Well, I attended the first event in the week long series of cultural events commemorating al nakba day, which is officially today. Al Nakba means catastrophe and barely begins to describe what has befallen the Palestinian people world wide, but especially those in refugee camps in the West Bank, Ghaza, Lebanon, Syria, and of course, Jordan. This event, like all events I’ve attended here relating to Palestinians, is disturbing. Yes, of course, such events exist, but they always have to draw the line and appear to be promoting culture and art rather than politics. As someone whose research focuses on the effect that art can have in shaping politics I am acutely aware of the power of film, dance, song, theater, literature, art. However, when these representations exist in a space where political activism in the streets is not allowed I find that the other half of the message gets watered down. This is a day where people should be protesting in front of the Israeli embassy for the ethnic cleansing that is taking place in the Occupied Territories, not sitting quietly in a room filled with middle- to upper-middle class Jordanians, Palestinians, and internationals. There should be speeches about the reality of now–not just that there are refugees in the past, but how their lives are now. I find it especially interesting that there are no actual refugees from the camps in Jordan at any of these events. There is a distinct separation and disconnnect between those who work on behalf of Palestinian refugees and those who are actually living in deplorable conditions in the camps in Jordan. So we have nice little stands set up in the lobby of the Balad Theater selling Palestinian books, films, and knick knaks and the entire event becomes all about commodity consumption. People eat fake kanife (sorry, folks, but kanife in Nablus is not made with mozarella cheese–this only belongs on pizza) and purchase objects but no one actually does anything about the current situation.
Case in point: not one word was mentioned today during the speaker’s talk about the Palestinian refugees living in a camp in Al Ruweished resembling the camps of 1948. The 148 Palestinians there have been there for 3 years, including 3 children who have grown up without their mother because she’s a Jordanian citizen and lives in Amman; their father is dead. While there has been some support for their case from the Royal family, for some reason the mukhabarat (Jordan’s version of the FBI/CIA) has been holding their case up and so they have grown up in a refugee camp as orphans even when their mother is alive. The situation of refugees is not something just from the past. I’m not saying that Jordan is entirely responsible for the plight of these refugees. I think that the onus, of course, is on the occupying powers, the U.S. primarily, but also England, to take care of these refugees and resettle them as per the Geneva Convention. But to really deal with these issues–especially on a day like today–would make the cultural and commerical aspects of al nakba a tad less offensive.
The good news is this: Syria has officially stepped up to the plate and brought in those Palestinians waiting in the UNHCR refugee camp at the Iraqi border who initially tried to get into Jordan, but who were pushed away from it by the Jordanians and Iraqis.