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From Lama J…
Like many Palestinians, his options were limited. He was forced to leave and he had no place to go. His house was taken from him, his life held hostage, as were his dreams. Nothing was left but his faith and the strong belief that he would one day return to Jineen. That was my grandfather, Adam Jassim. God bless his soul.
He didn’t have any choice, but to head towards the Jordanian border. At that time, King Hussein was offering the Jordanian passport to certain families in Palestine. Those from Jineen, Nablus or Jerusalem qualified and would be a granted a Jordanian passport, along with the national security number. If you were from Gaza, however, then you would be stuck with your Palestinian ID forever.
My father was born in 1939, in Al Nasrah. Always filled with enthusiasm, I have been told he argued many times with my grandfather about topic of nationality. My dad always wanted to be Palestinian and nothing but Palestinian. He was ready to carry the ID forever, and didn’t care about not having a passport. He never wanted to be called Jordanian. “I’m from Jineen! There’s no Jineen in Jordan … I belong to my own country, my own soil.” These were his words.
He was young and didn’t understand all the problems that come not having a passport. Despite my father’s protests, the J.’s family left Jineen and crossed the borders into Amman. The beginning was quite hard. A war in Palestine, an impoverished population, issues of dignity and identity, and so much more – it was a tremendous burden for all Palestinians. My father went on to graduate from Ber-Zeit University with a Law degree. A smart and passionate man, he worked for short time in Amman, but was never convinced with what Jordan offered him. He took his first opportunity to leave Amman and headed to a small tiny desert nation called Qatar. An empty patch of desert no one could even find on a map, Qatar was a brand new country no one had ever heard of. He couldn’t believe that destiny had taken him from the beautiful breezes and green olive trees of Jineen, to an isolated desert in the middle of nowhere. But he did his best, with what God gave him.
He started his career working for one of the big sheikhs and earned what was considered a good living at the time. The Qataris used to call him the J. sheikh, as not many expats were making the amount of money he made. After establishing himself in Doha, he visited Amman in the summer and decided to find a wife. It was hard to do so at that time, due to the war and old-fashioned Arabic traditions. Further still, during these times it was difficult for men and women to love before marriage. In fact, in some ways, it simply wasn’t acceptable. My grandmother was excited to find him a wife when my father told her he was wanted to marry a girl from his beloved Jineen. My father was not too demanding, as he was ready to share his life with a decent woman. His only condition was that she be willing to live in Qatar.
After only a short while, my grandmother found a girl she wanted my dad to meet. He was getting ready to visit his potential new bride and her family, when a beautiful young woman came to the room to tell him the young lady in question was ready to meet him. My father couldn’t take his eyes off this beautiful young woman and suddenly, he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to meet the girl my grandmother found for him.
He asked my grandmother who this exotic young woman was. When she asked him why he wanted to know, he simply answered. “That is the women I want to marry, if she’ll have me.”
I can’t even to begin to imagine how embarrassed my grandmother was. Here she was, arranging a meeting with another family in hopes of arranging a marriage, and her son decides he wants to marry somebody else! But this is typical of my father, as he always says what he wants. In the end, his mother has no choice but to discover if this young lady’s family was interested in meeting. After a couple of visits with my mother’s family, both he and this beautiful young girl from Nablus got along quite well. The families did as well, and so, not long after, they were married and moved to Doha. God rewarded them with three daughters and a son, including yours truly, the baby of the family.
My father’s original plan was to stay in Doha for only two or three of years, before moving back to Palestine. Unfortunately, there were many politically problems that prevented most Palestinians from going back to their land. The so-called options were to return to Palestine and give up your Jordanian passport, or stay where you were. My father would have given up his career in a minute to return to his beloved homeland, but now, with a wife and four children, he knew he couldn’t. He decided to stay in Qatar as long as he could. We ended up living in Doha for twenty-eight years. And so, I, along with my two sisters and brother, grew up in tiny Qatar.
During those twenty-eight years, I remember him trying many times to get the Qatari nationality. He thought it was his right; he lived in Qatar for even longer than he did in Palestine, his kids were born in Qatar, he helped establish the legal community of the country, my mother built a career that eventually saw her as Branch manager of the National Bank of Qatar – it was our home. I remember all of us telling mom, each and every time we flew to Amman for summer vacation, how much we wanted to go back home. The place we called home, however, never considered us as real citizens. As I grew older, I slowly came to understand the nationality game in my region, and how unfair it is to so many.
I was young and special, as my mom used to say. She noticed my passion for language and thought I might make a good translator or maybe even English teacher someday. As a result, I was the only one among my sisters and brother to be sent to a British school and was treated like a little queen. My two sisters and brother were sent to a government schools. I was soon like a little parrot and could repeat any sentence from almost any language. She eventually decided to send me back to Jordan to study, because the education system in Amman is much better than Doha. My family was not ready to move at the time, but she sent me to live with my uncle and his wife. I didn’t want to go, but I was 15 years old and couldn’t say anything.
Although we lived in Qatar, we had a beautiful house in Amman. No one ever knows what’s going to happen in the Middle East, and my parents built it for us in case of an emergency. My dad thought one day we’d have to leave Qatar and he was right. In 1991, a year or so after I left to live with my uncle and at the onset of the first Gulf War, the whole family moved to Jordan.
This war was a nightmare for Palestinians and Jordanians who lived in the Gulf, especially in Kuwait. Saddam Hussein started shooting rockets into Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. King Hussein and Yasser Arafat were the only Arab leaders who supported Saddam’s actions. The reason? Iraq offered a free and non-stop supply of oil and gas to Jordan, along with millions in cash for Arafat. Palestinians and Jordanians living in the Gulf paid the price. My uncle and his family were in Kuwait. He told us Kuwaitis used to knock on the people’s doors looking for Palestinians and Jordanians, so they could torture them. They smashed his cars and house windows; they beat him and afterwards, his entire family. He was a Palestinian Jordanian, so in their eyes this meant he supported Saddam. This, however, was not the case. My uncle loved Kuwait, even more than Palestine. Most everyone didn’t like what Iraq was doing. Iraq has no right to control another independent country like Kuwait. Further still, Syria has no right to control Lebanon and of course, Israel has no right to control Palestine. No one has any right to control any one we are born free; at least that’s the way it should be.
Many Jordanians and Palestinians left everything that had worked so hard for in Kuwait and ran to Jordanian borders. It seems like a nightmare when I picture it in my head – it was like judgment day. Since that time, the hatred between Jordan and Kuwait is still there. After a football game between the Jordanian and Kuwaiti national teams that took a place in Amman, all hell broke loose. The Kuwaiti won the game and afterwards, Jordanians ran around beating the shit out of Kuwaitis throughout every corner of Amman. Jordanian football players were later beaten in Kuwait after the game there. Each side even sent barrages of text messages through to anonymous Jordanian and Kuwaiti TV channels, using language I can not even begin to repeat.
My father initially believed that Qatar would be fine and on the issue of the first Gulf War, it was. A couple of months later, however, a sudden political upheaval changed my family’s life forever. The son of Qatar’s ruler, who on several occsaions tried to take power, staged a coup while his father was out of the country. He took over the government and banished hi father. To this day, the son rules and the father has never returned. As a result of the takeover, my father lost his position. After twenty-eight years, he was forcibly kicked out of Qatar. It did not matter that he was a pioneer in the legal community of the country. His long history and experience, his hard work and loyalty to a country no one ever heard of, were all flushed in the toilet.
Fifteen years passed since I last saw Doha. I’d been around the world, lived here and there, had married and established a career in banking. I eventually thought it would be nice to visit Qatar, to see our old house that I still remember so very well. I thought I could even visit my old school, see the places where I used to take my little bike for a ride, or visit the beach we went to every Friday with mom and dad for family BBQ day. The more I thought about it, the more I looked forward to going. I decided to apply for a visa and was shocked when I was rejected. I tried many times but was simply told no. Even though I was proud to say I was born there, the answer was, so what if you were born here! I guess if I was born in Canada I would be treated like a human being with rights. If I were like my cousin Manar, who was born in the United States while her father was on a business trip with his wife, I guess I’d have a golden passport, too.
On another occasion, just this past Eid, My beloved husband decided to surprise me with a vacation to Muscat. He thought a few days in a nice five-star resort would be a great way for us to relax from our busy lives. He also figured Oman would be an easy country for me to gain access. Most people plan their vacation according to where they would like to go, but in my case my husband always tries to plan for a vacation in a country that will accept my passport. And so, once again I readied a visa application, this time for the Omani consulate. A few days later, much to my surprise, I was rejected. Their reason? My job title was not high enough. I’d never heard of this in my whole life. I have a good job, great credit, and no outstanding loans, but according to the Omanis, I don’t deserve to vacation in their country. What’s most unbelievable is that my husband, a Canadian, can go almost anywhere he wants in the Arab world, without even applying for a visa… and I can’t! There’s something wrong with that, isn’t there?
I guess I can’t really be too angry, as my own country of Jordan is treating people from places like Iran, Sudan and Iraq the same way I’ve been treated by Qatar or Oman. In 1999, when relations between Jordan and Lebanon were bad, Jordanians applying for a Lebanese visa was like applying to go to Paris. On the other side, for Lebanese to come to Jordan was like getting the Canadian Landed Immigrant card. People simply could not cross. Jordan’s King Abdullah II eventually took the lead and opened the Jordanian side of the border. Policies can change in a heartbeat as well, so we Arabs have to keep our eyes on the news and watch for updates about whether Jordan will decide to keep relations with Egypt, or fight with Syria, or if Gulf countries like the UAE or Qatar are allowing us to enter and at what cost. The fact is family and friends can sometimes not see each other for awhile and all because of the passport game.
I often wonder why all these complications are necessary. What kinds of countries make their own people’s lives so miserable? Is this the price of being an Arab? Wasn’t it God who said “I will never change what it’s inside your souls, if you don’t first don’t do it yourself.” What’s happened to our Arab brothers and sisters? Why does each country treat the other so poorly?
Will we ever be united like the European Union or live side by side in cooperation like Canada and the United States? Will our borders ever simply be open to fellow Arabs someday? I hope so, but I have a hard time believing it will ever happen. And so, I’m not the only stranger here. We Arabs are all strangers to one another, strangers in our own land. I only wish it was different.