by The Cowl Editor on December 7, 2017
by Nicholas Ogrinc ’19
In several days, President Donald Trump will announce his intentions to move the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an action that will severely impact Palestinians and the Palestinian government.
This move comes shortly after the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which was propagated in 1917 and was used as approval for the creation of a Jewish State. Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as by this point both peoples have reasonable claims to the land. Thus, it is more important than ever to understand the multiple perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to hear the voices of those that it has affected.
I spent the fall semester of 2017 studying in Amman, Jordan, a country centrally located in the Middle East, making it a gathering point for refugees. Jordan has a population of nine million people, and of those a large proportion are refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. The most numerous refugee population are Palestinian refugees. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) says that there are approximately 2.1 million Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan, almost all of whom have been granted citizenship.
Upon arriving in Jordan, I was unabashedly pro-Israel. I grew up in a politically conservative household, and this was the default stance on the issue. This continued at Providence College because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not often discussed nor does it have many vocal participants.It was my view that the Jewish people deserved a homeland based on the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Additionally, they are one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, representing a bastion of stability in an often politically tumultuous region, with Israel’s military serving as one of our most useful assets in the Global War on Terror. Thus, I was quite surprised by the resentment that Jordan had towards Israel.
One of my first prolonged conversations with a local Jordanian was with the sister of a family friend, whose name I shall keep anonymous, and we mostly discussed Israel and Palestine. Her attitude can be summarized best as “bitter.” At some point in the past her parents were ejected from Palestine by Israel, and they fled to Saudi Arabia, and are now settled in Jordan. During our conversation, she attacked Israeli culture, claiming that their food was essentially stolen and appropriated from Arab food and traditions. Her most intense claim was that 9/11 was a joint conspiracy by the U.S. and Israeli governments to justify an invasion of Iraq and to protect Israel from any possible threats by Saddam Hussein. This was an extreme position, and nobody else expressed this view.
It is impossible to travel around Jordan without meeting Palestinian refugees or descendants of refugees, so naturally I heard more about the issue. That first woman’s views were the most extreme, but almost all Jordanians shared this same bitterness and resentment towards Israel. Some people, like two middle-aged men who I drank coffee with one day in a market in downtown Amman, were angry with Israel simply because it had flooded their country with people who were taking jobs from Jordanians. When I offered to pay for my coffee, they insisted that they pay because they were “Jordanian-Jordanians,” not poor “Palestinian-Jordanians.” This was a distinction that I have heard several times, and highlights some of the social tensions that the large influx of refugees has caused in Jordan.
I was even questioned by one taxi driver why the U.S. has supported Israel and allowed Israel to force so many people out of their homes. Unfortunately, this taxi driver was sort of right: even though the U.S. has not given Israel direct military support, our financial backing for Israel has been astronomical. According to the FY2016 U.S. Senate Budget proposal, the U.S. has provided $282 billion to the Middle East, specifically Israel, since 1946, which is more money than we have given to any other country in the world.
Many Americans will never be able to travel to the Middle East and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the people who live there. That is why, on the eve of a significant U.S. foreign policy decision, I have decided to share some of my interactions with Jordanians to highlight how the conflict has effected the Palestinian people and the communities that have received them, and to show that the U.S. needs to consider whether it is using its immense power and financial resources ethically.