Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jordan

An old topic that has gained more attention recently has been Jordan’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Jared Kushner recently meant with King Abdullah to negotiate what Jordan would find acceptable in a potential peace agreement. Jordan plays a vital role for many reasons such as the incredibly large Palestinian population in Jordan, Jordan’s proximity to the area, and it’s role as one of the Arab countries that have formal relations with Israel.

I sat down and talked with my host family about this issue and what they would support. Most host parents both agreed that at the very least there should be a two-state solution with an officially recognized Palestine. They firmly believed that the land ultimately belongs to the Palestinians and that the Israelis were given the land because other countries felt bad following World War II, which was not the fault of the Palestinians in any way. They also want Palestinians that decide to remain in their homes within Israeli territory to be treated equally. Right now they are discriminated against in terms of housing, jobs, and many other ways.

My host brother (19) had a more extreme view and said that in an ideal world all of Israel would be given back to the Palestinians, and this is something that he hopes will still happen. He said he didn’t have anything personal against the Jews as a people, but he believes they had no right to the land. It was just given to them without any consultation with Arab/Palestinian leaders, and ever since then, they have continued to treat all Palestinians and Arabs without respect. He thinks that Israel is also used as a base by other countries to separate the Arab countries (both geographically and politically) from being more of a united force. He said that if people really wanted to give the Israelis a land, why weren’t they given a place in America or a place in Europe? They weren’t because no one wanted to deal with the issue, or the places were viewed as too anti-Semitic, so instead, they made their problem the Arabs’ problem and washed their hands of it.

I would say that the parents’ views are almost directly in line with what the Jordanian government is taking. They are firmly stating that the Palestinians should have some formally recognized state, and should be treated much better in Israeli borders. My host brothers point of view may sound radical, but it’s fairly common from what I’ve heard from others. Jordanians don’t have any personal problems with Israelis, but they have serious problems with things the country has done. Palestinian refugees/immigrants made Jordan’s population increase by almost 50%, a load that took a heavy toll on a small economy and limited natural resources. This meant that there were more people, and fewer jobs, meaning that Jordanians were harmed too.

With my background, I didn’t realize how sore and deep-rooted of an issue the Palestinian-Israeli situation was for all Arabs. I feel that they are often vilified and portrayed to be attacking Israel when in reality many people wouldn’t respond in the nicest way if a new country was made in a land that already had people in it, and those people were then treated like second-class citizens. It reminds me of how colonizers treated Indians in some ways. We now look back on that as a shameful time period, or series of actions and I think that once/if this issue gets settled, people will realize how raw of a deal many Palestinians got. It is important to note that I don’t think the Israeli’s bear too much blame for the origin of the problem either, although both sides have not helped by treating each other so poorly. Truly, the problem lies with Western countries (the allies post-WWII) deciding to dump one of their problems onto someone else. In doing so they created a much bigger problem that is still the source of a lot of tension and violence today.


Americans Abroad

One of the highlights of my trip so far has been the overnight stay in Aqaba I did with my roommate Tracy. She actually organized the trip and invited me to come along! We stayed in an Airbnb and took a bus to the south of the country. 

Aqaba is a coastal city on the Red Sea and has many amazing beaches. The owner of the apartment we stayed in was a really friendly man who drove us to the beach and gave us snorkel equipment. He even swam with me pretty far out, and we saw so many different kinds of fish and coral. 

The experience in the Red Sea was emotional, which I wasn’t expecting, but I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed. From the shore, we were able to see Egypt and Israel, and I was so overwhelmed that I was lucky enough to be in this position. I’m from the Midwest and I’ve never spent much time in the water, so I will never forget snorkeling in the Red Sea and exploring the environment. 

The Red Sea

Aqaba is more of an international city than Amman because of the resorts, and in our apartment there were six people and I was the only American. It made me wonder what the world’s perspective is of American people and the American government. I’ve been asking most people that I meet to describe their perspectives of the US, and the responses have surprised me a bit. I thought that Americans would seem brazen and over-the-top, but most people have said that Americans are very friendly and outgoing. From my perspective, I would describe Americans as emotionally-open when compared to Jordanians. In general, from what I’ve seen, Jordanians view emotions as very private experiences and are not to be shared in passing. Once you sit down and talk with someone, they are more than willing to laugh and smile and express themselves. 

I met a friend when I was walking around the University of Jordan one day, and we’ve met several times for lunch. I asked her if she had any views on the American government, and she was honest about how she felt. She said that she has a serious problem with America’s foreign policy and that Jordan is in desperate need of outside help. This view is one that seems to be shared by a lot of people here because they feel forgotten and demonized by both the media and the government in the US. It’s hard to disagree with them when you view the coverage of Muslims and the Middle East from an outside perspective. 

The international students in my class and my professors have expressed similar opinions of the US, but they have also been quick to say that the Jordanian government is not without its flaws. The difference as they describe seems to be that America is supposed to lead the world in human rights and social freedoms but the government routinely follows paths that contradicts this. One person I interviewed cited America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia as particularly problematic and distressing to the people here. 

Overall, I was happy to hear that American visitors to Jordan have represented the country well and that people generally have a positive opinion of American people, and I felt very honored that people trusted me enough to be honest about how they feel about the United States. 

The Role of the US in the Middle East

I sat down with my host family and talked to them about their perception of the US and its foreign policy strategy in the region. There was a wide range of opinions concerning the US and other countries around the world. For some background, my host father was born in Jordan but lived in the US during his college, postgraduate, and even some of his professional years when he taught. He also spent time with the US military as a translator and has dual citizenship. My host mom grew up in Syria and has lived in Jordan ever since she married. And my host brother (their son) has lived in Jordan his whole life but is very familiar with American holiday traditions thanks to his dad.

I talked with my host brother (19, college student) about the issue first and had talked to him about political issues multiple other times since I had been here. To be blunt, he is very anti-American concerning their approach to foreign policy. He believes that for the most part, America has always exploited Arabs for their resources while keeping them weak enough to ever organize themselves to be a legitimate power that can be less reliant on foreign powers. He alluded to past coups that the US has supported, and US support for oppressive government regimes.  He even went further to say that he would prefer that Arab powers ally themselves with Russia if they had to pick a side. He said that Russia would be more likely to take stronger action against Israel, put some restraints on the Saudis, and be less suppressive in general because they aren’t as strong as America. Despite these views, he still wants to go to America to work and study one day. He likes Americans and has made many friends with the ones that have stayed at his house. So while he dislikes the government and their decisions, he is not against the people or the country as a whole.

Next, I talked with my host father (55, self-employed translator). He was much more pro-American, which makes sense given his history with the country. However, even he does not support a lot of American foreign policy in the region. He thought that Iraq was a waste of young men and time, which left a ruined country. However, he is very wary of growing Russian influence and would never want any connection with them. He also has strongly disapproved of government policy more since the election of Trump. He views him as a racist bully that doesn’t care about any of the Arabs and views them all as the same. If I had to sum up his views it would be that America treats the Arab states with more respect and meddles less, but still wants to maintain a close relationship with America.

Lastly, I interviewed my host mother. She didn’t have a lot to say about the topic because she admitted she wasn’t too educated on it. But even this gave me an insightful view of how the passive bystander views America. She just generally associated American foreign policy with increased violence in the region and thus was generally against American intervention. However, she also thought that any other big country would have similar interventionist policies and that it’s not solely an American problem.

I was most surprised by my host brothers position that he believed that the American government specifically was a problem. I understand the host mothers position that most other world powers would have similar interventionist policies, but I did not expect to hear that another power such as Russia (or anyone else) would be a better alternative. This really has made me give serious thoughts to the issues the US government will have to address in the region especially if the autocratic regimes in the region should fall. While there has been a trend of democracies liking each other and being close allies, I think that Middle Eastern democracies would tend to buck this trend. I think the two governments (ME and US) would be “friendly”, but it’s pretty clear to me that if it were left in the hands of the people, Middle Eastern states would not be pushovers. They would probably give more resistance than they give currently, and could be a rogue “thorn in the side” of a purely self-interested US government.

Understanding Jordan

My trip has been flying by, and the speed has made me neglectful of posting pictures on this blog! So prepare yourselves, because an influx of pictures and updates and thoughts is coming. 

Studying abroad in Jordan has been such an amazing experience so far. I’ve been learning so much about Arabic, the culture here, and myself. I had a tough time the first week with jet lag and culture shock, but once I got over it I found myself quickly adapting to life halfway across the world. There are so many cultural details that I’ll never be able to fully or accurately describe, but I will do my best to share what I’ve experienced. 

The biggest difference that I’ve noticed between cultures has been male-female interactions. We were warned up front during orientation that platonic relationships don’t happen frequently in Jordan, and in slightly more traditional Amman, women (especially Western women) can expect some stares and some comments while walking down the street. This has happened to me quite a bit since coming here, but I keep having to remind myself that a) it’s the culture, and b) it isn’t out of malice but simply curiosity. My blonde hair stands out, and nearly every day some sweet little kid stops and points at me. I mostly find it innocuous, only now and then do I feel slightly uncomfortable. It has taught me to keep my head up, focus on myself, and not worry about what others are thinking. The vast majority of the people I’ve met have been nothing but helpful and lovely (usually because I look lost and confused while walking around). 

After orientation on my first full day here, I visited the Amman citadel, which houses Roman ruins and gives one the perfect view of the city itself.


It was beautiful and is probably one of the most visited tourist destinations in Amman. This was a great “Welcome to Jordan” moment!

For our first weekend in Jordan, Qasid set up a day trip to Ajloun castle which was a Medieval fortress. It was a beautiful day to roam around the ruins and take some pictures.

It was a great trip and the view from the top of the castle was incredible. Apparently on a clear day (which it wasn’t) you can see the Dead Sea!

It can be difficult to identify cultural problems when you are simply a guest of a foreign country because people want visitors to have the best opinion possible, but I believe that languages should be learned in their cultural contexts, meaning that I needed to understand Jordan in all its facets. Not just the shiny ones that tourists are often shown. 

I met a woman at the gym who had always been very friendly to me and spoke a little bit of English. I approached her and asked for her honest opinion of Jordanian society and any problems she sees in her daily life. It was an incredible, half-English/half-Arabic conversation, and she was very open about the culture here. She believes that one of the biggest cultural problems is that people don’t work very hard to increase their education throughout their lives. She says that reading for fun isn’t very common here and that people would benefit from trying to educate themselves on various topics. 

At a lecture I went to on the political and economical side of Jordan, the lecturer said that Jordan’s economy is in jeopardy as unemployment is high and the country has had an influx of refugees in the last few years. He also described Jordan as a “country surrounded by fire” because of the violent situations in the neighboring countries (Egypt, Palestine/Israel, Syria, etc.), and it is a miracle that Jordan is still standing. The conclusion of the lecture was that Jordan could benefit from a switch to a complete democracy, but the lecturer indicated that Jordanians and the political system itself aren’t ready for that quite yet. 

More to come, but for now مع السلامة!

First Taxi Rides

So I’ve arrived in Amman and have settled in my homestay. I’m in a really nice area that has a mall, shopping center, markets, and tons of restaurants nearby. The only downside is that it’s about an hour-long walk from where my classes are. So, since I have 8 AM classes, I decided to take taxis. One thing you learn very quickly in Jordan is that most people are very curious and don’t have the same “boundaries” concerning what is or isn’t appropriate to ask. So on my first ride, as I was shaking off the rust of not practicing Arabic for a month, I ended up having a mini conversation about my ethnic origins! When I said I was from America the driver responded with, yeah what about your parents? I told him that they were both from America too, and then he asked where they were originally from? At this point I figured out that he was trying to figure out what my ethnic origins were and when I told him that my dad was African(-American) and my mom Irish, he was then confused about why I’m brown, insisting that all Irish people are white. After this we began talking about how he was from Palestine (Bethlehem!) and how he had moved to Jordan with his family. There has been a growing Palestinian population in Jordan over the past few decades with a country of originally four million growing to six million. He explained that while Palestinians aren’t treated as second class citizens exactly, it is very rare for them to get government jobs as Jordanians want Jordanians in their government. In addition to this, there has been a growing number of protests against the current Israeli-Palestinian situation. My host family has told me that most of these are because Jordanians want the problem solved so that Palestinians can go back, not only because it’s their homeland but also because they want fewer people in the country. I would kind of sum up the treatment of Palestinians as a “charity” case in a loose sense. Jordanians feel an obligation to take them in, but they definitely don’t want it to be a permanent situation, and they won’t afford Palestinians all of the same benefits as Jordanians. All this has given me a cool insight into the culture and the importance of origins in defining who you are in Arab and Middle Eastern culture