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Jordan Collects Aid for Gaza

Street approaching the donation drop-off and Cozmo supermarket blocked with traffic

Street approaching the donation drop-off and Cozmo supermarket blocked with traffic

Humanitarian Aid Collected in Jordan

Cars jammed the street leading up to the Gaza relief drop-off point neat Cozmo in Amman, Jordan Tuesday night.  Bumper-to-bumper traffic barely crept along, prompting some Good Samaritans to hop out and carry their boxes of food, clothes, and blankets the final dozens of meters.  Police were on hand, including some in riot gear, but everything was peaceful as the pile of donated goods grew and grew.  A line of volunteers passed donations along a human chain to fill waiting delivery trucks.  Inside the store it was obvious who was shopping for Gaza.  Both Jordanians and ex-pats were pulling stacks of canned goods and large sacks of rice off the shelves and filling carts.  Store employees were giving directions to some shoppers, advising them on what could and could not be included in the shipments.

People in Jordan donating and loading a truck with relief aid for Gaza

People in Jordan donating and loading a truck with relief aid for Gaza

Humanitarian Aid Boat Rammed by Israeli’s

As I dropped off a meager donation I wondered if anyone would ever benefit from it.  Both the Israelis and Egyptians have been notorious for not allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza – even during the ceasefire.  What about now, during what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak described as “all out war” ?  Just this week a civilian boat carrying humanitarian aid from Cyprus to Gaza was shot at and rammed by an Israeli military vessel.  The AP reported that, “Israel’s navy on Tuesday turned back a boat of pro-Palestinian protesters who had hoped to enter Gaza to demonstrate against the Israeli blockade.”  The Reuters article that accompanied the photo below gave a different story, “Cyprus state radio said the Cypriot government would seek explanations from Israel over the incident. The vessel was carrying medical aid donated by Cyprus and there were at least three Cypriots on board, including a parliamentarian.”  The boat was apparently escorted by a Lebanese naval vessel to the port of Tyre.  Hmmm . . . now Lebanon is involved.

Free Gaza aid boat that was rammed by an Israeli military vessel (Reuters photo)

Free Gaza aid boat that was rammed by an Israeli military vessel (Reuters photo)

Will this shipment of aid from Jordan ever make it?  Let’s pray it does.  And when it does, let’s pray it goes to help those who really need it.

Gazan Family Mourns the Loss of 5 Daughters

Like the Balousha family of Jabalia refugee camp who lost 5 of their daughters this week when an Israeli bomb destroyed a mosque and several surrounding buildings in the crowded camp, including the  Balousha’s three-room cinder block house (Guardian UK article here).  The girls were sleeping in one of the rooms and had no chance.  They were ages 17, 15, 13, 8, and 4.   Their mother and father lay sleeping with the families two youngest in the next room.  All were injured, but survived as did one other sister who miraculously was pulled from the ruins of the room where her 5 sisters had died.  Can you even imagine?  Innocent victims of a sickening conflict that has potential to engulf the entire region.

Funeral procession for 5 girls who dies in one family as a result of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza (Guardian UK photo)

Funeral procession for 5 girls who died in one family as a result of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza (Guardian UK photo)

How will this end?  The current conflict is not simply a sound bite on the 5 o’clock news.  It doesn’t just fill a space between the first weather forecast and the local sports scores.  It’s been fomenting for centuries and is unlikely to subside anytime soon.  All the major political players will at least pay lip service to trying to fix things.  There will be lots of posturing and statements made in the world press.  But the most important ones will not come from politicians or generals.  I wonder if anyone will pay attention to the anguished statements of men like Anwar Balousha who is described here:

…He was pale and still suffering from serious injuries to his head, his shoulder and his hands. But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying. Yesterday his house was a pile of rubble: collapsed walls and the occasional piece of furniture exposed to the sky. He spoke bitterly of his daughters’ deaths. “We are civilians. I don’t belong to any faction, I don’t support Fatah or Hamas, I’m just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?” Like many men in Gaza, Anwar has no job, and like all in the camp he relies on food handouts from the UN and other charity support to survive.

And still the Balousha family, and those like them will mourn the lives shattered because politicians and power-men couldn’t put down their egoes and their weapons.

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Ways Folks in Jordan can help Gaza

I guess most of the people who read my blog are stateside, but I know there are a few people reading on this side of the pond too.  A variety of people have been organizing ways for people in Jordan to be of some assistance, including blood, food, and clothing drives.  Canned goods (no meat products, or anything likely to leak) and clothing (esp. jackets and blankets) canned be dropped off:

Tuesday, Dec 30th

6:30-8:30 PM

Near Cozmo (7th circle)

More details on this and other ways to help can be found over at Black Iris or at 7iber.

The bombardment of Gaza continued last night with more civilian targets being hit.  One such target was the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG).  I took a tour there back in the late 90s.  Dr. Akram Habeeb is a Fullbright scholar and professor of American literature at  IUG.  Today he gave his first hand account of the nightmare in Gaza:

Why would Israel bomb a university?  Israel did not only target my university last night.  It also bombed mosques, pharmacies and homes.  In Jabaliya refugee camp Israeli bombs killed four little girls, sisters from the Balousha family.  In Rafah they killed three brothers, aged 6, 12 and 14.  They also killed a mother, along with her one-year-old child from the Kishko family in Gaza City.

His full account (and others) can be found at electronic intifada.

According to the Israeli military this assault is far from over.  In it’s fourth day the attacks have claimed the lives of at least 360 Palestinians (39 children) and injured over 1,600.  Hamas rocket fire has accounted for 4 Israeli deaths in the same time period.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the operation as “all-out war” and a Deputy Defense minister said that the operation could last for weeks.  Ground troops are prepared to be sent in  (article here).

If you are able to donate some food or clothes or blood that would be great!  If not, please continue to pray for peace. Prayer is not a last resort, but the foundation for any lasting peace!


Not just another round of violence in Gaza

It’s the holidays.  The lull between Christmas and New Years when so many of us have a little time off from work and spend extra hours enjoying the company of loved ones.  A time of peace, joy, and celebration.  A time to be thankful for the blessings of the past and consider what possibilities the future may hold.

Not so in Gaza over the last two days.  Israel has pounded the Palestinian territory with precision air strikes causing over 250 deaths and over 600 injuries.  Casualty statistics vary according to source, but all are climbing in the wake of some of the worst single-day violence in recent years of the conflict. The airstrikes come on the heels of a tenuous months-long cease fire that was punctuated by mostly ineffective Hamas sponsored rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.  Reaction in the Arab world has been quick and vocal.

  • At least one Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa condemning Israel and calling for attack on Israeli targets anywhere.  The cleric does not appear to have any “official” standing – but I am sure more and more of these edicts will begin to roll out from clerics of varying degrees of stature
  • Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi has called upon the Arab League to end all attempts at its peace initiative with Israel
  • The Arab League (not in response to Libya) postponed a regularly scheduled meeting to be held over the weekend to meet later this week reportedly to establish an official response to the airstrikes
  • Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khameini (Ahmadinejad’s boss) said, “”The Zionist regime should be punished by Muslim states. This usurping regime’s leaders should also go on trial and be punished for this crime.  All Palestinian Mujahids (fighters) and believers in the Islamic world are required to defend in any way they can the defenseless women, children and people of Gaza.”
  • Protests broke out in leading cities from Iran to Syria to Lebanon to Morocco to Spain to England

There were even protests here in Jordan.  My wife called from the grocery store with the news, “Something’s up – people are all gathered around televisions sets and it looks like buildings are on fire and there are people protesting.” As it turned out the fireswere in Gaza and the protests were here in Amman. An hour later she was stuck in traffic being held up by the army while a protest wound it’s way through the old city of Amman (see picture below).  My wife called and said she could see the protesters were waving green flags.  I guess they could have been Amman Municpality flags, but I was fairly certain that they were Hamas flags (which they were).  According to the Jordan Times some protestors “expressed allegiance to Hamas” and chanted, “We will avenge you, we sacrifice our blood and souls for you Gaza.”  I would have tried to find a safe vantage point to observe but everyone in our house has been sick of late, so I stuck at home and watched a little news coverage.  Today a friend and I exchanged typical greetings with a Muslim neighbor. Instead of the usual stock answers he said he was terrible “because of Gaza.”  Seems this latest attack has really struck a chord here.

Jordanians protesting Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Dec 27th 2008 (photo from Jordan Times)

Jordanians protesting Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Dec 27th 2008 (photo from Jordan Times)

I’m afraid this is not just another deadly tit-for-tat in the ongoing struggle between Palestine and Israel.  Both popular and political reactions were swift.  It might just be saber rattling on the part of leaders like Khameini or Qaddafi.  But I’mnot sure how much longer the man in the street willput up with the situation in Gaza.  The situation has gone from bad to so much worse in the last 24-months.  Under American pressure premature elections were held resulting in Hamas legally (and democratically) winning power.  Of course democracy is only a good thing when the people “we” want to win actually do.  This unexpected (??really?? kinda like the Shiites winning in Iraq, right?) outcome has resulted in a civil war between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza (some in the western media allege  this was partially funded and equipped by the US), a fracturing of the Palestinian government, and a prolonged siege of Gaza.  For the past 18-months Israel has blocked shipments in and out of Gaza – including humanitarian aid.  Airstrikes have knowcked out power supplies and conditions on the ground are worse than they have ever been before.

Add to this some fresh post-Christmas, pre-New Years blood shed.

The initial barrage reportedly started right around the same time school children leave for home after the mornign shift at school and lasted for about 3 hours.  40 targets were reported, including mostly police stations, smuggling tunnels, and “Hamas related” posts.  Yeah, that makes sense.  Knock out the police stations.  Then let’s see how fast they can restore order.  Despite the official list of targets, missiles were reported as hitting near playgrounds, vegetable markets, the headquarters of a major charity organization, and near the entrance to the largest hospital in Gaza (where a friend of mine used to work).  Refugee camps were hit. Camps where I’ve walked the main streets and stretched both arms out to touch the cinder block  buildings on either side.  Camps where no amount of precision computer controlled targeting is going to keep civilians from being injured.  At least 20 children have been reported dead so far as a result of the strikes.

Of course, the Palestinians and, yes, the world should have seen it coming.

Back in February I mentioned that a Deputy Israeli Defense Minister made waves by saying, “The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger ’shoah’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”  The big stir was over the use of the term “shoah” which Israelis primarily reserve to refer to the holocaust.

But that’s not the only reason why the world should have seen this brutal attack coming.  On Christmas Day Ehud Olmert was interviewed by Al-Arabiya (a Dubai based news agency).  He gave this ominous warning:

Israel withdrew from Gaza approximately three years ago not in order to return to it. I appeal to the residents of Gaza: I speak to you as a father and grandfather and I know that there is nothing I want less than to put my children and grandchildren in danger. Is it the spirit of Islam to kill innocent children? To shoot rockets at kindergartens and at civilians? I do not think that this is the spirit of Islam. Hamas, which does this against the spirit of Islam, is the main reason for your suffering – for all of ours.

I say to you in a last-minute call, stop it. Stop it. You the citizens of Gaza, you can stop it. I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, the way they want to in Sderot and Netivot.

Hamas is the enemy of the residents – not only in Israel but in Gaza. We want to live as good neighbors with Gaza. We do not want to harm you. We will not allow a humanitarian crisis and that you should suffer from a lack of food or medicines. We do not want to fight the Palestinian people but we will not allow Hamas to strike our children. We have very great and destructive strength – which we do not wish to use. I think of the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger as a result of Hamas’s actions. Do not let the murderers of Hamas, which is acting against the values of Islam, put you in danger.

Could I allow more missiles against the residents of Israel? More strikes at children and civilians and do nothing? Certainly not. Hamas is firing at us and at the power station that is supposed to supply electricity to Gaza. Stop them. Stop your enemies and ours. Tell them to stop shooting at innocents.

I did not come here to declare war. I have said in the past – as long as I am Prime Minister, I intend to reach peace with, not fight, the Palestinians. But Hamas must be stopped – and so it will be. I will not hesitate to use Israel’s strength to strike at Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  How? I do not wish to go into details here.

2 days later the world found out.  Merry Christmas.

What I find most galling in Olmert’s statement is his outright lies about his desire not to harm the civilians of Gaza or cause a humanitarian crisis.  Way too late for that – the humanitarian crisis started several months ago because of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.  It’s interesting that he addresses the exact same issues that the Deputy Defense Minister did back in February – the rocket attacks in southern Israel and the fact that Israel has a lot of power and can use it if they want.

Did you catch what he said in the interview, “the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger . . . “ What’s he talking about?  So far only a couple of hundred have died.  Is he alluding to some far greater, far more destructive attack? Let’s pray that this is not the case!  However electronic intifada reparted,

As Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli occupation forces Chief of Staff, said this morning, “This is only the beginning.”

Only the beginning?  Of what?

Olmert’s appeal to the citizens of Gaza might seem reasonable on the face of it – after all they elected Hamas, presumably the citiznery could do something about it.  But, really?  When have you or I ever really held sway over a duly elected official in the peace-loving United States? Now what is the average Joe Gazan going to do? Sidle up to the rocket launchers and say, “Look I know we elected you a couple of years back, but it seems like you’re making matters worse than better, could you maybe stop with the rockets for a little bit?” It like asking the people of LA or Southern California to take on the gangs and the Mexican drug lords.  Its rubbish.

It’s at this point that we all should start wringing our hands and say, “there’s no easy answer.  There’s innocent blood on the hands of both sides.  I’m just one person, what difference can I make?”

I don’t know.

But now, more than ever we need to pray for peace.  And work for it in whatever small ways we can.  In the spheres of influence that we have.  Maybe your circle has nothing to do with Israel and Palestine, but I’m sure there is conflict, and I am sure there is a way of peace that can be pursued.  Don’t take the easy way out and just ignore it.  Bad things don’t go away when we ignore them they just get worse.

Until someday we all have innocent blood on our hands.  Let’s pray it’s not too late.

Eid Al-Adha, the Hajj, and life in Amman

(Note on Dec 15th 2009: I wrote this post a year ago and it includes my outsider’s summary of what Eid al-Adha is all about and a few personal reflections on life here in Amman last year during the Eid.  For my 2009 account of visiting the place of sacrifice on Eid al-Adha with a gallery of pics, click here.)

Today is Sunday in Jordan.  But not just any Sunday – it’s the Sunday after the long break for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.  As Sunday is the first day of the work week here many people were back to their jobs and schools after some time off.  We had a break as well and I had plans all week to write something here about the Eid.   Oh well, better late than never!

For those who don’t know – here’s a thumbnail sketch of Eid al-Adha.  This is the second major holiday on the Islamic calendar.  (or maybe first – somebody can correct me if they know for sure)  The first is Eid al-Fitr which is the major feast at the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting).  Eid al-Adha also happens during a very important time on the Islamic calendar – al-Hajj.  This is the time of the pilgrimage to Mecca which many understand to be a commemoration of Muhammad’s flight (or emigration) from Mecca to Medina.

Pilgrims throng the Great Mosque in the Islamic holy city of Mecca during the Hajj

Pilgrims throng the Great Mosque in the Islamic holy city of Mecca during the Hajj

Although the entire hajj is important, one of the most important parts is the vigil held on the plains and mount of Arafat.  It is on this mountain that Muslims believe that Muhammad gave his farewell speech.  It is required for pilgrims to pray prayers of repentance in this spot on the Day of Arafat which is always 70 days following the start of the month of Ramadan and the 9th day of the month of the Hajj (note that the Islamic calenar follows a lunar year so the dates of these observances change each year on the Gregorian calendar).

Muslim pilgrims at the Mount/Plain of Arafat

Muslim pilgrims at the Mount/Plain of Arafat

It is said that failure to appear at the plain of Arafat invalidates a pilgrims Hajj.  It is also said that the erstwhile prayers offered hear can earn a faithful Muslims a clean slate from their sins.  Many pilgrims will maintain the vigil not only during the day but throughout the night until the following day.

Muslim pilgrims holding a nighttime vigil on the Mountain of Arafat

Muslim pilgrims holding a nighttime vigil on the Mountain of Arafat

The next day pilgrims make their way to the nearby city of Mina where they commemorate the other important aspect of the Hajj – remembering the life of the prophet Abraham.  Muslims believe that it is near this location that Abraham almost sacrificed his son.  Just like the story from the Torah, Allah provides a goat/sheep at the last moment, redeeming the life of Abraham’s son.  For Muslims who do not travel to Saudia Arabia this story is the centerpiece of Eid al-Adha – the holiday/holy days associated with the Hajj.

Here in Amman (just like the rest of the Islamic world) this means sacrificing a sheep/goat.  In the days leading up to Eid al-Adha I overheard a number of conversations about the best place to buy sheep, and engaged in a number of conversastions about the yearly sacrifice.

Sheep awaiting their important role in Eid al-Adha celebrations

Sheep awaiting their important role in Eid al-Adha celebrations

Families who can afford to purchase a sheep at 200 Dinars ($284) or so, will use a portion of the sheep for a celebration with their family.  A portion is then reserved to give to the poor and perhaps a portion reserved to give to the extended family.  If a family is wealthy enough they will purchase one sheep for each category (immediate family, the poor, extended family).  I did speak to a lot of people who said they could not afford to make a sacrifice themselves this year, but Eid al-Adha is also an important time to visit family, and many expected to celebrate with those in their family who could afford to make the sacrifice.

Apparently some people make the sacrifice at their homes, but most take the sheep to a special place reserved for the sacrifice and have a trained individual perform the sacrifice and butchering of the sheep for distribution.  The sacrifice itself can be made anytime after the vigil of Arafat or after the morning prayers are made on the particular day.

Here in Amman I awoke to the extended version of the morning call to prayer, which included about 45 minutes to an hour of chanting “Allahu Akbaar, Akbaar Allah!  Akbaar Allah” (God is the Greatest!)  After that I wondered up the hill to check out the neighborhood mosque.  It was standing room only and took nearly 10 minutes for the place to empty out after the sermon.

In Saudia Arabia pilgrims make the sacrifice on the day following the Vigil at Arafat.  But first they must take part in the ritual stoning of the Jararat or three stone pillars representing Satan.

One of the original stone pillars representing Satan near Mina

One of the original stone pillars representing Satan near Mina

As you can see the pillars were quite small and it took a long time for millions of pilgrims to throw 7 stones each at 3 pillars.  There are stories of pilgrims being trampled, seriously injured,and sometimes passing away due to the press of the crowd.  A couple of years ago the Saudia government decided to replace the original pillars with large walls that would facilitate the flow of pilgrims through this stage of the hajj.

New walls representing Satan and awaiting stoning by pilgrims on Hajj near Mina

New walls representing Satan and awaiting stoning by pilgrims on Hajj near Mina

This may seem like an odd ritual, but it is important to the Islamic version of the story of Abraham sacrificing his son.  Muslims believe that it was Satan, rather than God, who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.  According to some interpretations of the Qur’an, Satan used a dream to trick Abraham into believing that God wanted Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Allah intervened at the last minute and provides an alternative sacrfice, which the Quran calls a great ransom or redemption.

I found that this was a great time of year to learn more about local beliefs and customs as many were very happy to respond to questions about the Eid and the sacrifice.  I hope next year to actually get over to the place of sacrifice.  And maybe I’ll understand more of the morning sermon next year too.  For now it is back to work and school for most (myself included).  Of course Eid celebrations this year have flowed into Christmas celebrations.  Christians are hanging lights and putting up trees.  And students are looking forward to their next break from school. Someone told me 2 days for Christian students and 1 for Muslim.  I’ll have to check and see if that’s true.

Just Another Bag of Bread

To the untrained eye it may just look like another bag of bread. Of course, to the untrained eye it may not even look like that. Yes, this is generally how we buy our bread or khubz (خُبز) here in Jordan. We try to get it fresh from a nearby bakery every couple of days, but can also pick it up day-old from any number of little convenient-store-like shops.

Xubz (pita bread) from a local maxbaz (bakery)

Xubz (pita bread) from a local maxbaz (bakery)

The bread itself is flat and round and has a pocket like a pita. It comes in small (pictured here) and large sizes. It is so good fresh and still warm from the bakery. It’s fluffy, soft-but-not-too-soft, chewy, and just a touch of sweetness. You can’t buy anything like it in the States. Pita back home tends to be either paper thin, or super thick, and usually tough and stale – this stuff is just right.  When you buy it at the bakery they pick it up off from the wooden rack and put the amount you want directly in  a plastic grocery bag.

But I digress . . .

Last night I picked up our weekly meal of “Dream Chicken.” Dream is the name of a restaurant in our neighborhood. It’s not much to look at, but the food is great. They serve up rotisserie chicken, hummus, falafil, foul, french fries, and a couple of different Middle Eastern salads. The guys that work there are Egyptian and for whatever reason they’ve taken a liking to me – it’s usually an hour excursion to go get our supper. Last night they sat me down at the back table where workers sit in between customers, served me tea and we had a rambling conversation as I sipped tea and watched them do their jobs. (but that’s another post entirely).

As I left Dream and was walking down the hill, I realized that I had forgotten to ask for bread. I had no worries as they actually get all their bread from a bakery (maxbaz – مَخبَز) just 3 or 4 doors down. I looked over but the door where you usually tell the boy how much bread you want was closed. Wondering what I was going to do, I noticed another door that I had never seen open before. It obviously led into the inner workings of the bakery with the big mixer, ovens, empty bread racks, and flour everywhere.

I was already several steps down the hill when I decided to to do a very Arab thing. I walked back up and stepped a couple of feet into the obviously closed bakery and had the following conversation:

me: assalaam alaikum (Peace be upon you)
boy: wa’alaikum asalaam (and also on you)
me: ma fii xubz? (there is no bread?)
boy: ma fii! (there is none)

Just as I was about to turn and walk out a man emerged from the back room)

man: la! fii! fii xubz, bas zgiir. (No, there is. There is bread, but only small ones)
me: ma fii mush kalle. biddi zgiir, law samaat. (there is no problem, I would like small ones, if you please).

The man handed me a bag full of bread.

me: salaam idayak. qaddaysh? (peace on your hands. How much?)
man: rubiah (a 1/4 dinar aprox 35 cents)
me: tfaddil (please take this)
man: u idayak (and also peace on your hands)
me: ma’salammi (goodbye)
man: ma’salammi (goodbye)

The man went right back to his work and I left the shop.

As I walked out I realized that I had just had the conversation. I had just walked into a neighborhood shop and had a very normal everyday conversation including an exchange of money and goods with absolutely no hitch. No questions, no stumbling over greetings or amounts of money, no strange looks or questions about where I’m from. The whole encounter probably lasted less than a minute, and the conversation was pretty basic but I felt like I had passed a significant language learning milestone!

*******************

Cool Arabic language note:

The Arabic language works on a system of three-letter roots.  Prefixes and suffixes are added, and vowels are changed to change the meaning.  So:

xabaz خَبَز   means “to bake”

xubz خُبز means “bread”

maxbaz مَخبَز   means “bakery”

ps – the “x” is pronnounced like a combination ‘k’ and ‘h’, kinda like the last sound in “Bach”