Talk­ing is eas­ier in open Jor­dan

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY MATI MILSTEIN

STROLLING THE CROWDED streets of Am­man brings home just how iso­lated Is­rael is from the rest of the Mid­dle East.

The Hashemite cap­i­tal, 90 min­utes away from the Jewish state, feels like an­other world. Peo­ple, brands, banks and restau­rants hail from Saudi Ara­bia, Iraq, Syria, Le­banon and the Gulf States. The in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness be­tween Jor­dan and it neigh­bours seems strange to an Is­raeli vis­i­tor. It takes a while to re­alise that this is, in fact, nor­mal. It is the Is­raelis who live — though not with­out le­git­i­mate rea­son — in a gar­ri­son-like en­clave cut off from their neigh­bours.

Is­raeli-Jor­da­nian re­la­tions have been warm since the 1994 peace treaty. But since al-Qaida killed 60 peo­ple in a ter­ror­ist at­tack in Am­man in 2005, fears of ter­ror re­main. Of­fi­cial Is­raeli ad­vice de­scribes the threat in Jor­dan as “very high” and strongly ad­vises its na­tion­als to stay away.

Mil­i­tary check­points line the high­way be­tween the Is­raeli border and Am­man. “They don’t stop for­eign­ers at th­ese check­points, only Arabs. It’s all for your safety,” Is­raelis are told. But when Is­raelis do get stopped by po­lice, the en­counter tends to end am­i­ca­bly and quickly with ef­fu­sive smiles and wishes for a good day.

As a jour­nal­ist in­vited to Am­man with a del­e­ga­tion from Ben Gu­rion Univer­sity to cover a con­fer­ence on the re­gional wa­ter cri­sis led by Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, I quickly re­alised that di­a­logue — when no one has home-field ad­van­tage — is softer and more open.

Maybe the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with wa­ter forges a ca­ma­raderie around the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity that with­out change, the res­i­dents of this trou­bled re­gion may well die jointly of de­hy­dra­tion.

“Blam­ing each other will get us nowhere,” Nader el-Kha­teeb, Pales­tinian di­rec­tor of Friends of the Earth Mid­dle East, says. “We’ve been fight­ing over wa­ter for 50 years and we’ve got nowhere. If we con­tinue, the land will not be suit­able for liv­ing.”

Af­ter din­ner one evening in the lav­ish Kan Za­man restau­rant, a Pales­tinian wo­man tells a story of how, dur­ing a party she was hold­ing at her Beth­le­hem home, an Is­raeli Border Po­lice of­fi­cer showed up and shot dead her bark­ing dog.

“I hated that sol­dier — I hated them all — with all my heart,” the wo­man rages. Then, un­ex­pect­edly, her tone changes and she or­ders her Is­raeli col­leagues cof­fee, plies them with desserts and in­vites them out for drinks along with the other Pales­tini­ans.

Am­man’s nightlife is re­laxed. Men walk arm-in-arm. Lin­gerie shops with risqué dis­plays of mostly naked man­nequins sit ad­ja­cent to shops sell­ing vast va­ri­eties of Mus­lim head­scarves.

Ven­dors sell key chains adorned with Jor­da­nian, Iraqi and Pales­tinian flags — and an item in­scribed in English, He­brew and Ara­bic, which turns out to be a replica of a 1927 coin is­sued in Bri­tish Man­date Pales­tine.

Maybe be­ing in this open and fluid part of the Mid­dle East makes talk­ing eas­ier. It cer­tainly brings home the suf­fo­cat­ing con­fines of the in­su­lar Is­raeli bub­ble.

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