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Temps et espaces en Palestine

Roger Heacock

III. Histoire du temps présent

Producing the Palestinian as Other

Jordan and the Palestinians*

Joseph Massad

Entrées d'index

Mots clés :


Géographique :

Jordanie, Palestine

Texte intégral

  • *  This paper is essentially a shorter version of a chapter taken from my book, Colonial Effects: The (...)

1The identity of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, the majority of whom have been born in Jordan or have been living in the country since 1948 (with a sizable minority among them living in the country since 1920 and even earlier), continues after almost six decades of their legal naturalization. Debates among members of Jordan’s elite, in government and society, continue to question the allegiance of Palestinian Jordanians to Jordan, with most insisting that legal nationality is not necessarily connected to a citizen’s personal and individual identification with a nationality; or rather that citizenship and nationality are not related in any direct and unmediated way. The question that arises then is how does the Jordanian State and how do Jordanian nationalists measure national identity? And more specifically, how do they measure the national identity of Palestinian Jordanians?

2As far as the Jordanian state in concerned, at least officially, nationality is primarily a juridical category and therefore can only be decided upon by the law. Palestinian refugees who arrived in Central Palestine and in Jordan in 1948 were nationalized by the Jordanian government through an amendment to the Law of Nationality in December 1949. Prior to that, however, and as a preliminary step on the way to nationalization, the Jordanian government had enacted in February 1949 an amendment to the passport law wherein “any Palestinian Arab holding Palestinian nationality can obtain a Jordanian passport according to the Passport Law number 5 for the Year 1942” (Sakhnini 1975, p. 71). Indeed, not only did Palestinians become Jordanians juridically, but so did parts of Palestine itself. By the end of 1949, all steps, administrative and legal, were taken to “unify” Central Palestine, now renamed the West Bank, with Jordan. This process was so thorough that the Jordanian prime minister declared early in 1950 that “on the occasion of the lifting of barriers between the East and the West banks of the Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom, there is no longer a reason to consider the country [al-bilad] located in the West Bank a foreign country… the two countries located in said two Banks are considered one unity [wihdah wahidah]” (Sakhnini 1975, p. 72). It was with this as background that the postal ordinance of March 1,1950, abolished the word Palestine and replaced it with the West Bank and parliament passed the annexation proposal a month later in April. What is ironic is that the Palestinians of Central Palestine were rendered Jordanian by the law several months before their country, in which they were still living, became Jordanian. This is an important development in light of the subsequent denationalization of both the West Bank and its Jordanian citizens in 1988, who were reverted juridically, at least as far as Jordanian law was concerned, to Palestinianness.

The New Jordan

3The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 along with the Zionist expulsion of about 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland led to the flooding of those parts of Palestine not yet conquered by Jewish forces as well as neighboring Arab countries with hundreds of thousands of refugees. Almost 360,000 refugees entered Central Palestine (soon to be renamed the West Bank) and 110,000 refugees entered Jordan proper (soon to be renamed the East Bank). At the time, the population of Central Palestine was 425,000 people while Jordan’s population was 375,000 (Sayigh 1987, p. 12-14). As a result, the total population of the East Bank rose to 485,000 while that of the West Bank rose to 785,000 people making the total population of the new expanded Jordan 1, 270,000 people. Therefore, Jordan was transformed demographically overnight from a country of 375,000 people to one of 1, 270,000 people, meaning a rise of almost 300 percent. As a result, the proportion of the newcomer Palestinians in the 1951-1952 period was about 65% of the total population of Jordan (which included all the West Bank Palestinians as well as all registered Palestinian refugees in the East Bank) and one third of the population of the East Bank alone. In 1961, their proportion rose to 43% on the East Bank, which increased to 47% on the eve of the 1967 War. Moreover, the proportion of the total Palestinian population to the whole population of the East and West Banks had risen to over 70% on the eve of the 1967 War (Sayigh 1987).

4Following the 1967 war and due to the new wave of refugees expelled by the conquering Israelis, the proportion of Palestinians living in the East Bank increased to approximately 60% (although estimates are inaccurate for this period) (Sayigh 1987, p. 34-35). These numbers increased substantially after the Gulf War in the early 1990s with the return of 200,000-300,000 Palestinian-Jordanians who lived in Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf raising the proportion of Palestinians – the majority of whom live in Amman and neighboring cities – in the East Bank even further.

5Indeed, this immense and sudden demographic expansion had a major impact on all aspects of life in the new Jordan. It is important to stress here the urban nature of much of that expansion on the East Bank, as the majority of the Palestinian population who took refuge there resided in the cities. Thus, Amman’s population alone rose from a pre-war 1948 population of 70,000 people to 120,000 in 1952, further increasing to 246,475 people in 1961. Amman had already seen much expansion during WWII whereby its population increased to 30,000 in 1943 and again to 70,000 in 1948 (Sayigh 1987, p. 14-16).

6In addition, there existed a number of socioeconomic differences between the incoming Palestinian population and the indigenous Transjordanian population. Palestinians were more urban; more educated, more experienced in political participation, and had more exposure to the mass media (newspapers and radio). The Palestinians were also used to better medical help and higher health standards as well as lower child mortality rates (Mishal 1978, p. 1-9, Aruri 1972, p. 49-69). Palestinian merchants brought with them their capital as educated Palestinians brought with them their expertise and skills. Palestinian workers also brought with them their organizational expertise and political experience. These differences placed new economic, social, and political demands on the Jordanian State and on Jordan’s pre-war population more generally.

7On the social level, these visible markers of difference created more tension. There was a general perception among the Transjordanian urban population that the Palestinian upper class and middle class, expelled from their cities to relatively less developed small towns in Jordan, were engaging in a nation-class narrative of superiority over Transjordanians. Such a discourse was clearly offensive, especially to the Transjordanian upper class and middle class who had a comparable education to the Palestinians, although they were smaller in number. Jordanian Christians, disproportionately educated thanks to missionary schools, especially took offense and felt endangered by Palestinian competition. The Palestinian élite, however, lacked political power which would allow it to institutionalize this discourse against the Transjordanians, as its political power was always derived from the Hashemite regime whose antipathy to Palestinian nationalism (and sympathy to a Transjordanian nationalism of its own making) was always in evidence. Moreover, the Palestinian working classes and former peasants, who were living in refugee camps, did not partake in this discourse of superiority, as they lacked any real material superiority over indigenous Transjordanians. On the contrary, their economic lot came to infuriate rich land-owning Jordanians, including Circassians, on some of whose lands the refugee camps were set up by the government. At the time, the land had very little value. As the 1970s encroached and the land appreciated measurably, many among such Transjordanians expressed horror at these “squatters” whom they wanted to evict off the land. Thus nation and class were intertwined in the discourse of both Palestinian and Transjordanian chauvinists at different periods since 1948.

8With the exception of the early opposition to annexation by many Palestinians, most Palestinians came to accept their new status as a fait accompli that they did not wish to challenge. Whereas Palestinian-Jordanians were politically active in the anti-colonial struggle of the 1950s, which centered on Jordan’s relationship to Britain on the one hand, and to Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir’s Egypt on the other, they did so in conjunction with Transjordanians who spearheaded and led the nationalist mobilization efforts. If anything, the popular discontent of the mid 1950s manifested itself in demonstrations which mostly took place on the East Bank where the opposition was based, although many demonstrations took place on the West Bank also. Moreover, imaginary and real threats that the regime claimed to have faced from the military centered exclusively on Transjordanian figures, as, with very few exceptions, there never were high-ranking Palestinian officers in the army.

9This does not mean that Palestinians were completely satisfied with their new situation as Jordanian citizens. Palestinian demands that the Jordanian government treat the West Bank like the East Bank as far as development policies were concerned were being voiced from the start (Plascov 1981, p. 36-37). In 1950, Palestinian merchants, for example, claimed that they were discriminated against in the issuance of import licenses, “a complaint that seems quite reasonable given that two-thirds of the import licenses were given to East Bank residents” (Mishal 1978, p. 21). The Jordanian government, in fact, did channel most development funds into the East Bank, expanding its transportation systems (including railways), as well as developing its agriculture and industry. Jamil Hilal states that the Jordanian government, faced with an economically more advanced West Bank,

followed a specific economic policy based on encouraging investment and the development of some industries only in the East Bank, hoping in the meantime to weaken the productive base of the West Bank…This regionalist/chauvinist (iqlimiyyah) policy manifested itself toward the West Bank through specific practical procedures, the most important of which was the concentration of large industrial projects in the East Bank of Jordan and the placement of obstacles and difficulties in the way of the employment of Palestinian capital in productive projects in the West Bank of Jordan (Hilal 1975, p. 77-176, 133-134).

10This situation led to the migration of many West Bank Palestinians to the East Bank where the bulk of work was, and to the Gulf Arab states (Hilal 1975, p. 82-106). Avi Plascov remarks that the “development of the East Bank was carried out mainly by Palestinians, who, having little option, put their knowledge, skill, and talents at the disposal of the regime. Amman, the kingdom’s backward capital, was to become a flourishing town thus shifting the center of economic gravity” (Plascov 1981, p. 37). “The only sector that was developed at all in the West Bank was tourism on account of the importance of Jerusalem” (Plascov 1981, p. 36). It is unclear if government discrimination was directed at Palestinians generally or at the West Bank more specifically.

11The competition that the 1960s and 1970s ushered in between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian government would expose much of the tension surrounding how those whom Jordanian law rendered Jordanian in December 1949 were to be identified. Indeed, there was little room to allow this population to choose a national identification in any democratic structural manner. Both the PLO (whether under Arab League control until 1968, or under guerrilla control since 1969) and the Jordanian government understood from the onset the high stakes involved in how this population was to be identified. This central question (along with other equally important and related questions) would explode in the civil war and carnage of September 1970.

  • 2 High-ranking PLO official Abu Iyad admits to such mistakes, especially the failure of the guerrilla (...)

12The exclusive rights that the Jordanian State arrogated to itself in representing its Palestinian Jordanian citizens and its Palestinian Jordanian territory could not be sustained much longer in the presence of the armed guerrillas in Jordan. The fact that the guerrillas were divided among several groups under several leaderships (mainly Fath and PFLP) and that these leaderships were not always in control of their rank and file’s activities in the cities, such as brandishing of weapons, collecting “donations” from shop-owners, and in some cases, harassing people, which alienated many, gave the Jordanian government a golden opportunity to attack the guerrillas ideologically as well as militarily. This was made easier by the Palestinian nationalism of the guerrillas, who ignored Transjordanians in their mobilization campaigns and gave credence to regime claims (borne out by PFLP slogans for example) that the guerrillas wanted to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state.2

13The Jordanian government policies also failed to include Palestinian-identified Jordanians in its vision. Despite its rhetoric of demographic unity, many of its actions contradicted such assertions. An important example from this period was the reaction of the Jordanian military after the King’s motorcade was attacked on June 9, 1970. Bedouin units shelled two refugee camps in Amman in response. As ‘Adnan Abu ‘Awdah states, the “army reaction was both revealing and alarming. The choice of two refugee camps as the target of the army’s anger implied that the army looked on all Palestinians as an extension of the fedayeen and vice versa” (Abu-Odeh 1999, p. 177). This was not an isolated act. The government had in fact undertaken the convening of a series of anti-Palestinian conferences among Bedouin tribes and in Jordanian villages throughout the spring and summer of 1970 to mobilize “Jordanians” for the coming onslaught in September.

  • 3 See the Lebanese newspaper, Al-Nahar (November 11, 1971) cited by Murad 1973, p. 130.
  • 4 Muna told her father that:
    “I am ashamed of what you are doing… I cannot believe that Amman, Salt a (...)

14In the few days preceding the Civil War and in the days during which it was fought, 5,000 Palestinian and Transjordanian members of the Jordanian armed forces deserted their posts and joined the resistance (Al-Edroos 1980, p. 459), but they were not alone; the Jordanian Military Chief of Staff, Mashhur Hadithah Al-Jazi (of the southern Huwaytat tribe) resigned his position and was subsequently placed under house arrest by the government due to his perceived sympathies for the guerrillas (Murad 1973, p. 130). One senior Jordanian officer, Bahjat Al-Muhaysin, from the southern town of Tafilah, was convicted by a military court for disobeying orders by refusing to fire on the city of Irbid during the Civil War.3Moreover, the government-appointed military governor, the Palestinian Muhammad Dawud (who was asked by the government to form his military government on September 16 as a prelude to launching the government’s military campaign against the guerrillas), resigned and requested asylum in Libya after being disowned by his daughter Muna on 19 September 1970, on “Voice of the Palestinian Revolution” radio station broadcasting from Baghdad.4

  • 5 See Markaz al-Abhath 1971, p. 5.
  • 6 On the trial of the four Palestinian assassins, see Shuqayri 1972. This book was republished in Bei (...)

15With the defeat of the guerrilla forces in 1970, their remaining power in the country continued to erode until they were finally routed to the northern towns of Jerash and ‘Ajlun where they were finally assaulted by the Jordanian army forcing all remaining guerrilla units outside the country. To erase the memory of the Civil War and the competing but now defeated Palestinian political presence, the Jordanian government destroyed the “Tomb of the Unknown Martyr” in 1971, which had been erected by the PLO in Amman the previous year, following the September 1970 massacres.5 Finally, as an act of final revenge on the part of the Palestinians, Prime Minister Wasfi Al-Tall who had co-engineered Black September and who was in office during the final assault in the summer of 1971, was gunned down in Cairo on November 28, 1971, by a new Palestinian guerrilla group calling itself Black September.6

16In the wake of the Civil War, the new civilian government of Wasfi Al-Tall had embarked on massive purges of the government’s bureaucracy and military ridding them of any guerrilla supporters. This effectively meant that large numbers of Palestinian officers and bureaucrats, and a number of Transjordanians, were dismissed from their jobs. This was concomitant with Al-Tall’s war on the newspapers and the massive arrests that the government launched against “subversives” (Al-Khalili 1975).

17Many of the newspapers were closed down and had their licenses withdrawn and their Palestinian editors dismissed (including ‘Arafat Hijazi, Ibrahim Al-Shanti, and ‘Abd al-Hafiz Muhammad – Susser 1994, p. 156-160, Sayigh 1987, p. 58-60). Al-Tall started a new newspaper in 1971, called Al-Ra’y or “The Opinion,” which remains to this day Jordan’s largest daily.

  • 7 The King’s Speech, September 7, 1971 (Majmu‘at Khutab, p. 301). I should note that the literal tran (...)

18Within two months of the final liquidation of the Palestinian guerrillas in the country, the Jordanian monarch, upon the advice of Wasfi Al-Tall, embarked on a new national project, which he called the “National Union” or “Al-Ittihad Al-Watani.” Husayn declared, from his Basman Palace, the formation of the Union on September 7 amidst much media fanfare. It was going to be the only legal political organization in the country as all parties remained banned. He addressed the “one Jordanian family” asserting that after the preceding year and as a result of its difficult events, there arose “the need for the establishment of a general organization [tanzim] which includes all the people, men and women, wherein [this organization will] organize the energies and potential of society and will direct it toward specified and clear goals.”7The king insisted that the National Union was not a political party at all, rather he conceived of it as “a general framework which organizes life and human beings in our beloved country, it is an immense crucible which melts all our energies, with all the differences and varieties [of these energies], in order to make of its outcome the Jordanian miracle which will open for us the road to victory.” In fact, the National Union, which was conceived by Wasfi Al-Tall, had another important purpose, namely, the formation of a popular base of support for the regime. Still, its declared purpose was to unify the citizenry into one national identity that had been torn asunder by the Civil War.

  • 8 King’s Speech Opening the National Union Conference, November 25, 1971 (Al-Watha’iq 1971, p. 247).
  • 9 The royal decision was published in Al-Watha’iq 1971, p. 291-292.

19The first National Union Conference took place on November 25, 1971 in Amman. The king invited 2400 “representatives” of the people to attend. He took the opportunity to affirm to the people of Jordan, whom he addressed as “my brothers and sisters in the two beloved banks,” that “the Union is your Union. It is for everyone of you and of every one of you.”8Wasfi Al-Tall, the Union’s architect, did not live long to pursue his project. He was killed three days later. Still, the king pursued the project and on December 9, 1971, appointed a Temporary Higher Executive Committee for the National Union.9The National Union included a large number of Transjordanians, some of whom former leftists. It also included a number of Palestinian Jordanians who stood by the regime during its confrontation with the guerrillas. Such figures as ‘Adnan Abu ‘Awdah, a West Banker, formerly an operative of the Mukhabarat who later served in the king’s military government set up a week before the Black September massacres (he later occupied several ministerial and ambassadorial positions as well as the position of advisor to both King Husayn and King ‘Abdullah II), and Mustafa Dudin, formerly part of the national movement of the 1950s and later a collaborator in the 1970s and 1980s with the Israeli occupation authorities in their Village Leagues scheme in the West Bank (Hirst 1984, p. 390), were, at the time, ministers in Al-Tall’s post-liquidation government. Dudin (who was minister of social affairs) was appointed secretary-general of the Union while Abu ‘Awdah (who was information minister) was appointed a member of the executive committee and later secretary general of the union (Abu-Odeh 1999, p. 201).

20The Union used the mass circulation newspaper Al-Ra’y as its mouthpiece. Despite all the attention surrounding the Union, interest in it began to wane slowly after Al-Tall’s assassination leading the government to finally dissolve it in February 1976 (Susser 1994, p. 163, Musa 1980, p. 65). This, however, was not caused by the government’s disinterest in redefining the country’s national identity (the express goal of the National Union), but rather that the government found a new framework for that redefinition, namely, the United Arab Kingdom.

21The United Arab Kingdom (al-Mamlakah al-‘Arabiyyah al-Muttahidah) was proposed by the king in March 1972 in response to the increasing threat the PLO came to constitute to Jordanian claims in international fora. It was slated to include a federated Jordan comprising two autonomous provinces: the West Bank and the East Bank, each with its own governor, parliament and government, dealing with all matters except foreign affairs, the military and the unity of the kingdom. These matters would be controlled by the central government. The capital of the United Arab Kingdom was going to be Amman. Arab reaction to the king’s plan was swift. Syria and Egypt broke off relations and the PLO accused the king of liquidating the Palestinian cause by proposing autonomy rather than independence for the Palestinians (Sayigh 1984, p. 64). The project for the United Kingdom went nowhere as the vociferous Palestinian opposition to it continued unabated. The project was quietly withdrawn as the king and the Jordanian government no longer made references to it (Sayigh 1984, p. 65).

  • 10 “Radd Majlis Al-Nuwwab ‘ala Khitab Al-‘Arsh Al-Sami” (The Response of the People’s Assembly to the (...)

22The PLO continued to pursue its recent claim of being the sole representative of the Palestinian people – a claim that began to be firmly asserted after the guerrilla groups took over its leadership. Such declarations were being made at the Palestine National Council (PNC) meetings as well as to the press and in PLO publications. The Jordanian government refused such statements vehemently. The Jordanian parliament responded by affirming that “every claim and pretense of representing the Palestinian people is a conspiracy based on killing national unity and inciting division and separation among the sons of the one homeland.” The Parliament proceeded to “declare that the Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom, with its two banks, includes one people within one state represented by His Majesty the Exalted King and legitimate state authorities.”10

  • 11 King Husayn, Speech delivered on 30 November 1974, reproduced inHusayn b. Talal 1978, p. 497. ‘Adna (...)

23Jordanian and PLO jockeying for position on the issue of representation continued unabated. In 1973, the PLO was recognized by the non-aligned nations at the fourth summit of the movement in Algiers as “a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” and in November was recognized by the Arab League in a secret resolution as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people,” about which Jordan expressed its reservations. Finally, the situation came to a close with the open Arab League decision issued at the Seventh Arab League Summit, held in Rabat in October 1974, recognizing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people wherever they are, which was soon followed by international recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the United Nations General Assembly. In response, King Husayn declared at the Arab Summit that, based on this recognition of the PLO, Jordan has been rendered practically exempt from all political responsibility toward the Palestinian Cause, for this responsibility has been demanded by the PLO for itself. Following these developments, the king reorganized the Jordanian cabinet whereby Palestinian representation was reduced (Sakhnini 1975, p. 70-72). In a speech he gave after his return from the Arab Summit, however, the king asserted that the Jordanians, whether “Muhajirin or Ansar,” referring to Palestinians and Transjordanians respectively with terms from Muslim history, are “one tribe and one family.”11 He continued to use the “Muhajirin and Ansar” analogy for the rest of his life, even after he severed administrative and juridical ties with the West Bank and its Jordanian citizens in the summer of 1988.

24Whereas the “unification” of Jordan and Central Palestine in 1949-50, like the very establishment of Transjordan in 1921, was legitimated politically by appeals to Hashemite Arab nationalism, and was effected through juridical measures, the “separation” of the West Bank from the East Bank in 1988, in light of the first Intifada, was carried out by appeals to regionally-based Palestinian and Jordanian nationalisms and the repudiation of Hashemite Arab nationalism, and was effected by new juridical measures (although the actual separation was carried out extra-juridically, all commensurate measures to denationalize the West Bank and its Jordanian citizens were carried out juridically). The state’s official adoption of an East Bank-based Jordanian nationalism as the new ideology gave a strong push to societal forces, which the state and the regime had encouraged since the 1940s, who were calling for a separation between citizenship and nationality and asserting an exclusivist nationalism which excluded large segments of the citizen population as non-Jordanian. These forces were unleashed in 1989 after the partial democratic opening liberalized the press and the political process. They took the denationalization of the West Bank Jordanians as their cue and evidence that not all Jordanian citizens belong to the Jordanian nation, and that, as foreigners, they must therefore be excluded from it.

Popular Assertions of Palestinian and Jordanian identities

  • 12 Contrast for example the pre-1970 pictures of the king included in his autobiography (King Husayn19 (...)

25Since the Civil War, the search was proceeding for new extra-juridical and extra-military symbols of the new Jordanianness, specifically in the popular realm. On the official level, the government was setting up a number of clubs fostering the celebration of “Jordanian national culture.” One such club, named Nadi Ihia’ al-Turath al-Sha‘bi al-Urduni (The Revival of Jordanian Folk Culture Club), was headed by none other than Wasfi al-Tall’s wife, Sa‘diyyah. The club organized its first show of Jordanian folk fashion in the summer of 1971, representing both banks (Al-‘Amad, p. 307). On the societal level, for example, Transjordanian urban male youth began to assert their Jordanianness sartorially. They started to wear the red-and-white shmagh or hatta (which was originally coined as exclusively Jordanian by Glubb Pasha in the 1930s) as a winter scarf around their necks as an assertion of national pride. Palestinian Jordanians followed suit by wearing the black-and-white hatta as a scarf with those among them seeking assimilation wearing the red-and-white hatta. The urban youths’ donning of the red-and-white hatta, was in fact, following in King Husayn’s footsteps, who began to wear the red-and-white hatta as a head-gear much more frequently after 1970, especially when he addressed tribal leaders, the military, or when on trips to the Arab states of the Gulf.12Moreover, the king’s picture wearing the shmagh appeared on Jordanian currency bills as well as on Jordanian postage stamps. Clothing items, however, were not enough to assert one’s national loyalty, and there emerged a whole new corpus of markers to assert it more strongly.

  • 13 For example, words like “katlah” meaning “a beating” or “wakit” meaning “time” pronounced the “qaf” (...)

26One of the most important developments of this period was the battle of the accents, or what came to be defined as a “Jordanian accent” and a “Palestinian accent.” Whereas most urban Palestinians pronounce all words which have the letter “qaf” in classical Arabic as a glottal stop in colloquial, as opposed to rural Palestinians who, depending on the region, would pronounce the “qaf” as it is, or as a “kaf,” or as a “ga” and Palestinian Bedouins who would pronounce the “qaf” as a “ga,” most Jordanian men after 1970, regardless of urban, rural, or Bedouin backgrounds, began to pronounce the “qaf” as a “ga.” Jordanian accents, however, also varied from north to south, and between the rural population and the Bedouins, not to mention educated town Jordanians, who, from the 1920s through the 1960s, studied in Palestinian and Syrian schools in Palestinian and Syrian cities and acquired urban accents. Also, most Palestinian and Syrian Jordanians whose families had been in the country since the 1920s or earlier also spoke with an urban accent. Moreover, for many Jordanian villagers, not all words with “qaf” are pronounced with a “ga” sound, many are in fact pronounced with a “kaf” sound.13

27This situation changed drastically after the Civil War. The “Jordanian” and “Palestinian” accents were redefined rigidly as national markers. They also acquired a gendered attribute. After 1970, most urban Jordanian men began pronouncing all “qafs” as “ga,” asserting it as “masculine” and as “Jordanian,” whereas Jordanian urban women retained their glottal stop as a “feminine” characteristic. Many young Palestinian Jordanian urban men, feeling feminized by the new accent configuration, began using the “ga” instead of the glottal stop as an assertion of masculinity, especially when in the company of men (particularly if these men were Transjordanian – Sawalha 1996, p. 353-354). Interesting about this new situation was that most Transjordanians and Palestinian Jordanians believed that these indeed were essential and rigid accents that were national markers, when in fact, a large number of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan’s refugee camps, and who hail from rural backgrounds in the south, have always pronounced the “qaf” as a “ga” and not as glottal stop. The difference between both ways of pronunciation, for these Palestinian refugees, remains one between an urban accent (madani) and a rural accent (fellahi).

28Another aspect of further polarization was the new reference to Palestinian Jordanians as “Baljikiyyah,” meaning Belgians. It is unclear what the origin of this anti-Palestinian epithet is, although a number of stories circulate. The most credible states that the Palestinian guerrillas wore Belgian-made military boots and fatigues which distinguished them from the US-equipped Jordanian army which in turn led to calling them “Belgians.” Other stories include that during the 1970 Civil War, many Transjordanians suggested that they get rid of the Palestinians by shipping them to Belgium (a far away country), or that there was supposed to be some shipment of arms coming to the guerrillas from Belgium (there is nothing in fact to support this claim), etc. Still, the epithet “Baljikiyyah” is intended to render Palestinian Jordanians foreign – non-Jordanian and non-Arab – thus denationalizing them. This epithet continues to be used as a national insult against Palestinian Jordanians today.

29Expressions of Palestinian Jordanian and Transjordanian solidarity with Palestinians outside Jordan were also muted. During Israel’s 1978 invasion of Lebanon, many Palestinian Jordanians and Transjordanians volunteered to go to Lebanon to fight with the PLO. Large demonstrations were held to push the government to permit the volunteers to go to Lebanon. The government responded with bullets killing a number of demonstrators (mostly students and one teacher) and arresting a large number of them. Many Transjordanians participated in these demonstrations especially from the town of Sahab neighboring the Wihdat refugee camp south east of Amman. The king intervened chastising the police and ordering the release of those arrested, while at the same time the government issued directives against the holding of any public demonstrations (Zurayqat 1978, p. 190-193). The situation repeated itself after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when many of the volunteers were sent home by the Jordanian government, after their passports were confiscated and after being subject to intense interrogations by the Mukhabarat (Brand 1991, p. 181-182).

  • 14 Fahd Al-Fanik expressed this opinion in a discussion with the author at the New Jordan Studies Cent (...)
  • 15 “Hik ‘allamna al-Husayn, sha‘b wahid la sha‘bayn.”

30Another battle that raged in the country from the 1970s through the present is the football battle wherein Palestinian refugee teams (especially al-Wihdat) and Jordanian teams (initially al-Ramtha and later al-Faysali) seemed to stand in for the bifurcated nature of Jordanian identity (Wihdat standing in for Palestinians and Ramtha and Faysali standing in for Transjordanians). Football does not only serve to divide the population, but, as happened on some occasions, to unify them. At the Arab football championship held in Beirut in the summer of 1997, the Jordanian national team (composed of the best players from all Jordanian clubs including Wihdat) won the championship defeating the Syrian national team. At the end of the game, which most of the people of Jordan watched on satellite television at home or in cafes, thousands of people and cars crowded the streets of Jordan’s cities and towns, especially Amman, where cars stopped in the middle of the streets and young men and women danced, bringing traffic to a complete halt for hours. King Husayn chartered a plane to bring the players home from Beirut. Upon arrival, the team toured Amman’s streets in a massive convoy with supporters (men and women) lining all of Amman’s major thoroughfares. Many Jordanian news columnists saw this as a sign of Palestinian-Jordanian unity under one Jordanian identity. Fahd Al-Fanik, Jordan’s most outspoken exclusivist Jordanian nationalist, stressed that this unity was certain, because it did not express itself against a non-Arab foreign team but against an Arab team, affirming that Palestinian Jordanians and Transjordanians inhabit the same national identity, at least in an international context.14 When the games were held in Amman in August 1999, the Jordanian team played against the first Palestinian national team, which was formed under the Palestinian Authority. West Bank Palestinians, who had traditionally rooted for the Jordanian team, were now rooting for the new Palestinian team. The Palestinian team lost to the Jordanians 4 to 1. Some clashes among fans ensued in the streets but were contained by the heavy police presence. I should note here that 8 of the 11 members of the Jordanian team are Palestinian Jordanians. During the game, the crowds chanted a rhyming couplet: “This is what al-Husayn taught us, one people, not two.”15 By all accounts, Palestinian Jordanians, like their Transjordanian compatriots, supported the Jordanian team, especially so since they were heavily represented in its ranks.

31Despite the increasing discriminatory practices of the Jordanian government since 1970 through the present (in education, in government employment, in cultural policies, etc.) and the heightened anti-Palestinian-Jordanian chauvinism of a major segment of the Transjordanian intellectual elite (in addition to Fanik, prominent representatives of this group include Nahid Hattar, ‘Abd al-Hadi al-Majali, Ahmad ‘Uwaydi Al-‘Abbadi, interalia, with Christian Jordanians disproportionately represented among them), as expressed in newspaper articles, lectures, and other public disclosures, Palestinian identity in Jordan remains largely framed by the Jordanian national physical and psychological borders within which they live.

32To be sure, the discourse of exclusivist Jordanian nationalists has a material basis, which is in turn interpreted through a nationalist interpretive grid. This goes back to the dawn of the Transjordanian-Palestinian relationship in the country. To begin with, chauvinists view the arrival of Palestinian refugees in the country in 1948 as having had a negative impact on Jordan’s economic situation. As state financial resources were stretched to their limits, Transjordanians suffered measurably. Many Transjordanian exclusivist nationalists point to that period as important, wherein the Palestinian refugees, as recipients of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) largesse, were better off than the poorer Transjordanians who had to compete with the Palestinians for meager state resources without access to UNRWA benefits. Moreover, the influence of the merchant class (composed largely of Palestinians and Syrians and a small number of Transjordanians) on the regime was seen as detrimental to the majority of Transjordanians who were heavily employed in the public sector (both the military and the state bureaucracy). The failure of the economy in the late 1980s and the IMF-induced drive for privatization was viewed by exclusivist Jordanian nationalists as detrimental to the economic welfare of Transjordanians, as the beneficiaries of privatization would inevitably be the country’s merchant class and foreign capital at the expense of the bureaucracy. To these nationalists, this signaled a loss of bureaucratic power, which as mentioned earlier, was one of the mainstays (along with the military) of Transjordanian influence in the country.

33What these exclusivist nationalists fail to account for, however, is that privatization, in addition to benefitting the existing merchant class, was in fact expanding the ranks of the Transjordanian bourgeoisie through accelerating a Transjordanian exodus from the over-inflated bureaucracy to the private sector through preferential treatment. Most of the new bids solicited by the state and its bureaucracy were given to Transjordanians (albeit of settled or of northern Bedouin origins), who are also the beneficiaries of bureaucratic favoritism on account of Transjordanian hegemony in the bureaucracy. Members of the existing merchant class (who are mostly of Palestinian and Syrian origins) have complained privately of loss of business to this new class of Transjordanians as well as of bureaucratic discrimination by state institutions. Some see privatization as a sort of “affirmative action”, a redistribution of wealth from the ranks of the existing business class to the new bureaucratic-cum-business class composed of Transjordanians. The difficulties facing the Palestinian Jordanian business élite are such that they have recently “resorted to employing Transjordanians whose job it is to ensure that their company’s official transactions get through the obstructive bureaucracy”(Abu-Odeh 1999, p. 197). ‘Urayb Rantawi, a Palestinian Jordanian columnist, spoke of how Jordanian society had a division of labor, wherein Palestinian Jordanians (who are mostly employers and employed in the private sector) pay state taxes while Transjordanians (mostly employed in the bureaucracy and the military) consume them (Rantawi 1995).

34These nationalist discourses completely elide the class differentiation in both communities. The reality of the matter is that the southern poorer part of the country, like the urban poor throughout Jordan’s cities, is suffering disproportionately, as most southern Transjordanians are more dependent on the state for employment. As the state bureaucracy contracts, so do their incomes. As for the poor urban Palestinian Jordanians, thanks to IMF and World Bank policies, they can no longer eke out a living in a globalized economy. What is problematic, however, in this nationalist discourse of nation-class is that the exclusivist nationalists positing it see the Palestinian segment of the merchant class as representing all the Palestinians in the country. Whereas the Transjordanian section of the merchant class has increased measurably in the last two decades (capital accumulation among this sector resulted from profits made during the 1970s land speculation drive, as most of the country’s land is owned by Transjordanians, and from IMF-induced privatization since 1989), these accounts ignore such developments. In fact, conspiracy theories among these exclusivist nationalists abound. One such conspiracy theory sees any Palestinian land purchases in the country as attempts to transfer lands from Transjordanians to Palestinians as part of a larger project of transforming Jordan into a Palestinian state.

35Whereas in the 1920s, Jordanian national identity was initially formed representing nativist interests against a foreign British-Hashemite state staffed by the British and by a coterie of Arabs from neighboring countries, it later adopted a pan-Arab nationalist vision, which manifested itself in the 1930s through active solidarity with the neighboring Palestinians’ struggle against the British and the Zionists and during the 1940s through its continued opposition to the British and to their presence in Jordan following independence in 1946. Its pan-Arab vision was further strengthened in the 1950s through ‘Abd al-Nasir’s Arab unionist nationalism. Concomitant with the Arab nationalist identity that was solidified during the 1950s, however, a particularist/exclusivist Jordanian nationalist trend was emerging. The arrival of Palestinians in 1948 along with the annexation of the West Bank inaugurated this trend which was given a push after the assassination of King ‘Abdullah by a Palestinian in 1951. Exclusivist nationalists attempted to draw comparisons between their post-1948 exclusivist nationalism and the nativist opposition of the 1920s to the colonial and Hashemite apparatus. This trend continued during the 1950s, albeit checked by Arab nationalism until the end of the decade, and acquired momentum in the 1960s after the failure of the Egypto-Syrian union signaling a major blow to unionist Arab nationalism. This trend was further strengthened by the emergence of the Palestinian guerrilla groups which threatened Jordanian regime claims to represent Palestinian lands (the West Bank) and the Palestinian people (those who became Jordanian citizens after 1948), and by the coup de grâce the June 1967 War delivered to unionist Arab nationalism. This particularist/exclusivist Jordanian nationalist trend was finally solidified in 1970 during and after the Civil War.

36Whereas the Jordanian nativist identity, and subsequently Jordanian Arab nationalist identity, saw foreign colonial powers as the other against whom they defined themselves, the particularist/exclusivist Jordanian national identity that was developing since the 1950s, and which was solidified after 1970, saw Palestinian Jordanians as the other against whom it defined itself. Following the 1988 disengagement from the West Bank and the 1989 liberalization of the regime, exclusivist Jordanian nationalists emerged in the open as enemies of Palestinian Jordanians. For them, the very presence of Palestinian Jordanians in Jordan had placed Jordanian national identity in jeopardy. Mustafa Wahbah Al-Tall’s 1920s nativist cry “Jordan for the Jordanians” was appropriated and mobilized by these exclusivist nationalists against the Palestinians. However, their discourse of exclusivist nationalism is not only based on the internal history of Jordan vis-à-vis its Palestinian Jordanian citizens, but also due to increasing Israeli claims since the 1970s that Jordan is the real Palestine which should be converted into a Palestinian state (Ni‘mat 2000, p. 4). The more recent campaign by King Abdullah, dubbed “Jordan First,” conceived in October 2002 in order to secure his regime from regional developments and threats in light of the eruption of the second Intifada and the American invasion of Iraq, has in fact been viewed by some Palestinian Jordanians as meaning “Palestinians, last,” and by some Transjordanians as “Jordanians, last.” Indeed Fahd al-Fanik insisted that the policy should be not “Jordan First,” but “Jordanians First.”

37Many East Bank Palestinian Jordanians are content to be both Jordanians and Palestinians, wherein they realize that their Palestinian identity is thoroughly inflected by its development in the national context of Jordan, and wherein, for the majority among them, Jordan is the only physical home they ever knew. They vehemently reject the recent attempts to de-Palestinize them by an exclusivist Jordanian nationalism. Moreover, although a large number of Palestinians supported the PLO in 1970, many others did not, evidenced by those who served the regime. Only 5000 out of tens of thousands of military personnel actually defected to the guerrillas (and this number includes Transjordanians), and, as Palestinians, they have not staged any revolts against Jordan, not even during the 1970 Civil War or in its aftermath (Brand 1991, p. 219-220). Virtually all internal military threats to the regime came from Transjordanian elements in the military. The more recent popular uprisings took place in southern almost exclusively Transjordanian cities with no Palestinian Jordanian participation whatsoever. The fact that after 1970 many Palestinian men, like Transjordanian urban men, began to speak in a hybrid accent of Palestinian and Jordanian, that since 1970, mansaf, Jordan’s invented national dish, is cooked equally by urban Palestinians (who, unlike southern rural and Bedouin Palestinians, did not know it before), as it is by Transjordanians, and is served on certain occasions (weddings and funerals) as it is in the Transjordanian community, and that intermarriage between the two communities is so high in the cities that it would be difficult to disentangle the national “origins” of the offspring except through paternalist conceptions of nationality, all attest to the conclusion that these aspects of state-sponsored Jordanian national identity are not repudiated, but rather adopted and internalized as they are not taken as substitutes for or competitive with Palestinian national identity, but rather as complementary.

38In fact, urban and rural Palestinian Jordanians like urban non-Bedouin Transjordanians have been equally susceptible to the State’s Bedouinization of Jordanian identity, especially after 1970, whereby they also use aspects of tribal law to resolve many social disputes (especially deaths resulting from car accidents and intentional or unintentional shootings), and to inaugurate important social occasions (such as the Jahat al-Tulbah, the man’s family delegation asking for a woman’s hand in marriage, which was practiced only among the rural and Bedouin but not the urban Palestinian population before). Indeed, Jordan’s football victory in the summer of 1997 over Syria was seen as a victory by Palestinian Jordanians too, since they recognize themselves as Jordanians in this inter-Arab context, wherein many of the Jordanian players are Palestinian Jordanians. This situation became even clearer when Palestinian Jordanians supported the Jordanian national team against the Palestinian national team in 1999. Transjordanian exclusivist nationalists were watching the crowds with a hawk eye for any signs of national “disloyalty.” Such a litmus test that the exclusivists require is predicated on their belief that the Jordanian national team represents “Jordan” as defined by their exclusivist terms. Palestinian Jordanians, however, view it clearly as inclusive and thus as reflective of their own national presence in the country and therefore see no contradiction in supporting it. What the exclusivists demand as litmus test, however, is for the Palestinian Jordanians to view the team as Jordanian in an exclusivist way and still support it. It is unclear if similar tests would be required of Transjordanian Christian or Muslim nationalists, or Transjordanian Arab or Circassian nationalists, Transjordanian northern or southern nationalists, if members of their respective communities were competing against a member of the other communities, or of the Chechen community, if the Jordanian national team was playing against the Chechen national team. If the results of these tests reveal the limits of Jordanian national identity and its constitutive parts, then, for the sake of consistency, they should be required of all of Jordan’s varied communities. The fact that it is Palestinian Jordanians who are the main group subjected to this inquisition shows how much their recent production as an “other” has become the organizing principle of constituting the new Jordanian “self.”


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*  This paper is essentially a shorter version of a chapter taken from my book, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan, New York, Columbia University Press, Copyright 2001. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

2 High-ranking PLO official Abu Iyad admits to such mistakes, especially the failure of the guerrillas to appeal to Transjordanians (Abu Iyad 1981, p. 76). It should be noted however, that Fath had sought to include many Transjordanian nationalists in its activities, inviting them to attend Palestine National Council meetings as observers. These included many former nationalist politicians and Free Officers, including Sulayman al-Nabulsi, Sa‘id al-Mufti, ‘Akif al-Fayiz, Mahmud al-Rusan, Jamal al-Sha‘ir, Ja‘far al-Shami, Dafi Jam‘ani, Mahmud al-Ma‘ayta, et al. Court historian Sulayman Musa claims that the popularity of Fath was such that some high-ranking Transjordanian officials in the government would wear Fath uniforms to work (Musa 1996, p. 365).

3 See the Lebanese newspaper, Al-Nahar (November 11, 1971) cited by Murad 1973, p. 130.

4 Muna told her father that:
“I am ashamed of what you are doing… I cannot believe that Amman, Salt and Zarqa are burning. The lackey authorities are setting them on fire. Fire is burning the youth, the women, the children and the old people. I wish I had never been born; I wish I had never seen you so that no one could say that I was your daughter –the daughter of the executioner Mohammed Daoud… Father, I will join the ranks of the fighters to liberate Amman and Palestine. Goodbye father. You may find me among the debris caused by the napalm bombs –your bombs. Revolution until Victory. Your daughter.”
Muna’s letter is cited in Markaz al-Abhath 1971, p. 77, and in Carré 1980, p. 48. On Dawud’s resignation as prime minister and as army officer on September 24 and his request for asylum in Libya, see Markaz al-Abhath 1971, p. 78 and Lunt 1989, p. 143.

5 See Markaz al-Abhath 1971, p. 5.

6 On the trial of the four Palestinian assassins, see Shuqayri 1972. This book was republished in Beirut as Inni Attahim, (I Accuse) Beirut, Dar Al-‘Awdah, 1973. The title of the second edition is presumably evoking Emile Zola’s famous statement in condemnation of French anti-Semitism manifested in the Dreyfus Affair at the turn of the century, which began with “J’accuse.”

7 The King’s Speech, September 7, 1971 (Majmu‘at Khutab, p. 301). I should note that the literal translation of this sentence is “the need for the establishment of a general organization that includes all the people’s sons and daughters…” which is a figure of speech referring to all Jordanian men and women.

8 King’s Speech Opening the National Union Conference, November 25, 1971 (Al-Watha’iq 1971, p. 247).

9 The royal decision was published in Al-Watha’iq 1971, p. 291-292.

10 “Radd Majlis Al-Nuwwab ‘ala Khitab Al-‘Arsh Al-Sami” (The Response of the People’s Assembly to the Speech from the Paramount Throne), December 8, 1971, published in Al-Watha’iq, p. 281.

11 King Husayn, Speech delivered on 30 November 1974, reproduced inHusayn b. Talal 1978, p. 497. ‘Adnan Abu ‘Awdah claims that the king began to use the Muslim analogy after Black September (Abu-Odeh 1999, p. 211).

12 Contrast for example the pre-1970 pictures of the king included in his autobiography (King Husayn1962) and in Vance and Lauer 1968 on the one hand, where the red-and-white hatta is nowhere in sight, with the post-1970 pictures in and on the cover of Lunt 1989, and on the jacket of the Arabic edition of the royal autobiography (King Husayn1978), where the hatta is ubiquitous.

13 For example, words like “katlah” meaning “a beating” or “wakit” meaning “time” pronounced the “qaf” as a “ka” not a “ga.” Other words include “qum” and “qut” which are pronounced “kum” and “kut” respectively by Karakis and Madabites. For the different pronunciations of qaf and kaf in Jordan, see Al-‘Uzayzi 1973-1974, p. 15-16.

14 Fahd Al-Fanik expressed this opinion in a discussion with the author at the New Jordan Studies Center in Amman on August 4, 1997.

15 “Hik ‘allamna al-Husayn, sha‘b wahid la sha‘bayn.”


Associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), Columbia University, New York.

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