After my studies, I visited Israel and Palestine before I traveled back home. Wow. I feel ten times more educated about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict just by visiting and seeing the situation up close. My very first experience was at the border. My friends had visited the area before I did, and apparently they had no trouble. I, on the other hand, did find a two-hour interrogation waiting for me before I could cross. The border guard took my phone and read all of my conversations. She asked me questions about the various conversations I had, and probed all the contacts I had with Israel. That was, at max, two. She ended up calling one of them, which I thought was incredibly rude, inappropriate in that it involved an innocent person unrelated to my border crossing, in addition to the clear violation of privacy. This experience alone dissuades me from visiting Israel again. I understand that the area witnesses high levels of violence but, as an American, I felt these violations were inexcusable. If I’m already fed up with how the government is neglectful to our rights in America, where I receive ten times more respect, then why should I stand for such disrespect in Israel?
Anyway, I thought Jerusalem was beautiful. But, yet again, the conflict bubbled up to the surface as I toured Jerusalem and the country at large. In Jerusalem, I could only visit the mosque, Aqsa, for a limited period of time. Due to miscommunication with the Muslim and Jewish guards, perhaps on account of their less-than-stellar English, I could not visit Aqsa. Note that these two guards were in two different locations letting in two different types of tourists. The Muslim guard guards a more direct entrance to the mosque and allows Muslims 24-hour access, if they can prove they are muslims by answering questions about the Qoran.
As I went through the country, I saw signs only in Hebrew. I visited my friend in Golan Height, a territory occupied by Israel after the Six-Day War, and found out some interesting information regarding this. While large portions of Israel contain mainly Jews, the place where he lives, Golan Heights, contains mainly Arabs, as it was taken from Syria after the war. And despite the fact that many signs here do have English and Arabic, it was not always like that. After complaining, Arabic was added to signs only a few years ago. This again underscores the tepid relations between Arabs and Jews in the country.
Whew, this summer flew by. Tomorrow I will be off to Israel and Palestine to top of my trip. Because my computer has been broken, I will not be able to upload all my pictures and videos until later, when I’m in America. But I think I’ve surprisingly learned a lot about the region and it’s culture, as well as its political history, through my short stay here and through the engaging learning I experienced in my classes.
Pretty much every Arab I’ve talked to refers to the Israeli blockade and control over the West Bank and such Palestinian territories as “the occupation” or “the occupied lands” so clearly they’re using politically charged vocabulary from the beginning. I’ve met a number of Palestinians here in Jordan and the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very personal to them. One friend of mine doesn’t want to visit Palestine (he’s Palestinian) because he would have to go through the trouble of obtaining permission from the Israeli government, something he does not feel he ought to do to visit the homeland of his people. Many Arab friends of mine here would not even consider visiting Jerusalem at this point because of the Jewish expansion into eastern Jerusalem, where Arabs now live.
I find it interesting that Jordan is sort of becoming a melting pot of Arabs as one of the only stable countries in the region. Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Tunisians come to Jordan as refugees due to the current conflicts in their countries. If handled correctly, this influx of workers could be a boon to the Jordanian economy, as many refugees may be pushed not because they can’t find work, but because they are educated and forced to flee due to violence, signaling that they would be economically useful. On the other hand, this could also exacerbate the Jordanian unemployment rate. I talked with someone who said that many people aren’t technically economically productive workers in the sense that their government jobs could easily be eliminated and the country would function normally. The government is a very large employer here so this clearly signals a problem. I suspect that the reason the government can afford to employ all these people who really don’t offer any economic utility because the government receives foreign aid from countries like the United States and Saudi Arabic. This aid has essentially created an economic bubble in which the Jordanian people, particularly those employed by the government whose jobs aren’t necessary, can enjoy the luxuries of the first-world without having a sustainably first-world economy. I’m afraid this bubble will burst, leaving many in Jordan unemployed. I also have hope though that, due to this economic aid from countries like the United States, the Jordanian workforce will become better educated and able to respond to the demands of a globalized economy, positioning Jordan for future economic stability. The educated youth are much more pro-Western and serve as the hope for the country so I hope they will also help lead the country economically into first-world status.
Sorry for not posting for a while! My computer broke, and it is still broken, but I can use community computers for a limited period of time. If I hadn’t been busy with final projects, and if the hours of operation were after instead of during my class, I would have written more within these past few weeks.
I had my last class of Arabic today and I feel a little bit sad. I have been challenged consistently this summer, and one of the things I’m grateful for is my teachers who have pushed me so hard this summer to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing without them. As I mentioned before, I moved up from level 3 to level 4, skipping quite a few chapters in the main Arabic book that teaches basic grammar. In level 4, everything I did was in Arabic. I was pushed to read articles on my own from legitimate news sources, and it wasn’t easy. I moved beyond the articles specifically tailored to Arabic learners to articles from news sources such as Al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic. Of course, the vocabulary and grammar were hard, but after this summer, any article on any subject is manageable for me. Only the most complex grammar is outside my reach in terms of understanding. And while there exist thousands of words in Arabic that I still don’t know, I have been given the tools to decipher their meanings and study them on my own. It will take time, but I think I have all the tools, all the basics and fundamentals to be successful in Arabic now.
One thing I wish I had focused more on from the beginning of my studies in Arabic is the dialects, particularly the Egyptian dialect. I was not able to practice Arabic here as much as I would have liked because I could not speak the Arabic language that many of the people here spoke. It wasn’t impossible, and as most people here understand the academic Arabic I was able to be understood completely fine. However, in terms of listening practice and practice talking like a normal person, I did feel a little hindered because the Arabic dialects were not focused on in class. But now with the amount of improvements I have made this summer, I think I will be fine. And I have also made a number of Arab friends that can help me with such studying when I return to the States.