07 February 2010


The snow is mostly gone, but it has left a crispness that’s really pleasant.

Last night M, A and I went to this café on Rainbow Street where we smoked and talked about the Economist, the law, 7adiths, and the crazy people that live in this building where we all stay.  It was chill and very pleasant.  Aside from the majnoon dude who is here right now, it’s nice to be reminded that generally the people who come through here are pretty cool.  I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks, and I will miss them.

So, the crazy guy is pretty crazy, and not always in an entertaining way.  Every day he has a new business deal, or a new lawsuit, or a new research project.  He is a “business man,” a “lawyer,” and now a security expert.  None of us can figure out how he does anything in Jordan when he does not have a mobile phone.  He sleeps during the day, and sits up all night, and he rarely leaves the building.  He’s also a talker, though this week we’ve noticed that he’s sitting at his own table during lunch and not speaking to us.  It’s a down week, evidently.

I discovered this while I was looking around for information about the Jafra Café.  It’s a great “tour” of the Balid.  It features Hasham’s, the DVD place, and Jafra.  What more would one need?  Nothing, that’s the answer.  I love the map, complete with commentary about the beverages at Wild Jordan.  Perfect.  S took me to Jafra the other day, and we sat there for hours having Nescafe and talking.  I really enjoyed it.

I’m about to head out and go to Reem al-Bawadi with M.  I’m reading his Master’s Thesis; he wanted a native English speaker to edit it before he turns it in.  It’s about water sharing and the two state solution.  Pretty heavy.  I was telling S about it the other day over lunch, and she said what I think many of us have been thinking for a while now: the two state solution (no longer worthy of capitalization) is dead.  It’s too late for it to work.  She pointed out that as long as the TSS is still the “language of international politics and diplomacy,” America will continue to flog this dead dog.  Truly a wretched plan at this point.  So, I’m looking forward to good food, and talking politics with someone who grew up in Bethlehem.

Then, I have to pack.  Then at 8, A will pick me up for lots of coffee, and then take me to the airport.  I understand it’s good that I’m not flying into BWI, or anything around there because of the snow.

I have to sleep on all I’ve taken in here, and then I will be ready to write more about my time here.  It was a great 3 weeks.

05 February 2010

Thelj, 7adith, OCL

Big clumpy wet gobs of snow are falling from the sky.  There are more cars on the road than I predicted there would be.

Two nights ago my friends presented me with a book of 7adiths.  7adiths are points of fact that are based on things Mohammad said, but that are nevertheless outside of the Qur’an.  7adiths exist in various levels of “strength,” from True to Weak, and their rating is based on who recorded the 7adith in the first place.  So, it’s a great honor to receive this book.  I was asked to read from it, even though it’s in English.  So I did.  It was strange because people were arguing with me about the English translations of the Arabic Qur’anic sources.  In this book, passages from the Qur’an are in both languages.  I never imagined I’d find myself arguing with an Arabic speaker about what the word “Verily” means.  Sheesh!  I learned that it is 7aram, forbidden, to consume or to sell dates if they are under ripe.  I think the one I liked the best dictated that a man must be paid for his labor “before his sweat is dry.” 

These rules remind me of the things that one of the residents was telling me the other night over really delicious Yemeni food.  (NB: near the north gate of JU, best Yemeni food ever.)  A is a lawyer from NY with a particular interest in Islamic law.  He shared a couple of examples of interesting things that happen within the confines of Islamic law.  One example from Jordan involved a couple that wanted to marry.  At the last minute someone came forward and claimed that as children, the two people in the couple had been nursed by the same woman.  Under Islamic law, they are now blood relatives, and not eligible to marry, and they didn’t.  The other example came from Egypt.  In order to divorce in Islam, the man must say Talaq 3 times.  So, one day this couple had a big fight, and he said Talaq one time.  Several years later, another big fight, another Talaq.  Several years later, again, another big fight, and the third Talaq.  Their neighbor went to the police and reported an unmarried couple living together, and they were then obligated to live apart for one year before being permitted to remarry.  Talk about nosy neighbors.  A said that one additional problem is that there are different schools of thought about all of this.  So, in the case of the Jordanian couple, it may have been possible for them to marry anyway because they had been nursed by the same woman for 5 days.  One school of thought says that 3 days of this makes them related, another school of thought says 10 days are required.  They consulted someone of the 3 day school.  Bummer. 

It has been interesting here.  I have found my friends living lives even more wrapped up in Islam than ever before.  Yet, I have found that they are finally willing to discuss politics.  It really surprised me when they began to discuss Palestine, and refer to it as “my country,” or “our country.”  When I asked why they were, as far as I could tell, suddenly interested in Palestine, most of them told me that last year’s Operation Cast Lead really drew their attention to how terrible things are in Palestine.  Now, plenty of terrible things happened in Ghaza when I lived here, but they were then unwilling to discuss it with me.  It seems the scale of killing and of suffering pushed them in ways I thought no longer possible to consider their national and political connection to the place. 

I will quote at length from Amnesty International’s report on OCL:
“Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in attacks by Israeli forces during Operation “Cast Lead” between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. Some 5,000 were injured, many maimed for life. Hundreds of those killed were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children, more than 115 women and some 85 men over the age of 50. The figure is based on data collected by Amnesty International delegates in Gaza and on cases documented in detail by local NGOs and medical personnel in Gaza. According to Palestinian human rights NGOs two thirds of those killed were civilians. Amnesty International delegates who carried out research in Gaza in January-February 2009 did not have the time and resources to verify all the reported deaths, but investigated dozens of cases comprising more than 300 victims, more than half of them children and women, and gathered information from a wide range of sources. They concluded that an overall figure of some 1,400 fatalities is accurate and that, in addition to the children, women and men aged over 50, some 200 men aged less than 50 were unarmed civilians who took no part in the hostilities. In addition, some 240 police officers were killed in bombardment of police stations across the Gaza Strip in the first moments of Operation “Cast Lead” in the morning of 27 December 2008, including scores who were killed when the first Israeli air strikes targeted the police cadets’ graduation parade in the central police compound in Gaza City. Even though some of the policemen who were killed in these bombardments were also rank-and-file members of Hamas’ armed wing (in addition to being members of the police), many were not involved with armed groups and none were participating in hostilities when they were targeted and killed in the bombardments.”

For the record, I consider AI to be slightly pro-Israeli, so I read with particular interest how clearly they stated the magnitude of the crimes committed there.  The Spring 2009 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies has extensive coverage of OCL that is not only more detailed, but more complete than the AI report.  Needless to say, the scale of killing is beyond my comprehension.  Particularly distressing was the testimony from IDF snipers who were ordered to kill people who were obvious civilians under the pretense that all of Ghaza was a war zone, and hence all people outside are to be considered enemies.  One IDF soldier detailed his experience with seeing an old woman outside.  Having been given prior order to shoot everyone, he nevertheless called in to his CO and double checked, was told to shoot, did so, and is suffering the psychological effects of this sort of disproportionate warfare.  All in all, OCL brought a level of violence not before seen in the Strip, an amazing fact given the level of misery that has been heaped on that place since the “disengagement” in 2005. 

Now, while my friends here refer to OCL as “the thing” that has made them more amenable to talking politics, I’m not entirely convinced.  I don’t think they are attempting to tell me a bold lie, by any means.  But, I guess I wonder while all of this is going on just how ripe they already were for this transition into a more political view of their region.  When I left in 2007 I felt certain that they were on the cusp of something, but I lamented that it was likely not political.  I’m glad to see that I was wrong. 

Still, their discussions of politics and nationalism seem tentative right now.  They are finally willing to say that the occupation is abominable, and that they (even those who are citizens of Jordan) are entitled to legal/national rights as Palestinians.  There is still a sense of gratitude that they live and raise their kids in Jordan; there is still a sense of sympathy for those who fight to live in Palestine as Arabs. 

There is also a different tone to our discussions about Islam.  For example, in discussing Palestine one night with a man, he began to tell me about a grammatical tense in Arabic that indicates which names are foreign (= non-Arab).  He said that Mo7ammad is an Arab name, so when they read they pronounce it “Mo7ammadan,” with a tanween at the end.  But, for names like Isma3l, or Ibraham, which are not Arab names, but “foreign” names, those do not take the tanween, according to him.  I found it instructive that he answered my questions about politics with an example from his religion (that’s not new), and that this example made clear that Muslims have even a grammatical obligation to remember who is foreign and who is Arab.  So, we’re still talking about Islam much of the time.  But, we’re also talking about politics too, and now more often than not our discussions of Islam still highlight that they are Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and are thus entitled to live in Palestine. 

Where will they go from here?