform movement, more demonstrations, actions of the king.  But there has been nothing.  One of the reasons that the largescale protests quickly lost momentum was the rhetoric that the government used to describe the opposition.  Every protestor was Palestinian, the message was, and if the demonstrations continue, civil war will erupt between Jordanians and Palestinians. 

The most important thing that I didn’t know about Jordan until maybe two weeks before I came was the Palestinian issue.  At least half (more in some estimates) of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin.  Jordan controlled the West Bank before 1967, and in the 70s the monarchy essentially fought a civil war in Jordan, in Amman, with the PLO. 

And while various speakers that SIT has had come lecture assure us that the rift is almost gone, there’s still very much a division, or at least bold lines.  My host family is Palestinian.  ‘He killed my people in Gaza,’ said Abu Musa, explaining his hatred of Mubarak.  My host brother has never been to Palestine but if you ask him where he’s from, he won’t say Jordan.

A couple weeks ago my two host brothers, Mohammed and Omar, took me out for a picnic.  We brought a thermos of hot tea from our mother, then picked up bread rolls, falafel, cheese, labaneh, tomato, and drove north out of Amman.  We parked on the side of the highway, and ate our late dinner (it was almost midnight by now) sitting on a bluff overlooking Baqa’a Refugee Camp.  Baqa’a is the largest and poorest of the camps.  As we ate, a few other cars stopped and young men, presumably Palestinian like my brothers, hopped out with picnics, tea, hookah, to join us at the view.  Though they had never met before, my brothers exchanged heartfelt greetings with the others through the dark.  After all, they were all there for same reason: young men who had never seen Palestine, maybe never will see the villages where their families are from, being thankful that they are better off than the people of Baqa’a but fully conscious of their plight.

My program moves into the independent study period this week, where all students have a month to prepare a long research paper on an aspect of ‘Modernization and Social Change’ in Jordan.  I’m researching the perceived role of the student government at the University of Jordan, especially in this context of regional revolution.  As I prepare survey questions to test my hypothesis, I struggle with whether or not to put a question about ‘national origin’ on the survey. Sad as it is to say for reform in Jordan, the opposition movement is almost inseparably linked in the minds of many people with the underrepresented Palestinian majority who so recently fought openly with the government.  The Palestinian question cannot be ignored, in any sphere of Jordanian life.  It is frustrating to see what should be—and perhaps is—a nationalist movement of reform marginalized by being branded as seperationist. 

near the market in baqa'a
A few weeks ago, I went into Baqa’a Camp with Mohammed and two of my friends who are researching Palestinian refugees.  We were visiting a woman Mohammed had met, to sit with her and drink tea with her and bring her food.  But Baqa’a didn’t seem like a refugee camp to me in the way I had pictured such camps.  There was no barbed wire, UN checkpoints, just a lot of poverty.  And the people just seemed like other poorer families that I had met in the Badia.  We didn't talk about politics.
kids at the house we visited


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