Tobias of Germany reports from inside one of the largest refugee camps in Jordan.
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Don’t ask me what came over me but my lips start moving in a direction I have no control over: “Could you tell me,” I hear myself asking, “what other animals in the zoo remind you of what people?” A roar of laughter ensues. The ladies love the question. The men take an extra puff from their cigarettes. Ali Mohammad Ali enjoys the question as well, a huge smile spreads on his face. This German is good; he brings laughter to Ali’s sad room.
“The Jordanians,” he says, “are horses. The Americans are pigs. The British, who gave Holy Palestine to the Jews, are mice. The Germans, they are camels.”
Camels? Why camels?
“Germans,” Ali explains, “have the ability to bear many misfortunes and carry many disappointments inside their hearts, because they have patience. For years they suffered from the Jews, but when the opportunity came to pay the Jews back, the Germans killed them.” Did the Jews deserve it? “Germany killed one million Jews,” Ali informs me, “and they did good.” All in presence agree.
But Tobias of Germany, attempting to fully comprehend this last statement, gets a little curious. “If a stranger walked into your home carrying no passport, would you be able to tell if he’s a Jew or a German?” I ask him.
Most probably, this is the most stupid question I could have come up with. Ali is pretty disappointed in me as well. How could I offend his intelligence with such a tasteless question? Of course he would know who the stranger was! And then Ali stops talking for a few minutes. He measures me, my head and my eyes, and seems to conclude that I need some basic teachings. “If we are good Muslims,” he speaks again, “and keep the Word of Allah, Palestine will be ours again. Look at Nasrallah of Lebanon: He abides by Allah, and Allah helps him to kill the Jews. May all of us be like Nasrallah. The Jews falsified the Word of Allah in their Torah. The Christians falsified the Word of Allah in the New Testament. But there’s one man who possesses the First Book of Allah and he knows the Truth. Do you know who he is?” No, I don’t. “The Pope!” The German Pope? “Yes, that one.” Blessing on your head, Papa Benedict, the people of Al Wahdat love you. “What book, exactly, does the Pope have?” I ask. “The real Word of Allah, the original!, is hidden in the basement of the Vatican,” Ali proclaims. Has Ali Mohammad Ali seen that book? “I have a copy of it, it’s the Quran.” Ali proceeds to read the Quran for me. He opens the book and says: “The Jews will all be killed. Every tree and every stone will join in the killing of the Jews.” Ali’s son, sitting on my right, takes a piece of paper and writes down some anti-Jewish curses on it, “Holy Words.” He hands me the paper, kind of a talisman against evil. I thank them profusely for the gift and enquire if I may ask one more question: Does the Jordanian government treat the Palestinians well? “Yes, they do. Life in Jordan is very good. No complaints.” As Ali talks about the Jordanian government, those in attendance look away but keep quiet, no one here can challenge Ali in his own home. “Why, then,” I add another question, “fight to go back to Palestine if life in Jordan is so good?” Ali looks down on the floor and mumbles: “Yes, yes. Good, all’s good.” Could I report to the world that the Palestinians in Jordan are happy and have no problems? “Can report.”
A MAN SITTING NOT FAR from me volunteers to take me around and show me the Good Life of Palestinians in Al Wahdat. Would I like to go for a walk?
Walk we go.
We enter the market square of Al Wahdat. Strangely enough, the word Auschwitz comes to my mind. In the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. there’s an exhibition that depicts countless of used shoes lying one on top of the other in no certain order. This part of the museum’s exhibition is arguably the most potent as it alludes to the shoes left by the Jews on their way to the gas chambers. I think of it as I pass a “store” in the camp, known here as “European Shoes.” Used shoes, one on top of the other, lie on the street in no explainable order. Pretty much like the shoes in Washington, D.C. Only that here, these shoes are for sale. My guide, a man whose name I don’t know, looks at me and wonders if I want to buy shoes here. There are better things to buy in the market, he suggests: Palestinian sweets. Would I like to try? We walk towards the baker, and pass by the local sports club. At the entrance to the club, the flag of Israel adorns the floor. Are the Palestinians turning into Zionists in Al Wahdat? Not exactly. As my guide explains to me, everyone entering the sports club walks over the Israeli flag with his dirty shoes. Is there a sweeter way to take a little revenge of the Criminal Dogs? We share a laugh at the brilliance of this graphic design and keep on walking. Every few steps men stop my guide to ask who the Stranger is. After a while, my guide feels we had enough of this. “Would you like to talk?” he asks me. We leave the market and walk back to the residential areas of Al Wahdat: “Houses” that look exactly like Ali’s, 4 by 4 meters. Each family here has one of these, locally known as a “unit.” Which, by the way, is what Al Wahdat means: Units. When Al Wahdat was built, they tell me, each refugee family was allocated one Unit, and ever since then it became the Units Camp.
We arrive at a certain Unit, this one with no electricity. Candles all over. Would I prefer to sit outside? A new man approaches and suggests we sit on the street. But no photographs, please. “If the Jordanian government finds out what I’m about to tell you, that will be 20 years in jail. We are 70% of the population in Jordan, but not one Palestinian serves in the security services. We know them only through the jail system. Understand?” He offers no name, leaving me the option of calling him whatever I fancy. “How about Haled?” I ask. He accepts. Haled, who is an English teacher by trade, prefers to speak in English. It’s safer.
“The Secret Service is all over here. Our life is miserable. Most of us stand no chance of ever getting out of here. A Jordanian high-school student with a 50% grade average gets a place in the university before a Palestinian with 90% average. And most of the Palestinians who do get accepted in Jordanian universities become students only if they agree to study literature, history, or something like that. Medical school? Hardly ever, unless we pay for it. No grants, like the Jordanians get. I have a Jordanian passport, but every policeman can immediately tell that I’m a Palestinian: We have different I.D. numbers. The Jordanian government gets paid by the UN and by others for every Palestinian living here and puts the money into their pockets. We are a ‘treasure’ for the Jordanians: Cows who give out milk. We are a property. We are not treated as human. Why do the camps still exist? Why this ‘property’ all over here? Why so many poor Palestinians? Because we are just like stocks in Wall Street. The Jordanian government stops us. Arrests us. Rules over us. Never trusting us. Nobody in the world cares. Millions of poor Palestinians will never get out of their misery. Why? Because of their Arab brothers. The Jews did us wrong, and they will pay the price: The day comes and the Arab nation will change and fight for us. All the Arab armies will congregate in Jordan and move into Palestine and wipe out the Jews. It says so in the Quran and I believe it. I believe. But until that day comes, we are suffering. At the hands of our brothers who despise us and get rich because of us. King Hussein once said that people are ‘investments.’ Yes, for him we were. And for his son, King Abdallah, we still are. Look at this camp: Where else do people live under such dire conditions? And why is it that nobody in the world complains? If anybody cares about the Palestinians, why do they let the Jordanians treat us like cows? And this is good, let me tell you. The Palestinians in Lebanon have a much harder life. Not only they are not allowed to buy houses, they are also not allowed to own a car. May Allah take his revenge from the cursed Jews.”
As Haled speaks, men stand around us to guard against any possible intruder. I’m protected by nameless bodyguards, the poor people of Al Wahdat. As far as I can tell, none of them carries a gun. Instead, Haled’s friend offers me a variety of Palestinian sweets. Life might be bitter in this Allah-forsaken corner of the earth, but the bakers of Al Wahdat make the best sweets Tobias of Germany has ever tasted. Delicious.
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H/T to National Review Online