Tobias of Germany reports from inside one of the largest refugee camps in Jordan.
Most capable of politicians have dedicated their lives for it, most brilliant of analysts have examined every possible angle of it, most intellectual of thinkers have written the most amazing of papers about it, and some of the most creative of poets rhymed to it: Palestine. But how many of them have come to Al Wahdat?
Like most people, the chances of me going to Al Wahdat were small. Never did it happen that I woke up in the morning and said to myself: Got to go to Al Wahdat today. To start with, I rarely heard of Al Wahdat. And when I did, it sounded like a place you don’t go to. Why do I go to Al Wahdat today? Because Morad tells me not to go there.
Do you know Morad? Most likely not. Morad, who fills my cup with bitter lemonade, is a Jordanian with money. He drives a new BMW, he has many houses, he “imported” a wife from Chicago, and he doesn’t like Jews. “The Jews,” he tells his guests while having dinner at his place, “buy all the properties in Jordan and Dubai. Drives me crazy!” Morad shoots straight, and when Morad speaks people listen. And then Morad, without any warning sign, drops the bomb: “You,” he says, pointing at my face, “are a Jew.” All stop eating and take a closer look at me, a pig in their midst. Nobody here knows me by my real name. Did Morad discover my little secret? Everybody’s eyes are fixed on me, waiting for my reaction. “You,” I say, staring him in the face, “are a gay Jew. From Chelsea. Look at your nose, Jewish; look at your lips, homo. Go back to New York, fake Arab!”
Morad is impressed with my response. He looks at me with appreciation and says: “You are a German. But you have something else in you, what is it?” Al-Hamdulillah, I passed the test. I double-offended Morad, so I must be of good stock. “Father German, mother Polish,” I reply. “Exactly,” he says; “I can see that.” Settled. I got me a Lutheran German for a father and a Polish Catholic for a mother; I come from the good folks of Europe who really gave it to the Jews. Can’t ask for a better blood. As the evening progresses, Morad and I become good friends. He invites me to stay the night. Or for as long as I want. He takes me around in his car. He even invites me to join him for a little vacation outside of Amman. But I decline, I prefer to stay in the capital. He understands and takes the time to recommend the best places to see and those that I should avoid. Al Wahdat tops the list of “never go there, unless you want to get slaughtered.”
Naturally, I choose to go to Al Wahdat.
I LOVE JORDAN When I first came to this country, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was offered for sale in the newsstands, due to the book’s enormous popularity. Today, five years later, the newsstands here sell an “Abridged Version” of Mein Kampf. The world has changed. Obviously. And I, flying to Jordan from the US of A, love Change. I put a Kefyiah on my head, buy a shawl with an imprint that reads “Jerusalem is ours,” and try to persuade some Jordanians I know to join me to Al Wahdat, one of the biggest Palestinian refugee camps here. To my surprise, no one is willing to come along. “There are better ways to die,” the rich of Amman tell me and drive away with their shiny new cars. I take off my costumes, hail a cab and drive to Al Wahdat. Just as I am, in the flesh: Tobias of Germany— my name and my nationality for the duration of my stay in Jordan.
“Shu ismak?” What’s your name? I’m welcomed by a throng of 30-40 kids trailing me as I make my first few steps in Al Wahdat. If I ever thought that I could walk here unnoticed, these kids break to pieces my naïve illusions. Sadly for me, once the kids have spotted me, the grown-ups do as well. “Are you here for the wedding?” asks a lady. I wish I were, but the problem is of course that I have no clue who’s getting married and what’s the exact nature of my relationship to either the bride or the groom. I look at my new surrounding: Times Square before show time looks like a desert in comparison with the crowds here. There’s no way out for me, I must come up with an answer: What’s my name? Is Tobias good enough for this crowd or should I be more original and call myself, let’s say, Adolf? Don’t ask me why, but the only thing I can think of at this defining moment is my conversation with Morad. Will these people buy my German-slash-Polish lineage? Doesn’t look so, to be honest. There’s no BMW in sight here, and the finer points of German Lutheran father and Catholic Polish mother are a bit too complex, I’m afraid, to stand a good chance of acceptance. I need something simple, a catch-all phrase that will immediately be understood, a sentence that will make the growing crowd roar in approval. I decide to forgo the name and go straight for the nationality: “I am German journalist,” I say. “Ahlan wa sahlan,” Welcome, they greet me. “What can we do for you?” I tell them that “I came to see how you live and report it to the world.” This calls for celebrity treatment. “German journalist is here!” they say, “Marhaba! Would you like to see a man who can tell you the truth, the real truth?” Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t?
Ali Mohammad Ali, a man of 84 years, gets off the floor in a little room that consists his entire street-level apartment, and honors me by asking that I sit down on his chair, one that’s made entirely of plastic. “A few days ago,” he informs me, “Al-Jazeera was here. Who did they talk to? Me. And now you! Thank you for coming from Germany to see me!” A crowd soon gathers: Ali’s sons and daughters, their children, their children’s children, a few close friends, with their spouses, friends of friends, and a bunch of children in tow. There’s of course no room for them all in this room, but the street outside will do. Hijabs in all shades of black and white cover the multitudes of women’s faces here, and cigarettes of all sorts stick out of the men’s lips. “I,” so Ali, “was born in Palestine.” All listen. They know the story, have heard it a thousand times, but hearing it once more is a pleasure — if one may use this word.
This is going to be a long day, I can see, since Ali starts his story in 1948. We have over sixty years to cover. Not to mention all these people present who, I assume, have their own stories to tell. Delicately I explain to Ali that I’m not interested in the history of the Middle East conflict. What I’d like to know is about peoples’ lives in the present. Today, not ‘48. This is not going to be a repeat of his interview with Al-Jazeera. Will Ali go along with me, or will he show me the door?
Boiling tea arrives and Ali lets me know that, yes, he’s willing to talk about the Now and the Today.
“The Jews,” he starts, “are criminals. The Jews are dogs.”
But I’m not interested to hear about the Jews, I’m here to hear about the Palestinians. “What animal,” I try my luck, “do the Palestinians remind you of?”
All agree, everybody’s eyes approve.
I look at this room of Lions: Nobody can move in this small room, sized 4 by 4 meters, and there’s no furnishing whatsoever except for prayer rugs hanging on the wall and three plastic chairs.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?