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Jordan Weekend Headlines #5

Ramadan Update: Friday was the 19th day of Ramadan (the actual name of the Islamic month BTW).  Iftar was 6:42 PM and Saturday’s imsak was at 4:46 AM.

Top Headline ‘Establishment of Palestinian state is in Jordan’s strategic interest’: This statement was from a Jordanian Minister of State for Media and Communications.  (Interesting government cabinet post, eh?)  It was countering some reports in the local press that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said that Jordan should become a permanent home for Palestinian refugees in exchange for financial compensation.  I’m not sure if Abbas said that (seems unlikely), but I can tell you that it is a very unpopular idea here.  Although Jordan is probably the country most friendly and sympathetic to Palestinians – it is very clear in the mindset here that Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.  This article also comes on the heels of Palestinian security forces crossing into Jordan to have US-funded training.  These were apparently Fateh security forces.  Interesting how the US pushed for free democratic elections and then when the results went in an unexpected way (Hamas being elected) the powers that be end up throwing a ton of money at damage control.  Wonder if we’ll start seeing state-funded militias in the US if the November elections don’t go according to plan.  I mean, really, it’s so odd how what we would consider absolutely wrong political behavior stateside is acceptable foreign policy.  I’m not saying I think Hamas is the best option in Palestine – but what did we expect when elections were pushed way before Palestine was ready for them.  Perhaps investing a little US money in Palestinian security training years ago would have been a smarter move.  IMHO.  Only once the hand has been forced to choose sides in one more regional civil war is there any interest in spending the necessary money.  But, I digress from the headlines . . .

Top Sidebar Road Accidents kill 36 this month: this is apparently good news as the number is down 20% from the first two weeks of Ramadan last year.  Hamdulillah!

Other Headline King returns home: HM King Abdullah returned from a 3-day trip to Kuwait and China.  Those two countries seem to be pretty far apart for a 3 day trip.  Anyways in Kuwait he was discussing regional trade and economics.  In China they were discussing technology, alternative energy and China’s role in brokering peace in the region, particularly an end to Israeli occupation and establishment of a Palestinian state.  Interesting.  Can’t say China jumps to the top of my list when I think of brokering peace deals.  We shall see.

News headlines taken from The Jordan Times – Jordan’s leading English-language news daily.  Once I learn some more Arabic I’ll branch out into Arabic language papers.  Perhaps sometime next decade.  LOL =)

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Ooops, I forgot Weekend Headlines from Jordan #4

(as reported in the Jordan Times.  Paragraphs below are my summary and additional commentary on articles on the front page of the JT Friday edition)

Top Headline: ‘When we are fasting, we are all one‘  It’s hard to explain to someone living in the West how culturally significant iftar, or the meal to break the fast is here in Jordan.  Life is totally re-oriented during the month of Ramadan so that you are able to make it home to break fast with you family or friends.  We had the ironic experience of eating at TGIFriday’s last week right at iftar.  I am sure we were one of 2 non-Jordanian/Arab couples in the packed out restaurant.  Will write more on that experience later.  That being said many do not have the means to prepare special meals and so this article discussed the numerous iftar tents set up around the city to help the underprivileged.  These tents are sponsored by wealthy individuals, corporations, and also the royal family.

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan.  (Jordan Times)

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan. (Jordan Times)

In particular, HM Queen Rania has a tent which hosts a different group in need each night. (to check out the Queen’s fascinating website click here and follow the 3rd link.)  There is much concern for the poor here during Ramadan, which is the traditional time to give your zakat, or alms, each year.  But I wonder a bit about the poor the rest of the year.  If they don’t have the means to prepare an evening meal in Ramadan, what about next month?  Who helps out then?   I also wonder if Christians ever sponsor iftar tents or if that is taboo?

Three AIDS cases registered: which brings the number of cases this year to 7.  Not sure how that compares with the States – but a quyick search gave me a stat of over 30,000 cases in the US last year.  I don’t think Jordan is on that track.  The article made a point to note that the three new cases were infected abroad and also pointed out that one was a woman.  I wonder what it is like to have AIDS in this country where honor and shame are so much at stake.  Will this woman’s family have compassion on her or scorn?  Will she receive good medical treatment?  I also wonder if AIDS cases are under-reported here,  The government is definitely concerned about it – any foreigner staying in the kingdom more than 6 months has to get tested!

West Bank settlers take over more land – group: Interesting to see that an Israeli human rights group that I often quote (B’Tselem) is referenced as front page news here in Jordan.  The article reports on 1,100+ acres annexed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.  Half of this land was private Palestinian property.  It was taken for “security” purposes by fencing it off under the watchful eyes of armed settlers and soldiers.  This same method of illegal settlement expansion was going on 10 years ago when I was in Gaza.  Soldiers and settlers would take Palestinian farmland at night by extending the fence by 10-20 feet, citing attacks from that property that never occured. It should be noted that these new security measures are being taken inside Israel’s already existing “security” barrier.

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

I’m all for protecting people from suicide bombers, but when an entire town is surrounded by a wall like this it seems like collective punishment to me.  As I’ve said before, it would be as if the rest of California decided to wall in L.A. because of all the gang violence there.  Migth help keep things safer in the short-term, but makes no sense whatsoever in the long-term.  Do the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall or the Berlin Wall mean anything to anyone?

Jordan Weekend Headlines

250 fils.
That may sound like a lot for the Sunday Paper – but it’s really not.   It only comes to about 35 cents.  And it’s not really the Sunday paper – it’s the Friday Paper!  The Friday/Saturday Weekend with Sunday being the first day of the work week is taking some time to get used to. But purchasing a local English-language Friday paper is something I look forward to each week.  I’m currently reading The Jordan Times (website here) because it’s the only one I know of that I see widely available.  (There may be other English language papers here – if so, someone let me know).

I’ve been pretty fascinated not just by the stories but to see what actually makes the front page here in our new home away from home.  Believe it or not – the Middle East does get a lot of press coverage here, just like home. However, the stories have a bit of a different flavor.  So I have decided to share 3 or 4 front-page headlines and would welcome any interaction on them.   So here goes:

Headlines in Jordan, Weekend of August 22-23, 2008 (from Jordan Times)

King Starts Russia Visit – This is the top headline with an accompanying picture of King Abdullah being greeted by Russian officials in Moscow. His Majesty will also visit Turkmenistan and France.  With Russia’s international rumblings of late it will be interesting to see how various countries will relate to them.  The purpose of King Abdullah’s visit was stated as discussing “regional developments.”  I wonder what that means.  The most interesting thing to me was the very last line of the article, “HRH Prince Hashem was sworn in as Regent.”  I’m not exactly sure what this means.  As far as I know there are two Prince Hashem’s – King Abdullah’s 3 year old son and King Abdullah’s 27 year old half-brother.  I’m not sure which one they are referring to but I was glad that there is a plan for when the King is out of the country.  Here’s a pic of the King in case you haven’t seen him before:

HM King Abdullah of Jordan c. 2008

HM King Abdullah of Jordan c. 2008

Coping With the Two-Shift System: It has been a rough start this fall in Jordan’s public schools. The system of 3,300 schools has absorbed an extra 31,000 students that were unable to attend private schools this year due to worsening economic conditions.  So over 250 schools have adopted a two shift system with the first shift starting at 6:45 AM and going till midday.  The second shift goes to 5:00 AM.  (note: that should read 5 PM!  Thanks to Melissa for catching my error!) Children in the same family have found themselves on different shifts causing problems with childcare for many families.  Education is a guaranteed right in the constitution and the government has built additional schools and is trying to hire additional teachers to handle the increased student population.

Israel Declares Navy Drills to Deny Activists Passage to Gaza: I could write about this one for awhile.  But I won’t.  The long and the short of it – waaaaaaay back in 1993 (in the Billy Clinton era) this little secretly negotiated, supposedly earth-moving Peace Accord was signed between Israel and Palestine.  Remember the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat?  Well part of the Oslo agreement guaranteed the Palestinians the right to open a port in Gaza.   In reality the Israeli government never allowed it to happen and has run a long-standing naval blockade preventing any entrance or exit from Gaza by sea.  All (“legal”) international trade in and out is directly controlled by Israel.  Anyway – this is getting longer than shorter – this past week two boats from Europe decided to run the blockade to deliver some humanitarian supplies, but more importantly to make a point.  This article reported that the Israeli navy intended to stop the ships. The report online today indicated that they didn’t and the ships made landfall in Gaza.   A small and pragmatically meaningless victory – but a symbolic one nonetheless.

SS Free Gaza and Liberty

SS Free Gaza and Liberty

As you can see these are a couple of very dangerous looking ships!   The Jordan Times reported that the Liberty was named for a the USS Liberty that was attacked by Israeli aircraft in 1967, killing 34 and injuring 172 US seamen.  Boy – there’s a peice of history you don’t here much about.  Anyways Jordan is very much involved in Palestinian politics and I’mnot surprised that this story made front page news.

Ok – there you have it – a few headlines from Jordan.  Hope all is well for you wherever your journey is currently taking you!