The more time I spend in Jordan conducting my research, especially when it concerns Palestinians—and, specifically Palestinian refugees in Jordan—the more difficulty I have with Jordan’s policies. Two questions have been concerning me for the past couple of months, which are related to omissions in Jordan’s history textbooks. The first is related to the absence of Black September in its history books and the second is related to its erasure of Palestinian refugees from its history books since Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994. Of course, every country leaves out parts of their history in order to construct a national narrative that teaches children a love of country. But in cosmopolitan societies this comes at a risk to those children who are not part of the dominant culture. In the U.S. most history books teach about Native Americans and African Americans, for instance, albeit a rather whitewashed version of America’s genocidal past. But a complete omission of such subjects affects those whose history is silenced. In Jordan, the Palestinians, who make up at least 60% of the population, are subjected to a silencing of their history in general, and in Jordan in particular. This is an attempt to coopt this population into the dominant culture, which I believe puts at risk Palestinian culture, history, and present material and political needs. It seems to this outside observer that the only good Palestinian is one who supports the policies of the Hashemite Kingdom. In other words, Palestinians who when asked identify themselves first as Jordanians and then, maybe, as Palestinians as well. This is not a hyphenated society though there are many different ethnic, cultural, and religious people here: Palestinians, Iraqis, Bedouins, Syrians, Saudis, Circassians, Turkish, Kurds, various expatriate European and American people, migrant workers mostly from South Asia, and, of course, Jordanians. The U.S. has its problems, but I think that acknowledging its diverse populations in an official way is one of the things I like best about it.
While Jordan is the only Arab country to give Palestinian refugees citizenship, I think this is, in part, an attempt to coopt this sizable population. Because Jordan was concocted by the British under the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916, as a colonial entity and with an imported monarchy, Jordan seems to suffer from an identity crisis and anything that might jeopardize its fragile existence, including its peoples competing interests, is minimized.
Certainly, this country, which has very limited natural resources and probably could not exist without substantial support from countries like the U.S., has had a difficult time dealing with the various influxes of refugees, mostly Palestinian in 1948, 1967, and 1991. But at least these people were accepted into the fold in the past and thus, Jordan has been a place where Palestinians could seek refuge. Iraqis, too, have come to Jordan as a safe haven, though it appears that most of these people came with money and have, in the eyes of many Jordanians, adversely affected the economy by making housing prices soar. But Jordan has not been allowing everyone fleeing Iraq to enter its borders.
There is a refugee camp in a place that Jordanians call “No Man’s Land,” on the border with Iraq. Ruweished refugee camp continues to house over 700 refugees in its tents. The majority of these refugees are Iranian Kurds who were made refugees during the 1979 Iranian revolution when they fled to Iraq. There are also 110 Palestinian refugees in this camp, most of whom are also refugees two or three times over. the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has resettled 1,000 refugees so far, but there still remains a sizeable population in the camp. Unlike the refugee camps inside Jordan or Palestine, this has a fence around it and the refugees are not allowed to leave it. Thus, it’s like a prison. Arguably, this is not only a problem for Jordan as any country can agree to accept these refugees and offer them shelter in their country. But not enough nations are stepping up to the plate.
As if things couldn’t get any worse. This week I learned that Palestinians in Al Hurriya, a neighborhood in north Baghdad, have been receiving death threats. The following day some Palestinians attempted to flee by going to the Jordanian border. But Jordan refused them entry. So now there are new arrivals in Jordan’s “No Man’s Land” area. The UNHCR has been releasing statements The UNHCR has been releasing statements about this, but amidst all of the reports of violence and suffering in Iraq this particular story seems hidden beneath the headlines. You can find these reports on the UNHCR website and Electronic Intifada has been republishing some of these as well.