Amman again

Pamela Olson
31 August 2004

When Tanya’s brother picked me up from my friend’s hotel on my first night in Amman, we went directly to Jela’ad, about forty minutes north of the city, where the family owns a gorgeous horse-riding club. I got out of the car and saw about twenty massive horse heads poking out of their stall windows in neat rows in an elegant stone stable. We’d gone to visit some new Arabian horses trucked in from Bulgaria. They were much bigger than the Western horses I’m used to, beautiful and breathtakingly powerful. We took tea and chatted in the cool, quiet night air.

The next day the family had a lunch engagement with the most famous of Iraq’s equestrian coaches and his family in a very nice local Arabic restaurant. The Iraqi family was living in Amman for the time being and working with Tanya’s father.

Tanya and her sister and I chatted with the three pretty young daughters. We tried to avoid talking about the conflicts, but it was kind of the elephant in the room.

Later I asked Tanya’s father about the Iraqi family and their situation, and he said the equestrian scene in Iraq had been devastated by looting and violence. Many horses had been stolen and people driven off their properties during the long periods of anarchy and lawlessness following the American invasion, while America was primarily concerned with guarding oil wells and pipelines. The family and their colleagues want to rebuild the programs in Iraq of course, but conditions are still dangerous and difficult.

The next day Tanya’s family shared mansaf, the Jordanian national dish, with some Bulgarian colleagues. Mansaf is made with goat meat cooked over rice with a special, slightly sour white sauce to spoon over it and toasted slivered almonds sprinkled on top, and it is eaten with your hands using very flat bread. People say you either love it or you hate it, and I am squarely in the love category.

The next night Tanya's family was hanging out and watching TV, and Tanya mentioned that one of her friend’s parent’s let their underage kids drink in the house. Her older sister said incredulously, “They let sixteen-year-olds drink?”

Tanya shrugged and said, “They’re Christians.”

I wish I could have explained how funny it was, coming from the Bible Belt of America, to be in a country where Christians are considered the licentious ones.

Tanya has hosted several camps for refugee children and orphans this summer at the riding club, and I was in town for one of them. About twenty 5- and 6-year-olds came for an afternoon, mostly Palestinian orphans but also a couple of African boys and one little Chinese girl. They were a non-stop delight, sweet and funny and excited about everything. They got their pictures taken riding an old mare and painted picture frames to put the pictures in, and we shared a meal and played on the playground and had popsickles just before they left.

Unfortunately, kids that age have trouble understanding that a person can speak some of a language, but not all of it. I understood most of what they said up to a point, and then it was useless to ask them to repeat themselves, unkind to ignore them, perplexing to tell them I couldn’t understand plain Arabic, and awkward always asking someone to translate.

Luckily a lot of what kids say at that age are things like, “Look at that big tree!” Or, “There’s a horse!” If you repeat what they said and add, “W’allah?” (“Really?”) it usually works. But when they start looking at you with a combination of mild alarm and pity, you know the ruse failed and they were probably asking where the bathroom was.

I don’t know my colors in Arabic either, so every time a kid needed her brush dipped and she asked for “bleah,” I would point at each color in turn and say, “Bleah?” until they nodded. While I was saying “Yellow?” and pointing at Blue, they often gave me that look again. Half the kids probably thought I was mildly retarded by the end of the day, but they were still sweet and we had a blast.

The riding club itself is set in some gorgeous hill country north of Amman. The land is awash in fruit trees, olive groves, grape vines, and gardens. Tanya’s father said proudly that most people only got to read the Bible, but they got to live in it. It reminded me of the north of Syria, and of northern California, too. If anyone still cherishes the notion that Arabs don’t know how to ‘make the desert bloom,’ I formally invite you to the productive arid hillsides of Jordan and the West Bank.

Former Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin recently set the record straight on the ‘Israel draining the swamps’ story, often used, like the ‘Israel making the desert bloom’ story, to strengthen Israel’s claim to the Holy Land.

The story goes that Israelis ‘reclaimed’ the coastal plain (or simply claimed it, in the case of thousands of Palestinian homes and orchards), the Bedouin-inhabited Negev Desert (and made it bloom), and malarial swamps in the name of human progress. True, they did expel around 700,000 Palestinian-Arab inhabitants from the land in 1948, and continue to expropriate land from the Bedouin, but because they use the resources ‘better’ than the Arabs, they deserve the land more. This argument has been seriously presented to me on more than one occasion.

It is reminiscent of countless narratives during the bad old days of unmasked imperialism which claimed that the more enlightened West could use the resources of conquered lands better than the natives, for the Glory of God or the Progress of Mankind or whatever. Thus the gold and land of the heathen Native Americans rightly belonged to Catholic Spain, the tea of India rightly made a fortune for Britain rather than India, the diamonds of Africa belonged to the Dutch colonists, the oil of the Middle East is America’s for the taking so we can spread democracy, etc. But, as Haaretz of Israel reports, even the West can use its acquisitions in misguided ways:

    According to [former Israeli Justice Minister] Beilin, the chief reasons for drying up the Hula [Swamp] were [Israel’s first President] Ben-Gurion's interest in a large-scale national project that would spark the imagination and generate excitement when the country found itself sunk in petty affairs after the great triumph of the War of Independence [also known as Al-Nakba, The Catastrophe, to Palestinians]; and the Jewish National Fund's attempt to justify its existence after its primary goal - acquiring land for the Jews to establish a homeland - had been achieved.

    "Nature was the enemy," writes Beilin, who grew up in the 1950s. "We were taught to wage war on it. We fought the desert, the swamps, the goats that chewed up the trees. There was no challenge more alluring than draining the Hula."

    The Hula, Beilin reminds us, was partly situated in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. Some of the drainage work had to be done on the Syrian side. The Syrians opened fired on the Israelis, and the Israeli air force, called in to retaliate, bombed two villages -- which goes to show that there is nothing new under the Middle Eastern sun. "According to a news item in the Israeli newspaper Davar on April 8, 1951, the villages were destroyed 'because they collaborated with murderers,'" writes Beilin...

    It was nothing but a hoax, writes Beilin. "The war on malaria was a lie from the start. Dr. Gideon Mer started spraying against mosquitoes long before the drainage project began. The whole argument was cynical and a ploy to justify the project in Israel and overseas, in the hope that the ignorance of the public would mask the facts."

    That hope has never died. In 2002, in an album put out by the Jewish National Fund to mark its centennial, its colossal failure is portrayed as a great pioneering success story. The authors claim that draining the Hula solved the problem of malaria in the region. Beilin goes on to quote Israeli author Meir Shalev: "It was only high and mighty words combined with low professional standards that paved the way for the lake to be squeezed dry, killed off and turned into a parable."

    One way or another, Beilin comes to a simple conclusion: The project did not achieve its goals. Water circulation was harmed; new highways were not built; Lake Kinneret was aged by the peat that settled in it and the drained land became infertile; birds and water fowl in the region were poisoned; various species of wildlife became extinct and the Hula became the "province of mice." In 1994, parts of the region were reflooded...

    In one respect, the project initiators get their wish: The ignorance of the public did triumph over the facts. The draining of the Hula has become etched in the public mind as a heroic enterprise, whereas only those with an interest in the subject know about the reflooding. The myth has triumphed over reality.

    In Beilin's eyes, the Hula drainage project is typical of many of Israel's ills: "The Hula syndrome, as I see it, goes like this: A certain problem arises and the system tries to fix it. Efforts are made to solve the problem for the moment ... while ignoring the long-term consequences due to steadily mounting pressure to do something. When the work gets under way, it is almost impossible to go back and start over differently, despite the heavy price this may entail ... Although the new solution is known, it is not implemented, or the implementation is postponed, because going ahead with it is an admission of failure.

    "Sometimes the new solution is not pursued because the opportunity has been lost, or the sense of urgency is gone: If the problem has already been around for decades, there is no longer any rush to solve it ... The situation continues by force of inertia. Some stopgap solution is adopted for a serious problem and becomes a fact that is harder and harder to change as time goes on, until it becomes an ideology in itself."

I couldn’t help but think of the disastrous Apartheid/Separation/Annexation Wall as a member of the same category whose tragic consequences may, if unchecked, destroy the possibility of peace and justice in the region forever, which would be as horrifying for the souls of Israelis as it is for the lives and freedom of the Palestinians.

A Jewish friend of mine pointed out that certain sectors of Israel deserve credit for being self-critical even in these tough times. I absolutely agree. But until that self-criticism is turned into concrete actions, I would warn Israelis against resting overlong on these laurels. I wrote the following about the massively widespread grassroots opposition to the War in Iraq in almost all the democracies of the West:

    The smart regime
    Has a very long rope
    So that we can walk
    All over the yard
    And pretend like we are free.
    They let us march,
    Protest and publish,
    Debate and discuss
    All weekend long.

    But nothing changes.

    Their words and weapons drown us
    Like children in a tidal wave.
    The thousand million dreams die
    In ceaseless streams
    While we drink coffee
    Make posters
    And congratulate ourselves.

Another common complaint of several Israel supporters I know is that Palestinians neither allow self-criticism nor seem to have any desire to criticize their own policies even when they are disastrous. This is a simplistic assumption, much like Bush’s line that all Iraqis either love America or love Saddam. To assume all Palestinians fall straight into line behind either Arafat or Islamist militants (or both!) perhaps betrays our own tendencies to fall in line behind either Democrats or Republicans and rarely seek anything beyond these two narrow visions.

Palestinians don’t have much access to Western media compared to Israel and supporters, Western media is selective in what it prints, and you might not hear about grassroots dissent, but that does not mean it doesn’t exist. According to CNN.com, “A massive 91 percent of Palestinians polled in a respected survey support fundamental changes in the Palestinian Authority. 95 percent calling for regular presidential and legislative council elections.”

A lot of people, including Al-Mubadara, are calling for democratic elections. Unfortunately, lacking much of the infrastructure for such elections because of municipality buildings demolished by Israel, and with precious little freedom of movement, and with the current regime fairly entrenched and crises happening daily, political reform is made rather difficult. It’s amazing that so many political movements abound and thrive under these conditions, despite the lack of free movement.

Palestinian citizens soundly condemned the recent checkpoint operation at Qalandia and its senseless disregard for human life, and many regard Arafat’s unbending rule, nepotism, corruption, and constant blame for his inability to conform to Israel’s demands (largely because of Israel’s destruction of the PNA infrastructure) as a second occupation. My roommate is angry that the main Palestinian cell phone company invests its assets abroad instead of into the ravaged Palestinian economy, and thus seems to care more for higher returns than the survival of his nation. And on and on.

The other issue regarding dissent, of course, is that when you have a red-hot poker sticking you in the back, it is difficult to concentrate even on a broken leg. The occupation is a constant aggravation that rarely affords the average Palestinian the free time to think about much of anything except trying to make a living and get where he needs to go without being detained or arrested or subjected to violence. People are not made to feel safe even in their homes or places of work. I’ve heard sound bombs being fired for no apparent reason near villages at dinnertime and soldiers engaging in loud live-fire target practice (I’m not sure what they were firing at, hopefully paper targets) from settlements near Ramallah at 1:00 a.m.

The Wall and checkpoints are destroying lives and livelihoods daily, and Israeli jails are crammed full of political prisoners who haven’t been charged, much less tried, hundreds of whom are currently on hunger strike demanding humane treatment. It is difficult to blame Palestinians for finding it hard to concentrate under such conditions. When and if the occupation is over, Palestinians can finally turn their full talents and attention to countless other pressing matters.

I recently finished reading The Prince by Machiavelli, written in 1515, a treatise on the ‘realpolitik’ strategy in favor in Europe at the time, and it is astoundingly relevant today. Here are some excerpts someone must have read to W. as a kid, and not only to him:

    “Nothing makes a Prince so well thought of as to undertake great enterprises and give striking proofs of his capacity.”

    “A Prince, therefore, ought never to allow his attention to be diverted from warlike pursuits, and should occupy himself with them even more in peace than in war.”

    “If he have good arms, he will have good allies.”

    “Be it known, then, that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second.”

    “It is not essential that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above, but it is most essential that he should seem to have them... To see and hear him, one would think him the embodiment of mercy, good faith, integrity, humanity, and religion... Every one sees what you seem, but few know what you are, and these few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many who have the majesty of the State to back them up.”

    “It is necessary indeed to... be skillful in simulating and dissembling. But men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes.”

    “Princes should devolve on others those matters that entail responsibility, and reserve to themselves those that relate to grace and favor.”

    “Of what does not belong to you or to your subjects you should, therefore, be a lavish giver, as were Cyrus, Caesar, and Alexander; for to be liberal with the property of others does not take from your reputation, but adds to it.”

If the American public happens to wake up and smell the napalm, though, the neo-conservative administration has the following quote to inspire them:

    “Matters should be so ordered that when men no longer believe of their own accord, they may be compelled to believe by force. Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus could never have made their ordinances be observed for any length of time had they been unarmed.”

Other topics in The Prince include how and why to build settlements on land you want to control, how to place a puppet government in a client state that will bend to your needs and yet retain some legitimacy in the eyes of his people, why it is better to be feared than loved, why it’s fine to make and break alliances and treaties at will if you have the power to do so, even how to weaken your opponent by making him look indecisive. Someone has done his homework. But he missed a couple:

Regarding Iraq:

    “Men, thinking to better their condition, are always ready to change masters, and in this expectation will take up arms against any ruler; wherein they deceive themselves, and find afterwards by experience that they are worse off than before. This again results naturally and necessarily from the circumstance that the Prince cannot avoid giving offence to his new subjects, either in respect of the troops he quarters on them, or of some other of the numberless vexations attendant on a new acquisition... For however strong you may be in respect of your army, it is essential that in entering a new Province you should have the good will [i.e. the hearts and minds] of its inhabitants.”


    “I shall blame him who, trusting in [strength of arms], reckons it a light thing to be hated by his people.”

Because we are the world’s only superpower, and many of the world’s inhabitants like to think of the world as a global democracy, all the world is our people now. In some way every person on every continent affects and is affected by the American empire. To disregard wholesale the opinions of the unprecedented millions who marched against the war in Iraq would be a disastrous course even for a dictator. For the Greatest Democracy on Earth, a nation that used to capture the hearts and minds of the world with its exemplary civil rights and sizzling Hollywood blockbusters, it seems little less than lunacy. History will tell.

Tanya’s younger sister took me to see Fahrenheit 9/11 in Amman. To my delight, it was playing in every theater. I already knew most of what was presented in the film, but it was good to see it all laid out. Of course, in a couple of hours it couldn’t portray ten percent of the Bush/Cheney/etc. questionable deals around the world, one percent of the suffering of Americans because of this war, or one ten-thousandth of what Iraqis have endured. But even a taste of un-whitewashed truth was more than most Americans have received in many years, and the popularity of the film speaks for itself. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

One complaint about the movie, though, is that while Moore spends a lot of time talking about the robber-baron U.S.-Saudi relationship, he doesn’t even mention the U.S.-Israel relationship or its importance to the issue of Iraq. The recent spy case, in which an official in the Pentagon has been accused by the FBI of conveying highly sensitive information to the Israeli government via two representatives of the American Jewish lobby, AIPAC, underscores this strong and strange relationship.

CBS has reported that the FBI "has a full-fledged espionage investigation under way and is about to... roll up someone [whom] agents believe has been spying, not for an enemy, but for Israel, from within the office of the secretary of defense."

The supposed Israeli spy, Larry Franklin, is a "trusted analyst of the Pentagon," who stands accused of passing on "secret White House deliberations on Iran" last year. He worked for Feith, who created a special intelligence unit before the Iraq war that had sought to build a case that Baghdad had ties to Al-Qaida -- a position that has been criticized by intelligence professionals.

And according to the Inter Press Service (www.ips.org), Philip Zelikow, during his tenure on a highly knowledgeable and well-connected body known as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), has stated that a prime motive for the invasion of Iraq was to eliminate a threat to Israel. PFIAB, which reports directly to the president and has clearance higher than top secret, is charged with evaluating the nation's intelligence agencies and probing any mistakes they make.

    "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel," Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.

    "And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell," said Zelikow.

    The administration has instead insisted it launched the war to liberate the Iraqi people, destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to protect the United States.

    The administration, which is surrounded by staunch pro-Israel, neo-conservative hawks, is currently fighting an extensive campaign to ward off accusations that it derailed the "war on terrorism" it launched after 9/11 by taking a detour to Iraq, which appears to have posed no direct threat to the United States.

    Israel is Washington's biggest ally in the Middle East, receiving annual direct aid of three to four billion dollars. [That’s about ten million tax dollars every day. Try not to think about what any one of those days would mean for your local school or hospital.]

Senator Hollings (D-SC), has written, "Even President Bush acknowledges that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Listing the 45 countries where al-Qaida was operating on September 11 (70 cells in the U.S.), the State Department did not list Iraq. Richard Clarke, in Against All Enemies, tells how the United States had not received any threat of terrorism for 10 years from Saddam at the time of our invasion. Of course there were no weapons of mass destruction. Israel's intelligence, Mossad, knows what's going on in Iraq. They are the best. They have to know. Israel's survival depends on knowing. Israel long since would have taken us to the weapons of mass destruction if there were any or if they had been removed. With Iraq no threat, why invade a sovereign country? The answer: President Bush's policy to secure Israel."

Last year, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now Finance Minister, told a group of British investors:

"It won't be long when you will see Iraqi oil flowing to Haifa. It is just a matter of time until the pipeline is reconstituted and Iraqi oil will flow to the Mediterranean."

But, writes Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com, “the oil is just the... dessert that comes after the main course, which is Israel's improved geopolitical position as a result of the Iraq war. Syria is outflanked, and now under U.S. sanctions, while the rest of the Arab world is psychologically demoralized, politically destabilized, and militarily defeated. Bush and Sharon are masters of all they survey. Arab democrats, secular nationalists, and moderates in the region are more isolated, and even more powerless, than ever: only Osama bin Laden's followers are overjoyed to see that their leader's warning of an invasion of ‘Crusaders and Zionists’ has proved prescient.”

On Friday, August 6, the hospitality factor got out of control. I had breakfast with some family of Tanya’s, lunch with a Palestinian professor from Stanford who was in town, dinner with Fayez and Eiko, another dinner with the family of a friend from Jayyous in Al-Zarqa’, and a late tea and snack with some friends of theirs whom we met in the street. I was starting to feel guilty, and I told Fayez on my way to meal number four, “This is getting ridiculous. I’m starting to feel bad.”

He said, “Don’t feel bad. Maybe you feel bad because it is not your way. But it is our way, it’s our culture.” He shrugged. “We like people.”

I thoroughly enjoyed dinner with him and Eiko, the Japanese nurse I met last year in Amman. I asked some questions about the Jordanian economy, how the ritzier parts of town looked as opulent as any rich American suburb, and Fayez said, “Jordan is like... what is the insect called?”

Eiko, one of my favorite people I've met, cheerful and funny and honest and kind, who speaks Japanese, English, and Arabic, piped in, “Parasite!”

“Ah yes. Jordan is a parasite. It has grown and prospered from the tragedies of this century. Look at us. We have no oil, no natural resources, but we are very educated, and some of us are very rich. How do we have all this? Every time there was a war, or a refugee problem, they always go to Jordan, from Iraq, from Palestine, and Jordan always gets money to keep them, to deal with them, to accept them and be quiet about them. Where did all that money go?”

He went on, “You know the new station they are building downtown? Who is paying? Japan is paying.”

“Japan? Why?”

“Ah, that is a good question. Why is Japan paying for Amman to modernize its downtown. It is like this. Not out loud, but secretly, Jordan supported the war in Iraq. So America says, OK, Japan, you are paying for a new station in Amman.”

I gaped, trying to figure out how all this worked. I’m still trying to figure it out.

“You must understand. Jordan is the first line of defense between Israel and the rest of the Arab world. But,” he smiled, “whom are they protecting?”

I later had dinner with a friend of a friend from Stanford, a Palestinian-Jordanian, and he told me that fully fifty percent of Jordan’s income is U.S. foreign aid. After Israel, Jordan has the most per capita foreign aid from America in the world, even more than Egypt, which is second in absolute terms. That would make America Jordan’s best friend, and thus Israel Jordan’s best friend, too.

It is no accident that Egypt and Jordan, the ‘moderate’ Arab states (i.e. the ones that quietly support American and Israeli hegemony in the area despite the illegal humanitarian disasters they have inflicted upon the region), are the ones who accept the largest annual checks from the United States.

You may say, “But this is a good thing. We’re giving money to these countries and raising their standard of living, and making them more enlightened like us to boot.” But I would challenge you to track down where this money comes from (hint: your taxes), where it goes, who benefits the most, what this top-level deal does to chances for democracy and forward-looking internal development in these countries (and in America), who suffers because of Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, etc. complicity in America’s financial and military strategy in the Middle East, and what this kind of activity will do for long-term stability and viability of economic and political life in the world. It is not a simple question, not black and white or good vs. evil, but an important one that I will be a long time trying to figure out for myself.

I thought about the Coalition of the Willing, all those little states that were bought, and the ones that refused to be bought, and I thought, you know, if there’s going to be a war anyway, if there's no stopping the leviathan, why not get your cut? Why not take some of the spoils that are going to be taken anyway, and give them to your people for new hospitals or your wife for new shoes? But I stopped myself. I don’t think it is cynical to call a spade a spade. To acknowledge difficult truths is a hallmark of optimism, because seeing the world as it is is an essential first step toward working intelligently to make it better. But resigning yourself to the spades you see, justifying and apologizing for the indefensible, betrays your belief that we are capable of no better.

Fayez dropped me off at the station so I could catch a bus to Al-Zarqa, a suburb to the northeast of Amman. A friend from Jayyous who was visiting family in Jordan, named Ahmed, met me in Al-Zarqa and took me to their apartment. We mostly watched TV and cleaned and cooked during the day, went shopping in the evening, and sat on the roof at night talking to neighbors. I stayed for three days. We saw a wedding party inch by on the street, drumming and singing and clapping, and because it was the end of major exams all over Jordan, there were constant fireworks.

Some neighbors had three daughters who spoke English well, two of whom were engaged to Palestinian-American men, waiting to finish university and get their documents in order so they could make their move to the States. They were as sweet and kind as usual. On the roof I met some other English-speaking neighbors and happily chatted with them.

Tuesday, back in Amman, I met up with one of those neighbors and his friend, both Palestinians who had studied in the American University in Jenin. One had finished university and was looking for work in Amman, the other was just there for holiday. While we were hanging out, the one on holiday said he came here to relax during school vacation. I said, “Isn’t it nice not to hear gunshots every night?”

“Yeah, and you can go wherever you want, and nobody bothers you. I can go to any town I want any time I want. Not like in Palestine. The Israelis treat us like children. ‘You can’t go here, you can’t go there, you have to be home at 9:00, you can’t leave home today.’ It’s really...” He shook his head. There was no word to sum up the absurd humiliation of it.

He said he wasn’t scared of the soldiers, though. He was arrested once and held for four days. They questioned him and questioned him, but he had nothing to reveal. On the fourth day they released a batch of prisoners at 3:00 a.m. The prisoners asked, “Why can’t you release us in the morning?” The soldiers said they would tell all the checkpoints that they were coming and booted them out. It took him four hours to walk home in the chilly dark.

On Wednesday, August 11, I made my way to the Pasha Palace Hammam, where I enjoyed a sauna, hot tub, exfoliation, scrubbing, and divinely inspired massage for under $20 in an old dark Arabian palace. It had the customary round, tiny stained-glass windows in the central dome that broke the sun into colorful beams as it cut through the steam. I left as soft and relaxed as a baby in a blanket. Why there isn’t a Turkish bath or Russian sauna in every neighborhood in the world I haven’t the slightest idea.

After that I wandered in the shopping district in the hills above downtown and found some treasures for very reasonable prices. My favorite acquisition was a three-paneled silver necklace set with polished stones, which I found draped over the ash-catcher of a nargila and picked up for only 2 JD (about $3). Either the shop owner had a momentary lapse of judgment or, as Fayez later half-jokingly suggested, I was the proud owner of some discarded Iraqi loot.

I climbed up to the Citadel for my favorite view of Amman as the sun set. The old Roman ruins are picturesquely situated serenely above the bustle of Amman, and the view from the site, of hills and houses, minarets and wheeling flocks of pigeons, everything turning from bright white to mellow dusky tones as the green neon of the minarets begins to glow and the evening prayer is said, in the long shade of ancient columns... to me it is the essential Amman experience.

I climbed up the cliff side of the hill over loose stones and piles of dust and finally arrived at the top, where I was greeted by Jordanian guards who asked me what I was doing, and why hadn’t I used the road and the gate like everyone else? I said I just wanted to see the sunset. They said, “The sunset is over.” Quite right. The sun had sunk below the horizon. But the lingering sights and colors remained, and I begged them for five minutes to enjoy the pretty dusk. They said they were only concerned with my security, but finally relented.

My stomach had relaxed wonderfully since I’d been in Jordan. I ate like a happy camel while I was the perpetual guest, and I gained back all the weight I’d lost since coming to Palestine/Israel. I was sleeping better, too, and I felt more carefree than I had in ages.

Then, after the sunset, I went to Fayez’s hotel to hang out again, in his office where Al-Jazeera plays incessantly, where writers, activists, journalists, Iraqis, and Palestinians come and go and congregate. A report came on of an explosion, a bungled attack by misguided Palestinian militants that killed two Palestinian bystanders at the checkpoint I had to cross to get back to Ramallah, and my chest tightened up again.

A freelance writer based in Baghdad told me about the latest gruesome studies regarding cancer and birth defects in Iraqi civilians and American troops because of the illegal and widespread use of Depleted Uranium, a radioactive waste material, as weapons by the U.S. in Iraq. He talked a little about the almost casual killing he had witnessed. I saw a video of American soldiers using hi-tech night vision equipment to kill unarmed, terrified Iraqi farmers by remote-control in stunningly gruesome ways. I thought if I were one of those farmers, what my last thought about the world would have been.

Fayez invited me for dinner again, and we shared fuul and felafel and hummous and labaneh and olives with some of his nephews, one of whom couldn’t help but remark that I only seemed to show up at dinner time. I asked him where he was from, and the boy of fourteen or so named a town in Israel. I asked if he had ever visited Palestine. He smiled happily and said, “Yes. In my dreams.”

I meet many Palestinians in the diaspora, in exile, who have never seen their beautiful homeland, or who can only visit it under humiliating conditions while being treated as an outsider by teenagers with guns. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’ve been there, that I’ve been able to see all I’ve seen. I find it devastating that people can be deprived of something to basic and essential as Home with so little consideration. Saying Palestinians can just move to Jordan is as logical and humane as saying that if someone occupies the Ukraine, and the Ukrainians don’t like it, no problem, they can move to Russia. After all, the Ukraine is tiny compared to Russia. Why do the Ukrainians need the Ukraine anyway? If someone took over the German part of Switzerland, it would be an easy thing to send the Swiss-Germans to Germany, wouldn't it?

Nearly every cab I took in Jordan, every shopkeeper I talked to, when I asked where they were from, they would give a small smile and name a place they were not allowed to go. Two-thirds of Jordan’s population are displaced Palestinians. My French-English-Arabic speaking officemate in Ramallah is a refugee who has never been to her home town of Haifa. The weight of this patient suffering, multiplied by decades and by millions, is overwhelming to me.

One of Fayez’s famous kunafa parties was scheduled for 10:00 that night, and tourists, activists, and journalists from around Amman stopped by. Someone had brought a guitar, and a couple of men serenaded us. An Iraqi woman who had been imprisoned in Iraq showed up, and a journalist sat next to her for an interview, which I intensely regretted I couldn’t understand. The giant round kunafa was brought in, and hot syrup poured over it, and we dug in. Always when I see a giant kunafa being eaten away from all sides until it is a small shapeless mass in the center, I can’t help but think of it wryly as a sad little metaphor for Palestine’s land. The company and kunafa were excellent as always, and I felt happy and lucky to be there.

I stayed at Tanya’s family’s house again for the next few days, and again they were gracious and delightful hosts above and beyond the call of hospitality. They made me feel like family. We watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and a thrill went through me when I saw that Palestine had a contingent in the ceremonies, with a Palestinian flag and everything. The audience cheered more loudly for Iraq and Palestine than for anyone else except maybe Greece. If only the world can, democracy-style, turn this massive support into concrete action to end these unlawful occupations.

(When I got back to Ramallah, a comic circulating around the office had a young man pole-vaulting over a giant concrete wall with the caption, “The Palestinian Daily Olympics.”)

On Saturday a friend of mine from Stanford, a Palestinian named Ammar, was married in the Hyatt in Amman. I sat at a table with some friends from Stanford I was delighted to see. I met some new people, too, and we danced and clapped and talked over loud Arabic music until it was time to cut the dozen-layered cake (with a sword, as per tradition) and then feast on an immense buffet. The bride and groom were radiant, although a bit exhausted from the very long day, the setting gorgeous, and a good time was had by all.

I woke up early Sunday morning to make my way back to Palestine. I enjoyed the usual nastiness at the border, seeing Palestinians treated like children, made to stand in line after enormously long line, yelled at in rude Arabic if they stood when they were supposed to sit, etc. The guard at my window held a Palestinian-American woman’s passport so long the woman turned away and started chatting with a friend. To get her attention again, the guard banged on the plexiglass window with her pen. The Palestinian woman had no choice but to be polite in return.

I was treated merely like a suspicious intruder. The guard questioned me for several minutes and didn’t like my story. She left her desk with my passport, holding up a long line. I chatted with a Palestinian-American man while she was gone. She finally came back and said challengingly, “How long do you need a visa for?”

I shrugged. “Isn’t three months normal?” She scowled, but stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

“Have fun,” she said hostilely.

“Thank you very much.” I wonder if they teach guards to be unfriendly at the border, or if the job just wears on people. How nice if all these young people could be at university instead.

That plus a service taxi ride from Jericho gets me back to Ramallah on Sunday, August 15. So much has happened since then, and I’ll write about it when I can.

As always, I welcome and appreciate comments and corrections regarding statements I have made and theories I have put forth. Everything is subject to question and, hopefully, improvement.

Much love,



When the great Tao is abandoned,
charity and righteousness appear.
When intellectualism arises,
hypocrisy is close behind.

When there is strife in the family unit,
people talk about 'brotherly love'.

When the country falls into chaos,
politicians talk about 'patriotism'.

    ~Lao Tze, Tao te Ching, 18

"Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest of violence."

    ~Francis Jeffrey, Scottish critic and jurist, 1773-1850

Next: Hafrada

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