It’s early August and tensions have been brewing in Jerusalem, known to many as one of the holiest cities in the world. July marked increased conflict over a religious site known as Al-Aqsa to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews, and regarded as incredibly important by both. To add to that, the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli embassy guard has strained tensions between the two neighbors. Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya blare words like “Al- Quds” (Jerusalem) and “Filasteen” (Palestine) on TV, and certain parts of Amman have been blocked off by our program because of protests.
While the exact number varies, about 70% of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, and while the government has diplomatic relations with Israel, many of the people seem to overlook its presence. Tourist shops are filled with “Filasteen” souvenirs: magnets, mugs, and keychains containing the shape of the nation. Interestingly, however, it is easy to see that map on the products is the same one that you would find if you typed “Israel map” into a Google search. Always interested in politics, I was curious to learn the Jordanian perspective on the situation. Statistics and stereotypes around me led me to believe that the Jordanians who surrounded me held a similar viewpoint: a definite pro-Palestine and anti-Israel sentiment.
Prior to the program, during Pre Departure Orientation (PDO), we had been cautioned from engaging in political or religious conversation, and so clearly, I worked to always avoid such topics. However, on my first day with my host family, during the car ride to the house, I was asked if I was a Christian. I explained to my host parents that I respected and believed in all religions, without specifically identifying with just one. This is very much true; I would not consider myself religious, but rather, spiritual. I practice a meditation called Sahaja Yoga, which encompasses the teachings of all world religions, and forms the basis of my values. Because of this, I have always been really appreciative of and interested in different faiths. My host parents were very much pleased with my response, and my host dad told me about how he had friends from many different faiths and how the Qur’an said that in order to be a good Muslim, one had to respect all other religions. The conversation ended at that, and for the next few weeks, the topic was not mentioned.
Just a week or two ago, I was sitting with my host mom, telling her about my Syrian friend who spoke Arabic, when she brought up the war in Syria. She spoke about how destructive war was, and how sad it made her to see that people were suffering. She switched then to Israel and Palestine. Being of Palestinian origin herself, she conveyed in a mix of English and Arabic, the hurt she felt when she heard about how people in Palestine were being killed. She added “But I feel sad when they go and kill people in Israel, because there are children there too.” A few days later, we were watching the news as a family, when my host parents brought up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict again. I listened as they spoke. They said that you can find Christians complaining about Muslims and vice versa, but in the end, all religions are like one. “I can be Muslim, someone can be Christian, and someone can be Jewish, but we can all be friends together”. They talked about how there is war in so many different parts of the world, and that the fault didn’t lie in any religion but stemmed from the selfishness of human beings .“People only think about themselves, not about others.” They mentioned how they were all people, and all good people just want peace. Peace. They mentioned the word repeatedly.
I left the conversation inspired, surprised, and a bit ashamed. Inspired by the open-minded, positive attitude my host parents possessed, surprised by their response in comparison to my pre-conceived notion, and ashamed that I had held that notion in the first place. Stereotypes. How are they even formed? It takes one to ruin it for a million. Entire religions, races, and ethnicities labeled because of someone’s actions or words. I wish it worked in the reverse. I wish my account of the goodness of my host family could influence the way people think of others. I wish my own experience was enough to change the perspective of masses. For now, I just hope it will resonate with a few.