Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jordan under Pressure as Outrage at Sharon Grows, U.S. Strike on Iraq Looms

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jordan under Pressure as Outrage at Sharon Grows, U.S. Strike on Iraq Looms

Article excerpt

Andrew North is a London-based free-lance journalist.

Lying in a hospital bed, Marwan, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Nablus, shows the injuries he suffered after being hit by machine gun fire from an Israeli tank. Bullets punctured his leg in several places and he was also hit in the abdomen: Marwan--not his real name--is lucky to be alive.

He is not being treated in the West Bank, however, but in a hospital across the border in Jordan. In fact, Marwan is one of more than 300 injured Palestinians to be admitted since the outbreak of the current intifada to the hospital in the Jordanian capital Amman. As a result, the hospital is now $7 million in debt and has stopped treating Palestinians with other complaints and conditions. There is no question, however, of turning away the intifada wounded, said the hospital's general manager, Dr. Abdullah Bashir. "They are our brothers," he explained. "We in Jordan and Palestine are in fact one family. So we have to treat them."

Dr. Bashir's words are a perfect illustration of how Jordan is tied more closely to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than any other Arab state. Not only does it host hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, but a majority of its people are of Palestinian origin, and many have relatives and property on the West Bank. Indeed, there is a Jordanian saying that when someone dies in Ramallah, condolences are received in Amman.

Right now, however, these "family ties" are putting not just Jordan's hospital system but the whole country under intense strain--perhaps the most intense since the events of Black September in 1970, when Palestinian Liberation Organization actions threatened to destabilize Jordan.

This time, however, the destabilizing actions are Israeli. Many believe the mounting fury among Jordanians at what they see as relentless Israeli aggression against the Palestinians--and at the apparent inability of any Arab administration to do anything about it--poses a potentially dire threat to King Abdullah and his government. And it is the king--together with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak--who, because both countries officially are at peace with Israel, look especially powerless in the eyes of many of their citizens.

Yet in Amman's markets, upscale shops, cafes or restaurants one almost never hears anyone backing the 1994 peace treaty signed by King Abdullah's father, the late King Hussein. So sensitive is the issue that demonstrations and protests opposing the treaty are usually banned. But as the Israeli violence spiraled in March, the government was forced to relent--if only to let off some of the pent-up steam on the street.

There were a series of protests in the huge Baqaa refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, partly organized by Hamas sympathizers and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Marchers urged Jordanians to cross over to the West Bank to fight alongside the Palestinians. Even calls such as "Osama, hit Tel Aviv" were heard from the protesters. The protests that were allowed inside Amman, however, were far more circumscribed. At one pro-Palestinian rally at Jordan University mosque--a popular venue for demonstrations--demonstrators had to stay inside the building, and a heavy security presence made sure they obeyed.

But there is no way the government can dismiss such gatherings and their sentiments as representing only a radicalized religious fringe. One also hears similar views from opposition politicians, such as Khalil Hadadin, a member of the secular Ba'ath party equally opposed to the 1994 peace treaty, who says: "The only solution [to the conflict] is fighting, fighting. …

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