Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 21 April 2002
Volume 1, Issue 8

– The Weather in Amman
Yesterday - High 19C/66F - Low 9C/48F - partly cloudy
Today - High 18C/64F - Low 7C/45F - partly cloudy and some rain
Tomorrow - High 19C/67F - Low 10C/51F - partly cloudy

– Overheard in Jordan

"I am angry with you -- not with you, but with your government." - Abu Noor, guard and site guide at Tall Hisban, when he met our family tour group during our visit to Hisban.

"It is not my lucky day." - Abu Noor, when he discovered that he would not be able to serve us all tea at his house adjacent to Hisban, since we were pressed for time to continue on with our tour.

– Family tour of Jordan and the Sinai
Several members of my family (Carmen, my mother, my twin brother, my sister and three others from her family and her parents-in-law) came to the Middle East for two weeks of travel and touring during the second and third weeks of April. We had a grand time. Initial plans to spend five days in Israel were scrapped at the last minute; even a quick one-day foray across the bridge to see Masada and Qumran was discarded, given the continuing violence across the river.

However, these adjustments allowed us to spend a full seven or eight days in Jordan and parts of four days in the Sinai Peninsula, all without the slightest hint of danger or threat to any of us. Our Jordanian travels (in a small bus rented from Issa Nino, our vender for rentals during excavation seasons) took us to sites in the north (Umm Qays, perhaps NT Gadara, overlooking the Sea of Galilee; Jerash; the Ajlun Castle); in the Jordan Valley (Pella, where Christians fled from the Roman sack of Jerusalem in AD 70); the Baptismal Site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan; the Dead Sea for a swim [better, a float]); downtown Amman with the Roman theater and the citadel; and the Kings' Highway to the south.

The Kings' Highway led us to the greatest archaeological site of all time (Tall al-`Umayri where we will be excavating this summer); Tall Hisban (equally significant at least to those of us with Hisban dust still in our veins and sand beneath our fingernails); Mt. Nebo with its spectacular view of (what's left of) the Holy Land; Madaba with its sixth-century mosaic map of the Holy Land; and points south on the way to Petra. We stopped at Herod's fortress of Mukawir (Macchaerus), traditionally thought to be the place where John the Baptist lost his head, then traveled along the Kings' Highway toward Kerak, stopping along the way to view and photograph large clusters of the famous Black Iris, along the roadside.

Lodging in the now-upgraded-to-five-star Crowne Plaza Hotel (used to be the Forum) for two nights was tough, but someone had to do it. This allowed us two full days in Petra, where we hiked forever - to the High Place, the Monastery, Umm al-Biyara (an Edomite stronghold), the new excavations of Byzantine churches and all kinds of monuments along the way.

We left Petra for Dana to the north, to overnight in the relatively new Dana Resthouse (run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) with its spectacular view of the Wadi Dana and the Wadi Araba which separates Jordan from Israel. We hiked a new trail in the reserve the next morning, after wandering through Dana Village, an experience drawing us back hundreds of years to traditional village life in times past.

We spent four and one-half hours jeeping through Wadi Rum, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. The scenery is breathtaking, the air clean and fresh, the two jeep drivers in stiff competition with each other to see who could drive the fastest over desert dunes, sending occupants flying into the air over and over. Sunset in Wadi Rum, shared around a make-shift fire with a cup of Bedouin whiskey (sweet tea boiled beyond recognition), provided a fitting close to the day. Then, it was off to the Gulf of Aqaba, where four countries meet within the space of thirty kilometers - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Egypt.

The next morning we were off on the speed ferry from Aqaba to Nueiba along the Sinai coast. Flying fish provided a cordon for part of the one-hour ride. From Nueiba we drove to St. Katherine's in order to hike up Mt. Sinai early the next morning so we could catch the sunrise from the top. It took the slower ones in our group only two hours to ascend three thousand feet from St. Katherine's to the top of Jebel Musa at seven thousand feet above sea level. Unfortunately, the sunrise was less than stunning, due to a high cloud cover, but the experience is always worth it.

Later in the morning we visited St. Katherine's Monastery and had the special privilege of a short tour inside the bowels of the Greek Orthodox Church and behind the screen, led by Father Justin, who appears quoted a few times in Bruce Feiler's book, Walking the Bible. We enjoyed discussing that.

From Mt. Sinai we traveled the two and one-half hours to Sharm el-Sheik for two days of absolutely carefree frolicing at one of the best places in the world to snorkel and dive. Our resort hotel was owned by an Egyptian company and run and occupied mostly by Italians. The food displays for all three meals were heavenly. No end of delectable options for people whose only exertion during the day was to get from the room to the beach or pool (or snorkel or dive) and back to the dining room again. Five-star fun in the sun was not a bad way to end our tour.

Actually, we then had to catch the return ferry to Aqaba for an overnight there and an early flight to Amman and then home for most of the tour group. It was a bit precarious at the end, since the family's return tickets were being held by the Royal Jordanian Airlines office in Aqaba because they all had to be changed due to effects on the tour of the situation in the West Bank. We had a window of twenty minutes to get the tickets or be stranded for a few days. As the ferry approached the Jordanian shoreline, I had my cell phone on to catch the first Jordanian communications signals so I could call and get the tickets delivered to the hotel. This was twenty minutes to five, when the office closed, and the flights were to leave at 5:30 am the next morning. Twenty minutes may seem a long time under certain circumstances, but not so here. As it turned out, we all made it, having had a great time.

– Al-Wadeh, The Situation
The continuing disaster across the river has maintained its assault not only on the human well-being and safety of Palestinians and Israelis, reaching unimaginable proportions in places, but also on my own ability to concentrate on important matters and on my normally buoyant approach to life and living around here. While we have not sensed any danger at all to ourselves as American citizens, the ongoing and ever-intensifying antagonism against the U.S. government has found public expression in all kinds of places (including Washington, D.C.), but not here. All protests in Jordan have been banned, so we are no longer even hearing the loud-speakers from across our small valley at the University of Jordan.

A warning about what follows. I am including in this issue of The Jordan (Some)Times a piece I have submitted to a couple of newspapers in the U.S. While trying to respect both sides of the current conflict, I am suggesting that we look at the present human tragedy of the region from inside the Palestinian territories. So, if this is somewhere you would rather not go, you may have reached a good place to stop reading. I am in no way speaking for ACOR, the Madaba Plains Project, Walla Walla College, or anyone other than myself.

– Embracing the Palestinian People
Having lived, studied and traveled extensively in Jordan (currently residing in Amman) and throughout the Middle East over the past three decades, and having suffered vicariously especially during the last few weeks and days the excruciating pain of Israelis and Palestinians, I am persuaded of the absolute necessity for Americans (citizens and government) to embrace the Palestinian people - now more than ever before. Are the Israelis suffering? Of course. We see it on the news. What about the Palestinians in Jenin and Nablus, where news coverage has been blacked out and where fleeing Palestinians report devastating civilian losses?

I am not suggesting we shun others along the way, whoever they might be. But right now, at this crucial moment, Americans could, should, indeed must, I think, embrace the Palestinian people - quickly, completely, sincerely, publicly, profoundly. I recommend this for three major reasons: empathy, morals, pragmatics.

– An empathetic response
Americans, more than anyone else since September 11, should have a shared empathy with the Palestinians. We were hit hard as a nation, hit unexpectedly, shocked to our souls. We lost members of our families. We have been forced to endure economic hardship in the face of unemployment and lost life savings, examine who we are, explore options for getting back at our attackers and securing our way of life, restore our sense of dignity in the face of incomprehensibly destructive and demoralizing acts.

What about the Palestinian people? What about all the Septembers for the past five decades during which they have been denied the privileges of freedom? What does it mean to exist under fear of being hit hard any day? How do they - in the face of ongoing humiliation and demoralization through the loss of homes, children, families, the basic facilities, orchards, playgrounds, hospitals, schools, courthouses, employment, life savings, a place to call home - how do they find ways to secure a good life and maintain dignity? If for no other reason, our shared shattered worlds should bring us together in empathy.

– A moral imperative
Americans have often taken up moral causes on behalf of the oppressed. We keep talking about human rights and wrap nations on the wrist for violating them. We stand for democracy - in fact, die to protect democracy. What about efforts on behalf of the disenfranchised, demoralized, demonized Palestinians? Whatever we decide to continue doing for the Israelis, isn't there somewhere a moral imperative to take up the cause of a people whose marginalized status is recognized by virtually all Western nations and the United Nations? Of all people, Americans should remember this because in the beginning of our national history we only sought to establish, sustain and secure a free and democratic way of life for ourselves. Should not Palestinians have the same freedoms?

We are all aware of the genocide perpetrated against European Jewry during the Holocaust. I have taken literally two to three hundred friends to visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem over the years. I also consistently assign Holocaust literature to my college students in several classes (mostly on the biblical prophets who themselves consistently sided with the downtrodden). What about the Palestinian people? While maintaining friendships with Israel and its citizens and trying to help protect them against senseless bombings, what could, should, indeed must we do for the Palestinians, who have endured - are enduring - a holocaust of their own? What would the human moral barometers of past ages, the biblical prophets, recommend? What is the right, the moral thing to do?

Why have so many national voices from around the world rallied in support of embattled, beleaguered and bereft Palestinian mothers and fathers, teenagers, school children, infants, medical care providers, elderly citizens - while the U.S. was virtually silent. Has our "war on terrorism" made us myopic to the rest of the world, much of which lives under oppression most of the time? Has it forced on us too small a window through which to view the world?

Why have hundreds of Israeli military reservists, while deeply committed to their country and its defense, declared their unwillingness to fight in the occupied territories, one reservist major claiming that it "is morally impossible to be both a devoted democratic citizen and a regular offender against democratic values." (The New York Times, reprinted in the Jordan Times, 20 March 2002). He goes on to say: "I will not obey illegal orders to execute potential terrorists or fire into civilian demonstrations.... And I will not take part in 'less violent' actions like keeping Palestinians under curfew for months, manning roadblocks that prevent civilians moving from town to town or carrying out house demolitions and other acts of repression aimed at the entire Palestinian population." Aren't there sufficient moral grounds for us to embrace the Palestinian people?

– Pragmatic considerations
Embracing the Palestinians makes sense for purely practical reasons. My own perceptions, garnered over and over during the past 30 years in Jordan, for example, consistently find all the citizens of Jordan (including those forced out of Palestine years ago) warm, welcoming, genuinely hospitable and helpful to Americans personally, but just as consistently puzzled about and especially now deeply angered by U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Whether it is true or not that the "Palestinian Problem" lies at the heart of most of Middle Eastern disdain for the U.S., this is the perception; this is how the majority of people in this part of the globe think and feel. It is hard for Palestinians and their relatives throughout the Arab world to feel otherwise when they read "Made in America" on attack helicopters, brandishing American military hardware, firing American-made rockets into crowded urban Palestinian camps, taking out schools, homes, ambulances, friends, cousins, sisters, infants. Whether or not internationally accepted rules of engagement are followed by those using American weapons, there is no separation in the public mind between blue-and-white and red-white-and-blue flags as the source of incomprehensible devastation and destruction.

And because the violence has escalated recently to unprecedented levels, for weeks without U.S. intervention, we have an incredibly huge and growing PR problem if we are hoping to help lay the foundation for lasting peace. Otherwise, attitudes among the current younger generations of Palestinians who have lost their childhood, their families and friends, their homes, and their respect for some in the rest of the world quietly observing their demise at a distance, will produce another twenty or forty years of festering hatred against the U.S., however good our intentions. And they have nothing to lose - absolutely nothing - by standing up against anyone, including Palestine National Authority leadership, in whatever fashion they can, militarized or not. However unacceptable the violence some choose against others might be to us, the people as a whole are in search of a way to recover and preserve the dignity their parents and grandparents once owned, but which has suffered humiliation and disenfranchisement for far too long. Getting at the root of their dissatisfaction and dealing with it as a hedge against continued violence - isn't this sufficient pragmatic reason to embrace the Palestinian people? Without selling out any other friends in the region, we must be bold, intentional, public, generous and genuine about embracing the Palestinian people. And the sooner the better.

– Some suggestions for embracing the Palestinian people

  • By shedding some of our own cultural insensitivities and broadening our world view. This is the work of a lifetime and will only happen by persistent, intentional commitment to tolerance, cultural openness, expanded horizons in educational and religious settings. While we are Americans, we are also part of the human family and some human values transcend American ones. Travel to foreign countries helps immensely as does the purchase and reading of some of the scores of books now available from Palestinian points of view.

  • By expanding educational offerings, beginning in elementary school, in the areas of foreign languages and cultures.

  • By returning to some degree of even-handedness in the U.S. media, which, as I have compared them with local and other foreign sources of information, have been uncharacteristically one-sided. There is no such thing as unbiased reporting, but the American media have to some degree lost touch with how the rest of the world views things

  • By assiduously avoiding incendiary language which can only result in blocking communication and raising the level of hostility: "crusade," "axis of evil."

  • By becoming further engaged as a nation in the process of peace-making - with all parties. The American shunning of the duly elected president of the Palestine National Authority may play well in Peoria, but it has been thoroughly panned in Palestine.

  • By bringing Arab advisers to the very highest levels of administrative information-gathering and decision-making. Vice President Dick Cheney's recent visit to the region should illustrate this need well enough. In spite of his claims as covered by the American media that the regional nations saw the danger in Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, somehow lost in the news was the fact, quite prominent in this part of the world, that every Arab nation he visited in the entire area opposed any action on Iraq and drew his attention rather to the main issue at hand, the Palestinian situation. Highly placed Arab advisers would provide at least some kind of balance to the well endowed Jewish lobby and the well peopled evangelical Christian segments of American society which influence public policy significantly.

  • By paying attention to the published voices of Arabs in the region, especially those of moderation as represented in such sources as the Jordan Times (

  • By providing massive U.S. financial support in Palestine for education, income-generating programs, rebuilding of the infrastructure destroyed by weapons either funded or supplied by America, reconstruction of hundreds of flattened homes, provision of food and poverty relief. Could we pour this on with a ferocious generosity matched only by that of the Palestinian people themselves? This may - absolutely SHOULD - mean re-channeling some of the U.S. tax-funds spent on Israeli munitions to the more pressing Palestinian domestic needs.

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
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