It was very difficult for the 100 or so campaigners to leave Jordan ; since their arrival on 24 August, they experienced some very intense moments with Palestinians from Jordan.
None of us was really expecting such a welcome. We knew that millions of Palestinians had settled in Jordan, constituting the majority of the country’s population, but we could not imagine how deeply Palestine was rooted in their hearts and their preoccupations.
A 600-kilometre border with Palestine, some 400,000 Palestinians living within seven refugee camps and over 3,000,000 others following the events in Palestine but finding it very difficult to openly express their attachment to their homeland and their fundamental rights such as the right to return home ; all this certainly contributes to creating a very special situation in the whole country.
However, we could not have thought that our initiative would arouse such enthusiasm among the whole population. The trade unions, the journalists, the camp population and also the people on the street – even quite a few policemen – never ceased to encourage and congratulate us.
On television, in the newspapers and in the street, we were permanently greeted with the V sign of victory and with “Marhaban bikoum fi Falstine !”, the Arabic translation for “Welcome to Palestine”, on everyone’s lips.
Usually forced by the Jordanian regime to keep silent about their attachment to Palestine, so much so that it is forbidden to hoist the Palestinian flag, the presence of some hundred internationals displaying “Free Palestine” and the colours of Palestine, led an impressive number of Palestinians to express their feelings and their demands.
The Jordanian media had already closely followed the previous missions, the way we were turned back in airports, and also the brutal and illegal treatment by the Israeli police of those who had managed to get to Tel Aviv airport : they now gave broad coverage of our decision to answer the invitation of the governor of Bethlehem and use the Allenby Bridge, at a press conference organised by trade union officials at Trade Union House on Sunday, 26 August.
To our great surprise, the media followed us to the border where the Jordanian authorities prevented them from boarding with us the coaches which operate to the Israeli checkpoint. Nonetheless, constantly keeping in touch with us by ‘phone, they reported that our first coach had safely arrived at the first Israeli checkpoint but was forced to turn back after the few minutes during which the Israelis collected all the passengers’ passports, gave them back in a jumble, with a stamp “Entry Denied” and ordered the driver to turn round. They also reported that our second coach had been stopped a few tens of metres from that Israeli road block, at the last small barrier separating us from it, by order of the Israelis seemingly made nervous by the presence close to them of Israeli journalists keen to see what those “troublemakers” looked like.
As they have always described us as a horde of terrorists, the Israeli authorities did not much feel inclined to let their media see, photograph and film perfectly peaceful women, men and children.
The passengers of the second coach then got out in order to walk and cross the last green wood barrier separating them from the Israelis, and ask them why the first coach had just turned back. When the Jordanian police prevented us from doing so, we lay down on the ground as a sign of protest, before being forced back into that second coach and taken back to Amman like the others, while the Israeli and international journalists kept on calling us to know what was happening to us.
When we arrived at the hotel, the Jordanian journalists were there again, to interview us on what we had just experienced and on our plans for the days to come. Learning that we intended to enter several refugee camps as early as the next day, several television teams asked us if they could accompany us, which we readily accepted, as we understood that it was an unexpected opportunity for them to get into places which are normally difficult for them to reach.
After the Jarash camp, north of Amman, which groups together about 35,000 Gazans “displaced” in 1967, and which we had visited on 25 August, we successively went to the camps of Wehdat (Amman), Baqa’a (East) and lastly Sukhnah, north of Amman. Each time, we were warmly welcomed and were able to see that these camps suffered not only from poverty and lack of decent housing, sanitary or school infrastructures but also from real isolation. Surrounded by walls or some sorts of ring roads or pushed back to the desert edge, the inhabitants of these camps are doomed to an isolation whose purpose is to punish them for not renouncing their rights, especially their right of return, included in UN resolution 194.
Forced into exile by Israel since 1948 or 1967, they were dispossessed of their lands, their homes, all their properties, they are guilty of not losing their memories and of keeping the hope that one day, international law will be enforced.
For instance, Um Khaled, 84, whom we met in her small house in the Sukhnah camp, described in detail the lands which she possessed with her husband near Haifa, the grapes, the wheat, the maize they grew, the cows and horses they bred, and also the brutal manner in which they were hounded out one day in 1948, without having the time to take away anything more than the clothes they were wearing, and a bullet in her husband’s back to make them march forward quicker.
Um Khaled calmly explains that, since then, her Palestinian village was razed to the ground, her lands however left fallow. “They are not even cultivated. What a waste !”, she exclaims. “Why then, can’t my children and grand-children, if they so wish, go and settle there again ?”
Below are a few photographs which illustrate the amazing welcome we received everywhere, by old and young, when we visited the camps, when we handed out the school stationary to the children in Jerash, when we demonstrated in front of the Israeli and French embassies (as the “socialist” government did not even raise the least protest against our being turned back, or ask its Israeli counterpart for an explanation), when we enthusiastically visited the Dead Sea, the Petra site and the streets of Amman where the shopkeepers gave us presents and the taxi drivers were refusing to get paid for the rides and the restaurant owners for the meals !
A huge thank you for all our Jordanian friends, especially Walid, Haneen and Rami who guided our visits, translated for us and made this rich experience possible : meeting Leila Khaled and the Palestinian musical group “Baladna”.
This journey allowed us to discover another side of Palestine, to create new ties, also expectations we must answer, as each of our hosts systematically asked us : “When are you coming back ?”
Find a few links below giving an indication of the importance the media gave to our action :
Lastly, we salute our brothers and sisters in Bethlehem, who again, could not receive us. However, they closely followed the activities of our mission in Jordan and sent us numerous messages of encouragement.