Diary of a Traveling Jew in Jordan


Traveling Jew in Jordan


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Traveling Through Jordan

By Eric Podell

Sunday-April 23, 2000 - Journey Through Jordan

Half asleep yet filled with anxiety, I walked across the border from Eilat to Aqaba, a no-man’s land where guards in towers focus their guns towards the ground. I am excited to travel to the other side. I got to Aqaba by cab and waited for a bus to Amman. I talked with a friendly Jordanian ticket salesmen who said something to me that continues to echo in my head whenever I ponder the Middle-East dilemma. “I love American tourists, yes I do,” he says to me. “But American government, no good. No good because of problem of Israel.” It seems as though everywhere Palestinians look, whether it is at the neighboring land beyond the barbed wire fence or in the eyes of a traveling American, they always see “the problem of Israel.”

I now find myself struggling to keep my sanity on this five-hour bus ride to Amman, as an Arabic movie is blasting over the speakers. While the ride through Jordan is quite smooth, it seems to be nothing but a huge brown desert with the occasional jutting cliff or mountain peak. There are very few towns, farms, or even children playing in their villages. While the desolation is actually quite nice and refreshing for a tourist from Los Angeles, as I glance over towards Israel a great deal about the attitudes of Jordanians, such as the ticket agent, is revealed. I have a clear view of Israel this entire ride, and I actually cannot shift my gaze from the prominent land. In Israel, the land itself emanates pride, from the luxury hotels of Eilat to the historical mountain plateau of Massada. It is no longer a mystery why Palestinians (which make up 75% of Jordan) are so bitter. Israel has managed to do in fifty years what Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan have never been able to do; make the land prosper and unify the nations’ people. It is quite an interesting view on the other side.

Monday-April 24, 2000-Amman, Jordan

After walking throughout Amman, sitting in an Argeilla coffee shop and getting a nasty and never-ending stare from a Palestinian man, I am left searching for reasons why I am receiving such a negative reaction in this city. In eight days in Egypt, the people were both welcoming and friendly. Amman has proved to be quite different. It must be noted that I have had positive experiences with Palestinians, both in Israel and thus far in Jordan. I have a respect and an interest in their culture, a curiosity for their religion, and an attraction to their hospitable customs one finds when roaming through the villages.

With this said, I find the essence of the Palestinian attitude rather tragic. Unlike the friendly Egyptians who flourish in their culture and don’t seem to preoccupy their lives with the struggles with Israel (at least compared to other Arab countries), the Palestinians have hit a wall in their progress as a people and seem to blame everyone for it. I can see it in their eyes, feel it in their often angry glances, and have heard it verbalized in several conversations on this journey. Unlike other struggling ethnic or religious groups, the Jews, the African Americans, even the Native Americans who have endured beyond imagination, many Palestinians have allowed struggle to tear out their cultural souls, and replace it with anger, aggression, and even hate. While other oppressed cultures have unified in the face of strife, the Palestinians have allowed elements of bitterness and pain to infect their daily existence.

What is tragic is that the Palestinians, like any other culture, are beautiful people. But due to poor leadership, the constant unwillingness to compromise and accept, and the flourishing of hatred has the Palestinians stuck on an unfortunate and detrimental road block in the progress of history. It is not always the outside world or a neighboring country that can pass a treaty or create a resolution that would re-start the idle engine of progress for an ethnic, religious, or racial group. Rather, the group must often rebuild itself before they can even take the drivers seat. A cab driver at Mount Nebo told me that if I climb to the top of the peak and look far enough into the distance, I will see Palestine. No, when I reached the top and glanced beyond the far mountains, I saw the magnificent reality that is Israel. When the Palestinians look off into their own future, what do they see in the distance? They must first accept today’s reality before assessing tomorrow’s dream.

Tuesday-April 25, 2000-Wadi Rum, Jordan

The village of Wadi Rum is in the middle of nowhere, and offers the pleasures of tranquil serenity; a much needed breath of relaxation for this exhausted traveler. People seem to be humbled by the surrounding sight; majestic cliffs that were sculpted by ancient waters and wind storms, and red sands stretching as far as the eye can see. This is a place where questions of nationalism and confused political voices are peacefully silenced. It was TE Lawrence, the author who spent a great deal of time in Wadi Rum who wrote, “His little caravan fell quite, ashamed to flaunt itself in the presence of such stupendous hills.”

After a jeep safari through the desert known as “the valley of the moon”, I sat in an Argeilla coffee shop and relaxed. I met Ali, a Jordanian camel rider about my age of 21. We sat and drank four glasses of tea, played a gambling game, which involved only a pair of hands and a pebble, and ate several plates of rice. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by six or seven Jordanians; Youssef, Ahwad, Achmed, etc. They drilled me with questions about America and asked me to find them American wives. They talked to me about the Middle East and often grew angry when the subject of what they call “Palestine” came up. Discussing these issues in a leisurely manner with Jordanians on the other side of the border was eye opening. While I disagreed with them on most subjects and shocked them when I mentioned Israel, the exposure to the other view in its rawest form is priceless. Besides, these are nice, gentle people who seem to have grown tired with the issues of politics. This is the side of Jordan I was hoping to experience yet I was unsure if it even existed. It does, yet I am in a distant Wadi far away from chaotic civilization.

So I talked with these friendly Jordanians for hours and am now resting in my tent, peaking through the open canvas flap that reveals the magnificent stars shining against the dark black sky that is the night. As I rethink my conversation with Ahwed, Achmed, Fowad, and others, I realize that we talked about girls, money, movies, music, and other subjects I discuss with my friends at home. We laughed, we got angry with one another, and we even disagreed over and over again, yet as I was leaving one of the men asked me to come back tomorrow night and to bring my Bob Marley tape. The other side is not as far away as we think. Shalom Aleichem, Asalaam Aleikum.


from the July 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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