I’ve often heard it said that Amman is one of the most boring cities in the Arab world. That judgement is not altogether untrue, it somewhat lacks the key ingredient that makes the Middle East the richest place in the world: history. Modern-day Amman has barely been around since the 18th century, practically an embryo when compared to Damascus, which is the oldest inhabited city in the world, not to mention Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo et al. They also say Amman seems to lacks culture: the markets aren’t as bustling, the mosques aren’t as beautiful and the food (a big part of Arabic society) isn’t as flavoursome and there are malls, MacDonald’s and brands galore.
Having said that, Amman’s young history is precisely why its people are carving out their own. Jordan – especially Amman – is a nation of refugees. Over 60% of the population are Palestinian refugees, be it from the Nakba (1948), 1967 or any of the other contentious points in the demise of Palestine. Since then there has been an influx of Iraqis post-2003 and (of late) Syrians, not to mention the six million economic migrants from Egypt.
First let me start by saying that I am sorry for your loss. Sincerely. The agony of losing a son, let alone losing one so publicly and in such savage circumstances, is the worst thing a parent can ever do and I wish it on no man. I watched the coverage and, like the rest of the world, I was rightly disgusted.
The slaughter of your son was gruesome, but a big part of why the world has seen it is because he is an American and I do not resent that, I’ve long since realised that a man’s passport puts a diplomatic price on his value. When I was 12 in 2005, we were trapped on the border between Iraq and Jordan and bombs, bullets and fear fell like rain on the cars around the crossing. We would have died if the American troops hadn’t saved us. They gave us food, water and medical care in their compound. All because we were British. The circumstances surrounding the death of your son were extraordinary. However, the nauseating reality of his death has, unfortunately, become ordinary. Deaths are not new to the region.
I have many mottos in life: you reap what you sow, is one. Don’t wear a blue bra and white T-shirt if it looks like it’s going to rain, is another. But the one that defines me most is ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. It’s been a recurring theme that, of late, has consumed me completely. In short, it is the idea that words, though zephyrs of air, are more powerful than spilled blood. It’s the motto that keeps me writing poetry, articles and engaging in (reasoned) debate.
Since Israel started its third incursion into Gaza in 7 years – this one costing more lives, homes and sanity than either of the other two, I have been feeling indignant and powerless in equal measure. What can I do? The more focalised my anger became, the more impassioned I was to do something. When I spoke to my Palestinian father about the slaughter – a man who has endured two ethnic cleansings and a generation’s worth of pain – he just smiled wryly and said it was ‘aadi’ – normal, and that ‘Gaza will be ok’. I didn’t believe him and didn’t want to bargain on that flippant (if resilient) assumption. As an impotent observer, as a girl who neither elected my leaders, nor chose to be born into privileged security, I sought to change opinions with my words. I started reading, writing for Infita7 and recording poems (watch Palestine). I started talking openly to friends and strangers alike. My words were stronger than I gave them credit for and I’m gradually discovering more and more of my friends are seeing other side of the coin. This was my purpose: to use my tongue to articulate my anger, not allow frustration to fester into aggression.
Over the past 27 days of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in which 1,712 people have been massacred, I have seen an incredibly impressive amount of engagement and education taking place between friends and over social media (the tide is turning). However – as with anything – there are always going to be disagreements, especially with a topic as polemical as Palestine/Israel. It is a tense topic, laden with hyperbole and emotion from both sides. As a firmly pro-Palestine young woman* I frequently find myself in somewhat sticky situations with friends, acquaintances and strangers. At first I used to avoid the subject like the plague but then I realised that that helps no one: I don’t defend a people who need defending and the poor person in front of me is no more aware of the truth. But when I decided to engage in those – sometimes uncomfortable – conversations I found myself getting incensed and frustrated by certain views. However, over the years I have subconsciously formed a set of cast-iron rules to deal with it that leaves me neither infuriated and usually leaves my relationships in tact.
The role of women in war is always harrowing: they are simultaneously seen as ‘victims’ as demonstrated in the ‘women and children’ mantra when assessing human costs – a phrase which implicitly robs men of their victimhood by virtue of being men – and women have historically been used in war as weapons, with rape and sexually abuse prevalent. This latest chapter in the Palestine/Israel War is no exception. The month-long Gaza conflict has slaughtered 1400+ human lives, 80% of civilians and when UN buildings were bombed, women and their children were the first victims. In tandem with this, there has been a worrying growth of misogyny coming out of Israel towards both Palestinian women and the ‘slut-shaming’ of Israeli women who speak up. On the other hand there many women involved in the Israeli War effort, either by directly fighting – remember that both men and women have compulsory military service in Israel – or by moral support through stripping, protesting etc.
I don’t even know how to begin this one, it’s been cooking in my mind for a few days now. There are so many things I want to say concerning the sheer hypocrisy of the latest Gaza instalment. The hypocrisy of the West, the Arab ‘leaders’ and the Israeli regime is so potent it really does take a blind person to not see it: Hamas is seen as a terrorist organisation – even by its indoctrinated neighbours (Egypt I’m looking directly at you) – yet the IDF is allowed to bomb, arrest and slaughter civilians en masse, their uniforms giving them immunity, credibility even. That 100,000 protesters marched on London last Saturday but barely made the news, or that my beloved BBC has made the oppressor the oppressed and vice versa (you were right, Malcolm X!) confuses me. The hypocrisy includes the reactions involved: the angry Palestinians are told to learn some Gandhi-like ‘peace’ whilst the Israelis are taught ‘justice’ which condemns the grief of the former and justifies the brutality of the latter. The hypocrisy of Cameron and Hague – my not-so-democratically elected leaders – who are still pro-Israel despite criticism from MPs of all parties. Or perhaps, most shocking of all, that four boys playing footie can get killed on a beach whilst Israel bleats ‘human shield’ (a phrase which sounds so bizarre, not least because Gaza is the most densely populated place on planet earth so, by default, everyone is someone else’s human shield).
I am a Palestinian. I am a Palestinian because my father was born in Palestine in 1947 and I am a Palestinian because all the atrocities going on make me want to tell the oppressed that I am with them with every fibre of my being. Growing up I went to a wonderfully cultured and tolerant school, where we were vegetarian and meditated before the day began. It was a place that did more than just teach me the curriculum, instead it taught me confidence, tolerance and integrity. But there was one area where I felt I was always stifled: Palestine. I was never given the opportunity to debate the events that were the fuel of my identity. I was passionate about Palestine and the Middle East, passionate about politics and the Left and passionate about debate and discussion. I felt those things got somewhat sidelined at points, hell my head of sixth form wrote on my end of term report: ‘less passion more poise.’ It was a difficult restraint to bear during my formative years.
I was planning on starting this post differently; I was planning on writing about the realities on the ground in Iraq. The diplomatic ping-pong that journalists love to devour, the movement of X terrorist group from A to B with a battle at C, a break-down of the change of allegiances: how this week we were shown how today’s enemies are tomorrow’s friends and today’s friends are tomorrow’s disgraced enemies. I was going to narrate how my week working at the Iraqi embassy in Paris has been one of the hardest weeks of my life with all the turmoil and infectious feeling of helplessness.
But 20 minutes ago I called my aunty Hanan for news of my family. Turns out my aunt-by-marriage’s brother was killed three weeks ago. He was in the mosque praying when a bomb hit and he died.
The front page of yesterday’s French paper Le Figaro was emblazed with the words ‘Irak: Les Djihadistes aux Portes de Bagdad’ – the Jihadists are at the doors of Baghdad. I picked it up on the way to work at the Iraqi embassy in Paris. The situation in Iraq is beyond strained: Mosul, Tikrit and Kirkuk have all gone and if Baghdad falls, then Iraq, for all intents and purposes will be a failed state, run by no one in particular save a terrorist organization that is now richer than some counties. As of yesterday morning, ISIS were 60 kilometers away from Baghdad, driving in American Humvees (oh the irony) having already seized a helicopter. There have been clashes 30 miles north of Baghdad between the Iraqi government forces and militants in the city of Baquba but so far the Iraqi military forces are holding off the militants.
In real terms, president Nouri al-Maliki has given no reaction, having failed to achieve a quorum in parliament imposing a state of emergency or to get permission to ask the UN for drone strikes. He has made no statement on the loss of Mosul, Kirkuk or Tikrit.