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The Palestinians of Jebel Ashrafiya

by Joyce M. Davis

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Hassan and Solame Khandeel have spent all their lives on Jebel Ashrafiya, one of the many hills in the modern city of Amman, Jordan. Both of them were born amid the gray, cramped houses of this refugee quarter overlooking the old city. And both of them hope not to die here.

Hassan and Solame are newlyweds. Like many young couples in this quarter, they moved in with the bride’s parents. They soon expect to be parents themselves. And like most good parents, they want to give their children a better life.

But for Palestinians such as Hassan and Solame, a better life does not mean living with their parents. It means living in the land where their parents were born. A better life for them means returning to the land they call Palestine.

Within the confines of a few small rooms, mothers train their daughters in the age-old traditions of an age-old land they no longer inhabit. Grandmothers sing to babies about their lost homes in Jerusalem and Jaffa. And young couples, such as Hassan and Solame, nurture the dreams and say, “This is not our home…that is our home…Palestine.” There is urgency and passion in his speech…and there is raw and threatening anger.

“And they should know we will not forget. I don’t care for my life. I tell you the truth, I don’t care for my life. I will fight for my land.”

Ironically, Hassan has never seen the land for which he says he is willing to die. He is 28 years old. His pretty, black-haired bride is a year or so younger. Both their families trace their roots back to villages near Nablus, now in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Both families fled their villages in 1948, in the war that followed the U.N. partition of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel. And both families wound up refugees atop Jebel Ashrafiya.

The thousands of refugees that fled in 1948 were joined less than two decades later by still more refugees after another war with Israel. A city of tents soon enveloped Jebel Ashrafiya. Today, canvas has given way to cinder block and the district has taken on an air of concrete permanence. Paved roads stretch over the cliffs from downtown Amman. And a generation of youth, such as Hassan and Solame, has grown to adulthood nurturing the dreams of their parents and grandparents – to return to their lost homes west of the Jordan River.

Hassan and others on Jebel Ashrafiya, indeed the majority of the residents of the U.N. refugee camps in Jordan, have resisted melding into the identity of their adoptive country, although many others have long since opted to do so. Hassan does not consider himself Jordanian. He insists Jebel Ashrafiya is not his home. And it would seem that despite the sense of community that prevails here, there is little peace.

Even the older people still hold out hope that somehow, they will go back to Nablus, Jaffa and Jericho. They remember the olive groves and the little houses where their parents were born. And they describe it over and over again to their children. Such memories can be more powerful than the grim reality of life on Jebel Ashrafiya.

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Tags: Palestine Israel Jordan Refugee Camps Occupation