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In Amman, life moves in slow motion

In Jordan, which shares a border with Israel and the West Bank, a heavy atmosphere has prevailed since October

Residents of Amman, Jordan, march in support of Palestinians in Gaza in April 2024.(Reuters)

By Yamuna Matheswaran

LAST PUBLISHED 11.04.2024  |  07:00 AM IST

On a Tuesday evening outside the al-Kalouti mosque in Amman, Jordan, a crowd of men, women and children has gathered. They carry Palestinian flags and hold placards that read: “Food, Water and Medicine are Rights Not Privileges" and “Stop Ethnic Cleansing". Some display images of Benjamin Netanyahu, Joe Biden and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi alongside condemnatory messages. In a voice close to breaking, a man yells: “We’re sorry, people of Gaza."

In Jordan, which shares a border with Israel and the West Bank, a heavy atmosphere has prevailed since October. Over half of Jordan’s population is Palestinian or of Palestinian origin, and in the capital of Amman, that number is far higher. Many have family in Palestine. “People are living in a ghost-like state," said Jumana Abdin, a Palestinian Jordanian woman who lives and works in Amman. “It’s like my life is moving in slow motion. Looking at how the world is reacting and how people still justify the killing shows just how much our lives are worth in their eyes." It triggers many emotions, she said, especially for the older generation that went through the Nakba, or the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

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“In Germany you have to wonder if you might get in trouble for expressing support for Palestine, but Amman feels like a refuge," said David Ghannam, a Palestinian German working in the development sector in Amman, who travelled to Gaza in early 2023. “There’s a sense of unity in Amman. We’re all collectively mourning the loss of innocent lives."

Across Amman, signs of solidarity are ever-present: Palestinian flags hanging from shopfronts and in cafes; watermelon imagery on billboards, clothing and stationery; people donning keffiyehs; daily demonstrations near the mosque. Fundraisers are regularly held for Gaza, and businesses have carried out strikes in solidarity. Starbucks and McDonald's stores across the city remain empty. In supermarkets, customers are embracing local products, a shift that stems from a refusal to purchase products from countries actively supporting Israel, such as the US and Germany.

Another byproduct of the war has been a drastic drop in the number of tourists arriving in Jordan. Petra, which used to draw 4,000-5,000 daily visitors prior to October, has seen as few as 400 visitors on some days, according to the regional tourism authority. Bedouin-run shops in the famous archeological site remain deserted. “We went through difficult days because the Bedouins’ main source of income is tourism," said Hussein W, who runs the Harmony Luxury Camp in Wadi Rum. “Now the situation is better as visitors who did come spread the word saying things here are safe and stable. But we hope for an end to the war."

During the month of Ramadan, Amman’s streets usually come alive with decorations and a festive air descends as people break their fasts at sunset with a variety of foods. This Ramadan, however, was different. “People are [hesitant] to exhibit any sense of celebration," said Abdin. “Streets are less busy, restaurants are emptier, and people are staying at home more. On the other hand, fasting for over 14 hours heightened our sense of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Gaza, who are going days without food or water."

Yamuna Matheswaran is an independent journalist based in Jordan and India.