No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land
Originally uploaded by marcynewman.

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.


9 thoughts on “No Man’s Land

  1. good post dr.

    the problem is multi-fold. we do suffer from an identity crisis. mind you all these statistics that say 60% or 70 or even as high as 80% of Jordan is Palestinian is not entirely correct. I had a talk with a Jordanian anthropoligist once who said many of these people have been mixed long before jordan was created or palestine was taken. If you notice there are many family names in jordan which are based on the names of towns in Palestine yet trace their roots to Jordan. Both peoples are more or less one compared to any other Arabs. They basically moved about in the same territory based on water and agriculture.

    Secondly, when it comes to national identity. There has been a struggle to form one. Jordan has given a home to Palestinians and even a choice, to take on Jordanian citizenship or to remain as Palestinian refugees. This choice was even given after Black September. To take on citizenship is to unite with the identity of being Jordanian the same way immigrants in the U.S. become citizens. It however has come to socially imply a rejection of Palestine or Palestinian identity and nothing can sound more absurd than this. I know many Palestinians who will not call themselves Jordanian because they’ve been taught that it means a rejection of Palestine, even though they’ve never been to Palestine. It’s a tricky process.

    Omitting history, I don’t recommend it, but then again it brings up bad memories for everyone. Black September was the worst part of our national history to date. It was a time when there was a Palestinian camp and a Jordanian camp. Years have passed now and there has been a change over in generations so people in Jordan are more united than before. History should be talked about, if nothing more than to show an example of a piece of it we dont want repeated. As for mention of refugees I remember it being in history books when I was younger, don’t know if it’s been changed. It’s another one of those tricky situations, how do you tell everyone that all these people are really refugees originally and are therefore not “real” Jordanians? How do you get around creating a national identity with so many people from elsewhere. You close your eyes and hope enough time passes I suppose.

    The biggest problem is that Jordan will always take all of the responsibility and all the flak for the refugee situation. Nevermind the camps in Syria or Lebanon. Jordan, a country with practically no resources, has to accept Palestinians, give them citizenship, and add them to the census. If history is any example one can see how quickley other arab nations shut down there borders whenever there’s trouble in Palestine.

    Jordan existed before support from the U.S. and it will exist long after it inevitably dissapears. The kingdom of jordan as a monarchy and as a piece of land carved out of the greater arab identity, may have been created by the british, but it was there long before then. My ancestors can testify to that fact.

  2. What a Israel wants
    What a Israel needs
    Whatever makes me happy sets Jordan free
    And I’m thanking you for knowing exactly
    What a Israel wants
    What a Israel needs

    Its as simple as that, with my apology to Christina Aguilera


  3. nice blog marcy-very important issues to tackle here, well-done! I’m doing an article on the issue or referedum myself especially as concerns refugees. I’d be keen to get in touch with someone there if you have some contacts….

    Laila (of Raising Yousuf blog,

  4. By the way, I think it’s worthy to tell that I’ve been watching this blog long time ago, but I didn’t write any thing for an unknow reason… till refugee’s subject obligated me…

  5. I agree that it is very important to hear from refugees themselves, so thank you for the link to the post in your blog, Nazzal. I am also going to the No Man’s Land refugee camp on Monday so I can hear for myself what these new/3rd time refugees have to say about their life there.


  6. Many of my friends and family who had migrated to America in the 60s, 70s, and 80s felt a strong need to shed their cultural identity in order to become part of the society. What they did not recognize is that to shed one’s identity provides for a risk of becoming nobody. On the other hand to maintain that they are only Arab and not American would also not achieve cultural harmony. I think this is much the same in the Jordan-Palestine situation.

    When I first came to the states, in part thanks to the flawed Jordanian educational system, I felt a great sense of national identity and pride as an Arab. My family is originally Palestinian and even though I had been to Palestine a handful of times, I always considered myself Palestinian. I agree with Nas 100%. I recognized in the past 15 years that someone who embraces Jordan does not automatically abandon Palestine. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    While we as a society have our problems, I think the basic issue is the lack of a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Once this is achieved, people who live in Jordan can get on with the business of labeling themselves without jepordizing their roots.


  7. Marcy, how do you think the Jordan First campaign plays into all of the tensions between Palestinians in Jordan and Jordanians (if at all)?

  8. It is good to know that some people maintain their sense of multiple identities in spite of the educational system in Jordan. I do not mean to suggest that the curriculum will necessarily erase one’s identity, but if one does not get this sense from their home or their school then this can be a risk. I have seen it too often in Jordan, especially among middle- to upper-middle-class Jordanians who also are Palestinian.

    And this precisely addresses the last question. I think that the Jordan First campaign is another attempt to erase people’s identity. By placing identity one as the dominant one is an attept to minimize the importance of one’s Iraqi-ness or Palestinian-ness. And, I suspect that with the more recent influx of Iraqis into Jordan in the past decade or so has contributed to the feeling in Jordan of somehow needing to re-assert its identity.

    I think anyone interested in this subject and how it affects Palestinian Jordanians should read Joseph Massad’s Colonial Effects.


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