Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Jordan

Syrian Refugees on Giving Birth in the Desert: ‘I Thought I Was Going to Die’ 

More than 60,000 people are stranded on a remote strip of desert on the far eastern border between Jordan and Syria—two thirds of them women and children.

They’re in the demilitarized zone between Jordan and Syria, a stretch of rugged, sun-baked desert about four kilometers deep, bordered on the north and south by bulldozed earthen embankments, also known as berms.

It’s as inhospitable a place as you can imagine. Yet over the past seven or eight months, it has become temporary home to a glut of Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan, and the parasites who feed on them: smugglers, bandits, and Islamic State militants.

On the southern side, the area is policed by the Jordanian army, who say they have collected evidence—photographs from mobile phones, weapons, and bomb-making material—of Isis supporters and militants living on the berm, scattered amongst genuine refugees.  (So why called demilitarized zone?)

The queue for asylum in Jordan is long, hampered by deep suspicion and lengthy security checks. Humanitarian agencies provide food, water, and some medical care from earthen berm, but soldiers and aid workers do not venture into the demilitarized zone. On the northern, eastern, and western sides there is no order at all as the chaotic settlement sprawls farther by the day.

What we know about life on the berm comes mainly from the testimonies of those Syrians later admitted into Jordan and housed at Azraq refugee camp. And in these accounts, there is a sharp gender divide.

Sat cross-legged in their shelters at Azraq, the men who survived the berm describe a near-Darwinian struggle for survival. Most speak of keeping their heads down in an uncontrolled, increasingly violent community after paying smugglers hundreds of dollars per person to get there. They refer to frequent inter-tribal fighting, an extortionate black market, the bad apples who regularly incite rioting when refugees queue up for food or aid, and a creeping panic that something might happen to their wives, daughters, and sisters. Few are willing to put into words what that “something” might be.

My second dispatch from the wasteland between Jordan and Syria, where 60,000+ people are marooned in the desert.

The women who survived the berm at first have little to say. They look aside and say they didn’t see much: they spent most of their time inside the tent. But over time, the stories start to trickle out: the babies delivered in the desert; the honeymoon spent in darkness; the blind panic as the sound of rioting approaches your tent, and you grab your children and run.

According to internal NGO documents citing data collected by aid workers working in the area, more than 7% of people on the berm are pregnant women—about double the average you might expect in a typical community. The same data shows that as of April, the majority of pregnant women on the berm were in their seventh, eighth and ninth months of pregnancy.

Many of the women nursing new babies at Azraq say they waited until late pregnancy to flee for Jordan, not knowing they’d then spend weeks or months stuck in the desert.

Um Faten, a mother of four now living at Azraq, delivered her first three children in hospital in Hama. Her fourth, a girl named Faten, was born on 15 November in a tent on the berm, delivered by a midwife from Homs—another refugee awaiting entry to Jordan.

The Ruqban (Rukban) border crossing and encampment of Syrian asylum seekers, based on satellite imagery recorded on April 20, 2015. © 2015 CNES / Distribution Airbus DS courtesy of Human Rights Watch

“I thought I was going to die. There was no anaesthesia. No shots,” said Um Faten, shaking her head.

“If the Red Cross sees there are complications in the pregnancy, they usually bring women inside Jordan to deliver. But she’s healthy, look at her. The baby of the berm,” she said.

Days after her all-night labour, Um Faten and her family were admitted to Jordan and given a shelter at Azraq. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Ten days after Faten was born, a cousin went into labour with her sixth child. A vehicle from the International Committee of the Red Cross was present at the time, and the woman delivered baby Mohammad inside it. The two were taken to hospital in Ruwayshid, the closest town to the berm, and then, according to family, returned to the berm. More than four months on, as far as their family knows, they are still in the desert.

As the settlement at Ruqban has grown, the humanitarian response has become better-funded and more organized, with medical staff stationed on the berm most days. Recent antenatal arrivals at Azraq say they were told to register with medical staff at the start of their ninth month of pregnancy in order to be admitted to Jordan pre-delivery on humanitarian grounds. Sahar Hussein is one of those women.

“We spent our honeymoon in a tent,” she said, smiling at her husband, Aamer. The two had been married five months and were four months pregnant when they began their journey from Palmrya to Jordan. They sold their wedding rings to pay smugglers to get them to the berm and to buy a tent as basic supplies.

“My biggest worry was that Sahar would go into labor on the berm, after the doctor left,” said Aamer, holding the couple’s one-month-old baby, Loujan.

Surrounded by a growing number of desperate strangers, Aamer said he was terrified for Sahar’s safety and so hid her from view. “My wife basically spent four months in a tent,” he said.

The couple registered at the start of Sahar’s ninth month and were admitted to Jordan shortly before Loujan was born. By then, mid-March, a network of volunteer midwives had been established and were being equipped by humanitarian agencies to provide care to mums delivering on the berm. But lives were still being lost.

Among Azraq’s newest residents are a father, his six-year-old son and an infant daughter, born after medical staff had left for the night. The children’s mother died during labour for want of medical attention. She is buried on the berm.

Amongst women who have survived the berm, some of the most harrowing stories come from those who managed it alone.

Twenty-four year-old Widad, a widowed mother of three from rural Homs, spent February on the berm with her mother, sister, children, and disabled father.

“We left after Da’esh entered our village. We had one hour to leave or Da’esh would come to our houses. We were totally unprepared, the kids didn’t even have shoes. Our only goal was to get out,” she said.

After a two-day journey south, Widad and her family found a spot in the demilitarized zone close to the border, near some other people from Homs. They built a tent the way most others did, collecting a wooden pallet at the berm, taking it apart and building two posts, and then using scarves to create a roofline. From this, they hung a grey felt blanket they got from the aid workers: home.

Widad would wait in the women’s queue when aid was being distributed at the berm. But food shortages meant that they weren’t always fed.

“We would wait from 11 AM until 6 PM and not get food,” she said. “We lost so much weight, from the second we got to the berm the children were consistently sick and they lost between three and five kilograms each.”

Aid shortfalls were not the only reason Widad and her children often went to bed hungry.

“There was a lot of fighting between tribes on the berm. On the day before we left the berm, different tribal groups were throwing rocks and the camp was up in arms. I grabbed my kids and ran back towards Syria and hid amongst those tents, waiting until after dusk. I went back when it was quiet again,” Widad said, her voice shaking at the memory.

“My children are my weakness.”

As a single mother, Widad is what humanitarian agencies describe as a “woman at risk.” According to the latest NGO data, 21 per cent of women at Ruqban are classified as women at risk.

Women build their own latrines. There was human waste everywhere.

According to data collected by aid workers who service the berm, more than 18% of people at Ruqban are aged four or under, and another 23% are aged five through 11. In a society divided along traditional gender norms, this means women are saddled with the vast majority of childcare.

In a place like Ruqban, where men—if they are present at all—are typically preoccupied with safety-related tasks, women face a near-endless gauntlet of domestic work in medieval conditions.

“The first thing is that there were no bathrooms. Women build their own latrines,” said Um Ahmad, a mother of four from Homs. She spent mid-August 2015 through January 2016 on the berm, and said she had had no idea how difficult conditions would be.

For people used to living in homes with running water and modern plumbing, as most Syrians are, the adjustment to life on the berm was exhausting.

“If you bring water to your tent, you have it. If you don’t, you don’t,” said Um Ahmad.

She said the skin disease leishmaniasis was rampant on the berm, and keeping kids clean was a constant challenge. If Um Ahmad’s family was lucky, they’d receive soap and nappies from aid workers. When supplies ran out or rioting cut distributions short, they’d use what little money they had to buy soap on the black market.

Um Ahmad said she relied on her husband to haul water to the tent, where she would wash her children in buckets provided by aid agencies. Then, listening to the rumble of tens of thousands of strangers, just feet away, she would crouch down, remove her clothes in sections and quickly wash her own body.

Like every woman interviewed by Broadly, Um Ahmad was adamant: she did not feel safe on the berm.

“Never,” she said. “But no matter how bad conditions are on the berm, it’s better than in Syria.”


How the Gas deal between Jordan and Israel hurt the Palestinians?

Israeli forces take Palestinian land, bulldoze people out of their homes, and detains innocent civilians. Despite this, Jordan — home to millions of Palestinians — is about to sign a multi-billion dollar natural-gas deal with Israel.

Rewan Al-Haddad – Avaaz posted this March 5, 2015

An outcry across the region can stop it.

If this deal is signed, Israel will supply Jordan with natural-gas for 15 years. This has caused massive outrage in Jordan — thousands of people have raised an outcry, and dozens of ministers have urged the government to reconsider.

The Jordanian government is feeling the pressure and deciding their next steps.

Let’s join our Jordanian friends and pile on more pressure so the government sees this isn’t just a national issue anymore — it’s become a regional one.

Click the link below to sign the petition urging the Jordanian government to ditch the Israeli natural-gas deal. Civil society groups are organizing a massive demonstration in Amman on Friday, and Avaaz will be there to represent each of our voices:

Relying on Israeli gas is risky and will normalize economic relations with a country which is brutally oppressing innocent civilians.

And while nations around the world are encouraging companies to divest from Israel, the Jordanian government is doing the complete opposite — they are about to sign a huge deal that will add billions of dollars to the coffers of the Israeli government.

The Minister of Energy argues that this is needed to sustain the country, but many say the government hasn’t sufficiently explored their options.

Cyprus is keen to supply Jordan with natural-gas, Jordan itself has reserves that haven’t been fully developed, oil prices have plummeted, and alternative energy has huge potential.

Instead of doing deals that will enrich this repressive government, Jordan should be looking for alternatives that truly serve the future of the Jordanian and Palestinian people.

This is our chance to stand with both our Palestinian and Jordanian brothers and sisters for what is right. Click below to urge Jordan to say NO to Israeli gas:

Our community has stood with Palestine before through a massive campaign calling on big companies and banks to divest from the occupation.

Let’s do it again, to help ensure there is justice for Palestinians and Jordanians alike.

Note: Jordan of the absolute monarch Abdullah has also signed the project to link the Red Sea with the Dead Sea.


Inside the Syrian Crisis: Social therapy in Jordan


Sabine Choucair shared International Rescue Committee‘s photo

An awesome social therapy project I did with International Rescue Committee. I love these girls so so so much

ps: In zaatari camp now, doing some other crazy lovely stuff with the women-mothers-sisters out there.

"They laughed again. Their self esteem is back."</p>
<p>Social therapy in Jordan for Syrian refugees. A video:

“They laughed again. Their self esteem is back.”

Social therapy in Jordan for Syrian refugees. A video:

Over 600,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Jordan, 80% of whom live in urban areas among Jordanian neighbors.

In February the International Rescue Committee organized a two-week social therapy workshop at our women’s center in the city of Irbid that brought together Syrian refugee teenagers and their Jordanian counterparts.

The program included dance, songs, storytelling, theater, community projects — and just clowning around.

“Most of the girls came with very low self-esteem,” said Sabine Choucair, who led the workshop. As a result of the program, she says, “they laughed again. Their self esteem is back.”

(Posted May 2014)

Learn more about the IRC’s work in Jordan

Behind Barbed Wire, Shakespeare Inspires a Cast of Young Syrians

On a rocky patch of earth in this sprawling city of tents and prefab trailers, the king, dressed in dirty jeans and a homemade cape, raised his wooden scepter and announced his intention to divide his kingdom.

His elder daughters, wearing paper crowns and plastic jewelry, showered him with false praise, while the youngest spoke truthfully and lost her inheritance.


So began a recent adaptation here of “King Lear.”

For the 100 children in the cast, it was their first brush with Shakespeare, although they were already deeply acquainted with tragedy.

All were refugees who had fled the civil war in Syria. Some had seen their homes destroyed. Others had lost relatives to violence. Many still had trouble sleeping or jumped at loud noises.

And now home was here, in this isolated, treeless camp, a place of poverty, uncertainty and boredom.

Reflecting the demographics of Syria’s wider refugee crisis, more than half of the 587,000 refugees registered in Jordan are younger than 18, according to the United Nations. About 60,000 of those young people live in the Zaatari camp, where fewer than a quarter regularly attend school.

Parents and aid workers fear that Syria’s war threatens to create a lost generation of children who are scarred by violence and miss vital years of education, and that those experiences and disadvantages will follow them into adulthood.

The “King Lear” performance, the conclusion of a project than spanned months, was one attempt to fight that threat.

“The show is to bring back laughter, joy and humanity,” said its director, Nawar Bulbul, a 40-year-old Syrian actor known at home for his role in “Bab al-Hara,” an enormously popular historical drama that was broadcast throughout the Arab world.

The play owed its production largely to Mr. Bulbul. Smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and speaking with the animated face of a stage actor who never stops performing, Mr. Bulbul described his journey from television star to children’s director.

When the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011, he joined with gusto, appearing at antigovernment protests, leading chants and drawing the ire of the security services. A play he produced was banned, and a fellow actor who supported the government informed him that he could either appear on television to rectify his stance or expect to be arrested.

“I told him I would think about it, and a week later I was out of the country,” Mr. Bulbul said.

Last year, he and his French wife moved to Jordan, where friends invited him to help distribute aid in Zaatari. The visit exposed him to what he called “the big lie” of international politics that had failed to stop the war.

There are people who want to go home, and they are the victims while the great powers fight above them,” he said.

Children he met in the camp made him promise to return, and he did — with a plan to show the world that the least fortunate Syrian refugees could produce the loftiest theater.

The sun blazed on the day of the performance, staged on a rocky rectangle of land surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The 12 main actors stood in the middle, while the rest of the cast stood behind them, a chorus that provided commentary and dramatic sound effects. The audience sat on the ground.

When each of Lear’s first two daughters tricked him with false flattery in elegant, formal Arabic, the chorus members yelled “Liar! Hypocrite!” until the sisters told them to shut up.

And when the third sister refused to follow suit, the chorus members yelled “Truthful! Just!” until the king told them to shut up.

Continue reading the main story  Video

PLAY VIDEO.  VIDEO|5:35.  Syrian Refugees Cross Into Uncertainty

Refugees fleeing fighting in Syria in May, 2013, relocated to the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan where they face dusty days and cold nights in an uncertain existence with no end in sight.

In later scenes, the king was heckled by the Fool, who wore a rainbow-colored wig, and 8 boys performed a choreographed sword fight with lengths of plastic tubing.

A few scenes from “Hamlet” were spliced in, making the story hard to follow. And at one point, a tanker truck carrying water roared by, drowning out the actors and coating the audience in a cloud of dust.

But the mere fact that the play was performed was enough for the few hundred spectators. Families living in nearby tents brought their children, hoisting them on their shoulders so they could see.

After Lear’s descent into madness and death, the cast surrounded the audience, triumphantly chanting “To be or not to be!” in English and Arabic. The crowd burst into applause, and a number of the leading girls broke into tears. Mr. Bulbul said they were overwhelmed because it was the first time anyone had clapped for them.

After the show, as journalists interviewed the cast, the parents boasted of their children’s talent.

“I am the mother of King Lear,” declared Intisar al-Baradan when asked if she had seen the play. She had brought about 20 relatives to the performance, she said, adding that her son was also a great singer.

Other parents described the project as a rare point of light in a bleak camp existence.

Hatem Azzam, whose daughter Rowan, 12, played one of Lear’s daughters, said the family fled Damascus after government forces set his carpentry shop on fire.

“We were a rebellious neighborhood, so they burned every shop on the street,” Mr. Azzam said.

He arrived in Zaatari a year ago with 5 other family members, but one of his brothers got sick and died soon afterward, and his elderly mother never adjusted to the desert climate and died, too, he said.

He hesitated to send his children to school, fearing that they would get sick in the crowded classrooms, and he kept them from roaming the camp because he did not want them to start smoking or pick up other bad habits. But the theater project was close to home, and his daughter was so excited about it that he let her go.

People get opportunities in life, and you have to take advantage of them,” Mr. Azzam said. “She got a chance to act when she was young, so that could make it easier for her in the future.”

The mother of Bushra al-Homeyid, 13, who played another of Lear’s daughters, said the family had fled Syria after government shelling killed her niece and nephew.

“The camp is an incomplete life, a temporary life,” she said. “We hope that our time here will be limited.”

But after a year here, she worried that her eldest daughter, who was in high school, would not be ready to go to college.

Bushra, grinning widely and still wearing her yellow paper crown, said she had never acted before but wanted to continue.

“I like that I can change my personality and be someone else,” she said.

Clowns Without Borders: in ZAATARI Camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan

The one-hour clown show Sunday was the first of its kind in Zaatari Camp, which is jointly run by UNHCR and the Jordanian government.

JAMAL HALABY posted this De. 1, 2013 in ASSOCIATED PRESS

Clowns help Syrian camp children smile for a moment

ZAATARI CAMP, Jordan — At this sprawling desert camp in Jordan, home to thousands of children who fled Syria’s civil war, a few found a moment to smile Sunday watching a troop of clowns.

Five European comedians working for Mabsutins, a private circus and clown group in Spain affiliated with the U.S.-based group Clowns Without Borders, performed for some 60 children.

More than 100,000 people live at the wind-swept camp, only 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the Syrian border, and for the children lucky enough to see the performance, it helped them forget about the challenges they face.

<br /><br /><br />
Moises Queralt, a clown from Mabsutins, a group of clowns from Spain, acts weak as a Syrian refugee child in a karate uniform pulls his arm during their show at Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. It was an unusual day for Syrian refugee children: Pinocchio and other show gigs live Sunday under a wind-swept tent in a sprawling desert camp straddling the Syrian border.<br /><br /><br />
Moises Queralt, a clown from Mabsutins, a group of clowns from Spain, acts weak as a Syrian refugee child in a karate uniform pulls his arm during their show at Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013.
It was an unusual day for Syrian refugee children: Pinocchio and other show gigs live Sunday under a wind-swept tent in a sprawling desert camp straddling the Syrian border. MOHAMMAD HANNON / AP PHOTO

“It was best thing I have seen in my life,” said 10-year-old Rana Ziad, who fled from her restive southern border town of Daraa with her parents and six brothers and sisters a year ago. “It was very much fun and I loved it.”

More than two million Syrians have fled their country’s civil war, now in its third year, seeking shelter in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. At least half of the refugees — 1.1 million — are children. Of those, some 75% are under the age of 12, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

A 65-page report issued Friday by the UNHCR highlighted the plight of the children, who are growing up in fractured families, missing out on education as they turn to manual labor, sometimes under dangerous or exploitative conditions. Many become the main breadwinner of their family. At Zaatari, most of the 680 small shops employ children, the report said.

There are schools at Zaatari, as well as recreational facilities, like football fields and playgrounds with swings. Other organizations have come up with activities like having children paint murals on buildings at the camp to keep them active.

However, refugees often take apart some buildings to use the material for their own structures and jobs can keep children away from such diversions. Children under the age of 16 make up roughly 40 percent of Zaatari’s population.

“It was good to bring laughter to Syrian refugee children and make them forget the patting of the war for a little time,” said Moises Queralt, a Spaniard who performs under the name Peixoxo. “Our goal was to bring a smile to the faces of the Syrian refugee children who suffered as a result of the war.”

Queralt performed as the cartoon character Pinocchio, complete with long nose. He juggled balls and bottles as he danced around to the beat of drums. Some 60 refugee children clapped and cheered, as a handful playfully kicked and grabbed at him.

Another refugee, 12-year-old Mohammad Zaidan, said the show “made us forget our miseries for one hour.”

However, when the show ended, Mohammed walked outside into a swirling, cold wind that swept dust across the camp. He said: “Once it was over, we were back to reality: we are refugees without a home.”

A brief encounter with Amman, Jordan

Though there is still much left to be seen, the short trip to Amman was a success, a rich experience of tradition and an eye opener to lots of what is uniquely Jordanian.

Wajdi Ghoussoub posted on Sat. 10/06/2012:

I did not see much of Amman. Though not ideally suited to offer much judgment about the city situated on a set of hills, my short trip is still worthy of a few descriptive lines.

The Jordanian CapitalAmman has a certain charm and feels distinctively authentic, two traits not much uncommon with other Levantine cities (Near Eastern States such as Syria, Lebanon and Palestine).

What makes Amman – and every urban center for that matter – really unique are its people (not so cheerful I heard many say, though I am yet to be convinced) who appeared to be very friendly; most men leave a proud moustache and most women clearly have what one could call Arab features.

This is in addition to the sloped and not so gentle on the stomach roads, the low and not quite attractive rises, the unstructured planning that easily loses someone’s sense of direction, and other small things that often make the difference and a city’s heart beat.

The trip from the airport to the hotel felt eternal and as dangerous as any trip one makes in that part of the world.

I later came to know that Jordanians often compare any trip, which is long and a cause of weariness, to their airport road. Forty five minutes or so later, I was in my hotel and ready for an imbibing session with my Jordanian friend (with the company of Johnnie Walker many local men would want to emphasize).

We were to spend the next day taking a brief tour of Amman before making the 45 minute trip down to the Dead Sea. Yes – ‘down’ but more on that later on.

The last day would be spent back in the city, lunching on the famous and sensationally delectable national dish, Mansaf (see note), followed by another brief cruise before flying back to Dubai. Sounded like one heck of a weekend, though not a too insensible one.

Very late on Thursday night and after much concentrating effort by the buzzing mind, I came to learn that Amman, unlike say Jerusalem, Damascus or Baghdad, hasn’t been the metropolitan city it is today until quite recently.

Nevertheless, its history is quite long and rich and not to be underestimated, very much like that of the rest of the land now forming Jordan. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the capital sits on more than 8 hills, a usual characteristic of villages and not cities.

Before we began our journey – again down – to the Dead Sea, we took a ride through the capital, driving on the major axis and around a series of numbered roundabouts, stopping at a place for an Oreo milkshake – not a Jordanian tradition, but still a very tasty treat – and passing by a weekend market where my friend once saw Ilham Al Madfai, my favorite singer of Iraqi origin who currently resides in Jordan.

The trip to the Dead Sea was a cause of some childish and not too serious stress. If Amman’s lowest point is at around 600 meters above sea level, the Dead Sea is approximately 400 meters below sea level (marking the lowest elevation on land).

Overstretched imagination made it hard for me to comprehend how possible it is or noticeable it would be to be at the lowest point on earth. Will it be a tight curved road? Will it be severely and frighteningly sloped? What if a big bang of sorts takes place and the not too far Mediterranean Sea comes rushing down towards us like a tsunami? I was mocked at and then jokingly assured that all will be fine.

Indeed, the road was wide and comfortable and the Dead Sea, except for the lack of boats and the high salt content (8 times or so that of the ocean) that makes you float with no effort, felt like any other sea really. The apparently common knowledge that it is receding and will dry up in less than 50 years has led to some far-fetched solutions by some.

Across the calm waters, one can see the Palestinian territories and the west bank of the Jordanian river that diminishingly feeds the sea. At night, and to my great surprise, what apparently were the lights of Jerusalem from a distance were pointed out to me.

We were so close yet felt so detached from Palestine, Jerusalem and the entire Palestinian and Israeliexistential issues and also from the nearby Syrian tragedy.

The map itself looked random and clearly drawn by the powers of the early 20th century. I saw where Petra, the ancient city carved in stone, and Aqaba, Jordan’s port town, were located.

Before hitting the long road to the airport again, we stopped to have coffee delivered to our car in the poorer East Amman (one ‘Turkish sabb’ my friend excitingly exclaimed), we drove on what is supposedly the longest S shaped suspension bridge in the world (is there any other we jokingly thought?) and came to notice that the Jordanians have invested a lot in their capital’s postal code system (unlike in other cities in the Middle East) but not so much in its public and not to be relied upon transportation system.

Had I planned to stay longer, I would have embarked on the usual routine I follow when I visit any new place: buy a map, understand it up to the most granular level and walk extensively on foot abiding by it.

To be fair, the motivations this time around were different. The point was only to drink, eat, laugh and catch up with my friend and, why not I thought, see just the very basics. The score of meeting such goals was a 10 on 10. Still, I will undoubtedly return to Amman and Jordan and next time I will give them the focus they rightly deserve.

Picture source:

Note 1: Mansaf is a Bedouin dish of rice, lamb and jameed (a yogurt-like substance). Tradition dictates that the large plate is to be devoured only by hand. The OCD reader might be happy to know (though not so convincingly) that Mansaf is hygienic because there are some basic rules to follow, 3 of which are perhaps the most critical: hands, of course and in any case, are to be washed, each person has an area of the dish to cover (a Mansaf realm?) and the handful small ball of jameed watered rice and lamb is to be thrown into the mouth by the way of a thumb throw, thus not allowing the fingers to touch the lips. It was a very tasty, tiring and filling experience. As my friend followed this food “massacre” with a power nap, I found myself looking in more detail at the map of Jordan.
Note 2 (mine): Israel has been exploiting the minerals from the Dead Sea for decades, and also diveritng part of its water and reducing this Sea to a deader condition

“The sirens of the Levant (Near East)”; (Feb. 24, 2010)

Hurrah, Evil wins this time around in this first French novel by the Lebanese Peter Germanos.  It is not amenable to reviewing because

1.  first, the situation in the Middle East, especially Lebanon, is very complex and would require another novel to explaining the conditions in order to make a semblance of sense;

2. second, this story involves half a dozen of intelligence institutions such as CIA, GRU (Russia), Mossad (Israel), Second Bureau (Lebanon and France), Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, to name a few nations, involved in having Lebanon a good starting base for interfering in the Middle East and securing oil exploitation and transport is one too many for a short novel of 242 pages.

We have two heroes: The Lebanese intelligence officer Marwan Hajj and the Al Qaeda.

Marwan is originally from Akoura in Mount Lebanon or “Marounistan”as Germanos calls the district, in one of the districts where the Christian Maronite sect is in majority (Kesrouwan, Jbeil, Betroun, and Bshari). Marwan is young, from a “noble” family, drives a Porch, and is willing to shell thousand of dollars for beautiful girls wishing to have lifting of whatever needs lifting so that they look “jnoun” (driving males crazy) as their gorgeous girl friends.

Al Qaeda is regaining ground after the Lebanese army defeated it in the Palestinian camp of Nahr El Bared.  The Qaeda was far better equipped with modern arms and high tech communication facilities and the army suffered over 170 soldiers and officers, not counting hundreds of injured, after 6 months of fighting.  The US refused to arm the Lebanese army and only Syria supplied the army with canon shells to resume the battle.

Al Qaeda (well established in Iraq, northern Africa, and around the Indian Ocean) is planning a major terrorist activity that would close the Suez Canal for ten years; thus, oil prices would jump to $600 the barrel and the “koffar” in Europe and the US would suffer economically.  Al Qaeda disseminates misinformation that the attempt is targeting the Strait of Hormus in the Arabic/Persian Gulf.  All the intelligence institutions have wind of a major terrorist act but are mislead on the proper maritime target.

The Mossad is cooperating with Al Qaeda in order to ignite another civil war in Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah and also to involve the US in a war against Iran.  The US army prime enemy is Al Qaeda (Islamic Sunni sect extremists) but the CIA (and its officer in Lebanon, Kyle from Kentucky) is willing to cooperate with Al Qaeda against Hezbollah and the Shiaa axe (Islamic sect) extending from Iran to Iraq, northern Syria and Lebanon.

If you feel disoriented bare with me a little while.

Wealthy Saudi princes are financing Al Qaeda terrorist plans to weaken Hezbollah and Iran, and wealthy Lebanese business men and politicians are cooperating with Al Qaeda and the Israeli Mossad to weaken Hezbollah.

Hezbollah launches a counter attack and within a couple of hours closes down dozens of Mossad bunkers and safe heavens along with other offices of the Sunni and Saad Hariri militia in Beirut who were wearing security guard outfits.  Samuel Dagan, (Israel’s Mossad chief who is currently under fire for involving many European fake passports to assassinating Hamas officer in Dubai), said that “Hezbollah destroyed within hours four years of work and preparation”.

To make a long story short, Al Qaead managed to secure a dirty (low level) atomic bomb to the port of Beirut and used the Middle East like Ho Che Minh route of (Tripoli-Palmira Syria- Anbar Iraq) to deliver the dirty bomb to Saudi Arabia.

The novel mentions the Egyptian Al Zawahiri as the master mind of Qaeda but I think it is the Libyan Al Libi who is involved in terrorist activities targeting the Shiia sect since Zawahiri is trying hard to unite all Islamic sects against the US imperialist strategy.

I could follow the story, but I doubt people (non Lebanese and none politicized) will find the courage to finish this exciting novel.

Note: Minorities in societies have this knack of constructing myths; they end up believing myths for real. You cannot defeat myths “made real” when communicating for establishing real modern States.

Customs in the Middle East (October 2, 2009)

Note 1:  The term Near East is not familiar to many English readers.  The Near East is the region in the Middle East that comprises Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the coastal shores of Turkey, and the region in Iraq where the Euphrates (Al Furat) River passes through.

It is my contention that the eastern region of the Tiger (Dujlat) River in Iraq was mostly influenced by the Persian culture and civilization. Thus, the geographic limit of the Near East starts from the western side of the Tiger River all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Note 2:  This post is a repository of the customs and traditions in this region as mentioned in the Bibles (Jewish, Christian, and Moslem). The customs and traditions of the Land in the Levant were practiced thousands of years before Judaism came to be.

The Jewish religion adopted the customs of the Land of the Levant (or what is known as the Near East) and the scribes wrote in the same style of imagery, maxims, and aphorism. The original manuscripts describe accurately the culture of the Land and in the same style.

Note 3: The Bibles are not famous for historical accuracies: they were not written by the dozens of scribes for that purpose.

The Bibles are excellent sources as repositories of the customs and traditions in the Near East, which are still practiced for over six thousand of years.  It has been said that if Abraham and his generation were resurrected they will feel perfectly at home and go about their daily routines and tasks as if they have just waken up from a dream.

Although “modernism” was forced upon the Levant, especially in the urban centers and megalopolis areas, the remote towns and villages have been practically spared and left untouched, even for cooking their weekly load of Levantine bread.  In this article, Near East means the Levant as one Land.

A brief Introduction:

Since time immemorial, the Near East was famous for exporting olive oil, grape wine and dried figs.  No wonder that grape vine, olive trees and fig trees are the symbols of prosperity and shade in this region where it does not rain for straight seven months. The coastal regions of the Levant imported all kinds of grains, especially, wheat and lentil.

The meals are frugal and consisting of thin large loaves of bread (khobz markouk) baked in special underground oven once a week, a few olives, tomatoes, onion, vegetable from the garden, and dried fruits in the off seasons.

Wheat was transformed in crushed wheat (borghol) for the kebeh and tabouli.  Dairy components were cooked into many varieties of cheese, yogurt, labneh, and keshk.  Meat was scarce and a single sheep was over fed during summer to be slaughtered in late autumn and the meat cooked and dried (kaworma) and saved for winter for the omelets.

A couple of goats or cows lived in the basement or a side room and chicken were raised for eggs and for the occasional guests.

Nothing would go to waste and summer time was a hectic period for all kinds of chores related to storing provisions for winter.

On the Written Style

The written style in the Levant is characterized by direct pronouncements expressing feeling and describing what is seen and heard.  The sentences are not encumbered by prefixes such as “I think”, “I believe”, “I am not sure”, “It is possible“, “There might be other versions”, “I might be wrong”, or “It is my opinion”, or what the western writers have adopted from the Greek rational style.

The style in the Levant sounds confident, categorical, and conveying the total truth though it does not mean that the people cannot discriminate or feel the variations and uncertainties.  The writers in the Levant simply feel that all these attachments are redundant since it is a fact of life that nothing is categorical or certain; thus, superfluous additions disturb the flow of thoughts and the ideas that need to be conveyed.  Consequently, the author feels that the western readers of the Bible should tone down their uneasiness with “outrageous” direct and assured pronouncements in the Bible.

On the Verbal Style

The verbal style tends toward the devotional and far from the business approach. The dialect in the Levant reveals the relationship with the Creator is the first of wisdom and spirituality is a foundation.  The recurring mention of God, the provider at the beginning of any reply or “peace of God be upon you” or telling a worker “God gives you health” or to the harvester “God bless your crop” or asking the shepherd “How are the blessed ones?” or saying “What’s its religion?” to get more information on the nature of a thing are all part of the daily utterances.

When the Levantine tells a story he is extravagant and the facts sound too far fetched simply because he wants to amuse and impress; the listener understands perfectly the intent of the fantasy and they share a good laugh.  The rational westerner gets the impression that the Levantine is not honest because he does not stick to the bare boring facts.

For example, when you wake up someone at seven you tell him “Get up, it is already noon and the daylight is over“.  When there is a large gathering we say “The entire town was assembled”.

Jesus said “if your right eye sinned snatched it out; better not your whole body ends up in the eternal fire” or “if someone asks to be clothed give him your robe and underwear too” or “Forgive seventy times seven a day” which drive the holy number seven to an extreme number of holiness; a number that should not be taken to the word but to drive in the message of ready forgiveness.

In the Bibles it is said “After six days” and you wonder starting from which date, which event?  Or it is said “They went up a high mountain” and you want to ask “how high?” and “which mountain?”  If you insist on the height of the mountain he would reply “it was so high it pierced the clouds”

The purpose of the story is to entertain and prepare for the punch line.  For example, John the Baptist is not in the mood of cajoling and says to the Pharisees “Sons of vipers, how will you escape the wrath of God? I tell you if God wished he will turn these stones sons of Abraham

The Levantine is ever ready to swear on his father, his head, his mustaches, and anything that is holy to convey the message of his sincerity.  It is this custom of constant swearing that baffle the westerner and increases his suspicions.  Jesus was aware of this custom and insisted on his disciples never to swear on anything but rather “let your answer be yes, yes or no, no”.  This summoning of Jesus had no effects whatsoever in our Land.

It is important to grasp 4 characteristics in the Levantine customs:

First, every region and every town has its own slang and it is the best proof of your origin. For example, the more Peter denied his knowledge of Jesus the more people were convinced that he was from Galilee. After the battle between the Galaad and the Efrem, prisoners were slaughtered because they pronounced “shiboulat” as “siboulat”.

Second, it is recommended to insist until requests are obtained; for example, Gideon insists on two material miracles from God to believe him; or when Jesus repeats three times “Do you love me Peter?” before he divulges the most important order of “shepherding the flock” of disciples.

Third, insinuation is not understood and abhorred and thus, a clear solemn affirmation is demanded.

Fourth, the Levantine does not appreciate constraining and transition expressions such as “As I see, or I think that, or it is alleged, or it is possible, and so forth”.  The Levantine verbal expression is of certitude and feeling, compatible to his spiritual and devotional nature.

On Business Transactions:

Abraham had no piece of land in Canaan; his clan let their goats and sheep graze in unclaimed lands. As there was a death in the family Abraham resolved to prepare for his burial; he sent a third party to ask Afroun son of Sohar of the tribe of Hath for a small piece of land to bury the dead. Abraham said: “I am a guest in your land. Could you give me a swath so that I may bury what is in front of me?

Every village had a burying ground facing east and guests, by the custom of hospitality, could be enjoying the same facilities. Afroun replied: “Abraham you are a reverend and I shall bury the deceased in the best of our graves” Abraham had set his mind to settle in Canaan and wanted his own burial ground, thus he asked to buy a piece of land.  Afroun replied: “A land of no more than 400 silver shekels should not be an obstacle” Abraham got the hint and sent the amount.

This polite and diplomatic negotiation is part of the Levant customs thousand of years before Abraham came to Canaan.

On Bread and Salt:

In the Levant, women leaven their dough overnight in clay pottery for the next day baking; the baking lasted a whole day for a week ration. The neighboring families would select a day to using the special oven dug in the ground.  The Jews were ordered to leave Egypt immediately.  They carried their unleavened dough in wooden boxes, as done in Egypt, and had to eat their bread barely leavened.  The shepherds in the fields in the Levant cook their own unleavened bread while at work.

Jesus said in the Lord prayer “Lord, give us our daily bread” The people in the Levant believe that their daily bread is not just from their labor; the Lord had participated from start to finish to offering the daily bread.

I cannot help but offer a current and political rapprochement: the successive US Administrations and the media “talking heads” would like us to believe that whatever prosperity is befalling other States it is simply because of US contributions. On the other hand, whatever calamities and miseries the world is suffering should not be laid on the USA: the USA does not bear any responsibility and should not be blamed.

It is the custom for a guest not to eat until he settles his recriminations with the host; thus bread and salt are the symbol of renewed friendship and loyalty.  The worst enemy is the one who shared your bread and salt and then shifted loyalty without any warning.  People never stepped on crumbs of bread (aysh meaning living); they pick up any bread off the ground, kiss it and then place it above ground level.

When Gideon gathered his “large army” to fight the Midyanites, God ordered Gideon to select the soldiers that stooped in front of the stream and drank off the palm of their hands.  That was the custom of the noble citizens in the land; the common people knelt and drank directly off the stream.

Thus, Gideon ended up with 300 soldiers who were deemed courageous, sober, and worthy to fight.

On Handicapped persons:

Handicapped individuals have a hard life in the Levant; they are nicknamed according to their handicaps. Up very recently they were hidden from the public.  In Jesus travels handicapped individuals had hard time approaching Jesus; the crowd would prevent them from coming close because handicaps were considered punishment from God.

A handicapped woman got her courage and dared to touch the robe of Jesus and was cured.  Jesus told her: “Woman, it is your faith and not my cloth that cured you. Go in peace” Jesus was alluding to the custom that touching anything holy would cure or satisfy a want.

On Injustice:

Carrying the cross Jesus said “Sisters of Jerusalem, don’t cry over me.  Those who manhandled moist branches what they wouldn’t do with the dry ones?

If the sacerdotal caste could sentence to death an innocent man then what you, sisters of Jerusalem, expect them to do with you and your children?  You should be starting to cry over your coming miseries and injustices.  Aphorisms on moist things versus dry ones, or bitter versus sweet tasty foods are many in the Levant.

On Animals:

Jesus warned Peter that he would repudiate him three times before the second crow of the cock.  There is a custom in the Levant when guest hear the second crow of the coq to start leaving.  The host has invariably to retort “You guys are mistaken, this is the first crow“. You may search Google for how many times a coq crows per day but in the Levant we maintain that coq crows at sun down, midnight and at dawn.

Jesus said about the surprise visit of sudden death: “Stay awake; you don’t know when the Master of the house will show up; in the evening, at midnight or the last crow of the coq”.

The oriental Christian communities used the nights to pray and watch for the second coming of “Son of God“, (be ready for leaving to the other life)

Pigs are considered the dirtiest and lowest of animals.  When Jesus chased out the demons off a crazy man then the evil spirit entered pigs that rushed to the lake.  The younger son who asked for his inheritance ended up caring for pigs (the lowest job anyone could get) and could not even eat what the pigs ate though he loved “kharoub” which fills the stomach.

On Wheat Grinding:

On the theme of sudden death Jesus recount another aphorism of the Land “Two of you are grinding wheat in a quern (hand mill), one is taken away and the other saved”.  It was the custom for two women friends to undertake the boring task of grinding wheat grain in two circular stone querns; a strong woman could do it alone but it is more fun to pass the time when two are chatting away.

Thus, you can never know when your closest friend will die.  Nowadays, in remote areas, the hand mill or “jaroush” is used to convert wheat grains into crushed wheat which is a staple ingredient to many traditional dishes like “tabouli”, “kebeh, and countless varieties.

On Revelations:

Revelations abound in the Bible to the prophets, Elizabeth, Marie, and many times to Joseph who obeyed and executed the orders promptly.  Revelations are common phenomenon in the Levant.  A family would pay visits to shrines dedicated to a saint for fertility or for kinds of handicaps; the family would stay at the shrine praying and fasting as many nights as necessary until a revelation related to their wishes descends.  The families visit shrines confident that their “demands” would be exhausted.

For example, Hanna, the mother of the Virgin Marie had a revelation that she would be pregnant, so had Elizabeth (Alisabat), the sister of Hanna, who begot John the Baptist, so had Marie who gave birth to Jesus, so did the mother of Melki Sadek, the highest priest of the Land and King of Jerusalem to whom Abraham paid the teethe (tenth of income) as did Isaac and then Jacob, so did the mother of Samuel (Name of El), so had the mother of Jeremiah (Aramia) and countless others.

Those mothers vowed (nezer) their offspring to monasteries that were common in Phoenicia and Galilee.  The offspring who stayed in these monasteries for a large part of their youth were called Nazereen.  Jesus stayed in the monastery of Mount Carmel and administered by the Esseneans, adjacent to the Great Temple, from age 6 until he was in the age of aiding the family earning a living.

That is why Jesus was said to be a Nazarenos or who lived in the region of Galilee of the Nazarenes.  The town of Nazareth did not exist until the second century after Christ and Jesus roamed Lebanon, the ten main cities in Syria and Jordan (Decapolis) while preparing his disciples to spread his message.

On Shepherding and Faith

Jesus said “I am the good shepherd who is ready to sacrifice for his sheep”. The shepherding was the oldest and most common job in the Levant and people learned leadership, and enjoyed freedom and solitude.  The shepherd, during the extended dry season, would lead his flock “the blessed ones” to the upper lands for grazing by mid March as the sheep or goat gave birth.

The shepherd would carry the new born and the mothers would follow him, confident in her shepherd.  The shepherd would arrange a stockade (hazeera) of stones about 5 feet high and top it with brambles and sleep at the entrance in a makeshift tent with his dog. “The truth is anyone who does not enter the stockade by the entrance is a thief; the shepherd enters from the door and the sheep hear his voice and their names and they go out to graze” because the stockade could be climbed with minor scratches.

By mid October, the shepherd dismantles his stockade and moves his flock to lower altitudes where the sheep are horded in a one room basement (mrah) with no windows; Isaiah said: “My residence was dismantled and taken away from me as the shepherd tent”

Shepherding requires skills in tight passageway amid the orchards that were not usually fenced.  The shepherd had to pay for whatever the sheep ate if he was unable to control his flock; the town people would not let the shepherd cross the village if they could not trust his guiding skills.  The flock trusted the shepherd because he would ward off wolves and hyenas and even follow the scavenger to its lair to retrieve the sheep or part of it and return it to the flock if alive.

Jesus said: “A shepherd would leave his flock to go after the lost sheep“. The flock is not afraid of narrow hazardous paths taken by the shepherd “the shadow of death valley” because it trusts its leader.

Grape vines:

When Jesus mentions “The product of grape vine” is meant wine; though grapes were customarily dried (zabeeb) in abundance.  Kids would always carry handful of raisins in their oversized pockets as sweet and also to bribe other children; when long caravans of camels arrive at the market place, kids would bribe the conductors with raisins for a ride to the wells.  Women would get frustrated because camels drank most of the well and the women had to dip their buckets far deeper.

Grape vines were used as aphorism such as “I am the vine and you are its branches” or “Your wife is like a fecund vine around your house. Your sons like olive trees around your dinner table”.  The Prophet Micah said “They will sit under the vine and the fig tree and nothing will scare them”

The ceremonies of grape pressing by men’ and boys’ feet lasted days and nights until the juices were flowed to special receptacles of stones and clay. The press was made of a large stone vat set up on the roof of the house with a certain incline for the flow of the juice. The settled grape juice (rawook) was drunk by the poor people who could not afford wine “the (poor) pressed and felt thirsty”.

The rawook would then be boiled at various degrees; sour wine was preferred by men but sweet wine needed high boiling temperature because preferred by women. When the juice was destined to prepare molasses “debs” then white clay was added to the grapes before pressing for more efficient filtering of organic components.  Isaiah (Ashaya) said “Why your robe is reddish and your cloth looking as you were pressing grapes?”

Nowadays, the national drink is arak or ouzou in Greece and it is basically the condensation of the boiled grape juice through alembics; it is called “mtalat” when the process of condensation is performed three times for a content 97% alcoholic.

Gideon wanted to avoid paying tax on his wheat harvest.  The grape was not ripe yet and thus, Gideon used the top of his house to beat the wheat where grapes were pressed by feet though it was not yet the season of grape pressing.  He was hoping that the Midyanites would not discover his subterfuge.

The Roof Tops:

The houses in the Levant used to be of just one large room where the entire family slept and ate in the winter season; the adjacent split room or a basement sheltered the chicken, goats, cows, or donkey.  The rest of the dry seasons that extended for over 7 months the main meeting place was the roof top; a makeshift tent of dangling grape vines and dry branches, and called “alyyeh“.

The roof was built with supporting tree trunks at three feet intervals and cross branches with no gaps and then 12 inches of dirt rolled over by a cylindrical stone at every season.

Official announcements or the arrival of caravans or any kind of major warnings such as the voices of field keepers (natour) were done by climbing a roof. Jesus advised his disciple to announce the Good News from the roof tops so that every one should hear the message clear and sound; that is what Peter did.

Families would go up to the roof tops to pray and cry and the new comer Hebrews didn’t like this custom of the Land.

When a paraplegic was dangled from a roof top for Jesus to heal the friends dug out the dirt and removed a few branches and made enough space (kofaa) then placed the sick man on a blanket with the four corners attached to a rope.

At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples are eating on the roof top of a house, the “alyyat”; the family gathers in that shed during the hot seasons that extend for seven months from Mid May to mid September. Jesus and the disciples are sitting in a circle around several large platters of various dishes; everyone extends his hand to dip his piece of bread in the platter of his liking; there are no spoons or forks.

The scene is not as represented by Leonardo Da Vinci in the customs of Florence.

A server pour the wine in a single cup, starting by the most ranked in the gathering.  Before drinking the cup in one shot the guest wishes long life to his friends and ask them to remember him if he is about to leave them for an extended trip; then he selects the next guest to drink and the server pour wine for the selected person and in the same single cup.

After supper, the cup is passed around and everyone takes just a sip.  Jesus said “I longed so much to eat this supper with you before I suffer”

Jesus said: “The first one to dip his bread in my platter will deliver me tonight” was confusing to the disciples because they all dipped in Jesus’ platter one time or another. Judas was always the second in command and must have arranged to have his favorite platter close to him and Jesus for easy access; thus, Judas was the most plausible one to first dip his bread in Jesus platter.

Young John loved Jesus and expressed his feeling as to the customs of the Levant by reclining his head on Jesus’ shoulder.

Jesus adhered to the customs of eating supper and his salutes about eating his flesh or drinking his blood in remembrance of him had a spiritual undertone and suggesting that he was to leave his disciples for good.  Jesus dipped a piece of bread in a platter and specifically offered it to Judas as a symbol of friendship no matter what is in Judas’ heart and mind.

Jesus presented the box of money to Judas, the treasurer, as a sign that nothing is changed in Jesus faith to Judas loyalty in matter of financial transactions. Anyway, Judas was from a rich family and didn’t need small changes.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus expresses his feelings of sorrows and pains as a Levantine; he lets his feelings pour out and wants his closest friends to share his feelings.  Three times he invites Peter and the sons of Zebedeh to keep the wake with him because “my soul is sad to death”.  Jesus was praying with such earnestness that his “sweating was of blood”.

Jesus had no choice but to obey his father and urged God “Father, if it were possible to take away this bitter cup, but it is not as I wish but as you want”

Judas approached Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and kissed him several times on the cheeks. Judas was thus telling Jesus, according to the Levant customs, that as of this instant they are on a par in ranks and that Judas decided that he no longer considers Jesus as the Messiah. Some one of a lower rank would shake hands and fake to kiss the right hand and the higher ranked person would fake a kiss on the cheek. Judas was using a custom for greetings that could also be used as a sign for the soldiers to get hold of the leader.

On Obeying Parents:

Obeying parents is not just a filial feeling in the Levant but a religious duty.  The command is “Obey your mother and father” and God punished Adam for simply disobeying him, period.  The story of Luc when Jesus, aged 12 then, was found discussing among the priests in the Temple as the clan went on pilgrimage is revealing. Jesus had priority of which parents to obey first: he reminded his parents that he has a duty to obey his God El first.  In the Levant, no family starts or leaves on a trip before counting and making sure of the presence of all the members of the family.

After the count, Jesus decided to return to the Temple. After the count, his family didn’t worry about Jesus because he was supposed to be amid the wider clan of relatives and because the Great Temple on Mount Carmel (not Jerusalem) was a familiar visiting place and no more than half a day walk to “Bethlehem of Tyr or Efrateh” where they lived, on the east side of Mount Carmel in Upper Galilee.  In none of the parables you find the eldest son depicted as the villain or disrespectful of traditions.  Eldest sons represent the fathers and the continuation of customs.

On Kingdom of Heaven

In the Levant we understand intuitively the figures of speech and parables that the West has hard time to comprehend; we understand and readily accept the meaning though it takes a life time to assimilate the true meaning.  Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who is convinced that there is a treasure hidden in a piece of land. He gathers all his saving a buy the land” The predicators in the West would like to interpret this sentence as a gold or silver mine in the land that need to be excavated and they go at great length into legal terms to differentiate among the words “hidden and buried”.

The customs in our Land was to bury the jar of saved gold and silver coins in the garden or an unclaimed piece of land because the habitat was small (barely one large room where the entire household sleep and eat in) and could not sustain serious hiding places.  Tribes would hide their treasure in the desert before waging a battle and many would never survive to dig up their treasures.

Thus, the individual who bought the land, if he were lucky would have to dig up most of the land anyway to find the jar of treasure.  The meaning is in order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven you would have to go through the same process of fulfilling a dream by investing money, time, and effort most of your life. Consequently, faith is a good starting point to sustain the duration of the long haul but it is not enough if you lack charity in your heart; you have to learn to care and love and support your brothers and neighbors. It is a hard and long endeavor to pass through the “hole of the needle

For example, many predicators in the west tried their best to explain the concept of “a hole in a needle” when Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the hole of a needle than a rich person to go to heaven”.  The predicators in the west invented a more plausible and palatable explanation by saying that “the hole in the needle” was the small door in the huge gate reserved for the passage of individual; they said that a camel could pass through if not loaded with baggage; another nice figure of speech though not correct.

In the languages of the Land, Arabic, Aramaic, or Hebrew the names of the small doors in gates were never called by anything referring to needle. The language in the Levant is extravagant for describing the almost impossible tasks that require perseverance and ingenuity.

Jesus goes on: “Kingdom of heaven is like a land that was sawn with good grains of wheat.  At night, an enemy comes and saw “zouan” (a grain that resembles wheat but causes pain, dizziness, and suffering for many days when mixed with wheat grains; it is mostly used to feed chicken).  The cultivators (slaves) asked the master permission to sort out and pull out the “zouan” from the field. The master said that it is useless since the whole field is ruined” In dire periods of famine many would mix “zouan” with wheat to make profit regardless of the consequences.  The honest master would not take the chance of being perceived as a fraud if his good grain was inadvertently adulterated with “zouan”.  In another verse, Jesus told the servants to patiently and meticulously remove the “zouan” from the wheat then gather around a bonfire to burn the “zouan”

The same idea relates with leaven that was saved in a bag of wheat in order not to rot quickly; in another verse in order to leaven the entire bag of wheat flour.  In ancient periods, people would eat unleavened bread because it was very hard and difficult to keep usable leaven in hot and desert regions.  Thus, leaven had the bad connotation of spoilage agent, such as when Jesus warned his disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” but the disciples didn’t understand this figure of speech: they lived at an advanced and urban period when leaven was no longer associated with spoilage but as a good catalyst.  Consequently, the parable of Jesus “Kingdom of Heaven is like a leaven that a woman hide in three bags of wheat flour until all the bags were leavened and ready to bake refers to the good use of small quantities to affect large lots.

Thus, a term could be used to convey contradictory meaning if we are not conversant with the customs and period of the saying.  In the Levant, cultivators believe that “zouan” will grow among wheat no mater how careful we proceed in sawing fields. Consequently, it is advisable to rotate the field to grow other kinds of harvests in order to have the opportunity to pull out all the “zouan” that spoiled the field for later wheat harvests.

Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who had misplaced one of her ten coins.  She searches all nights and all days (when the husband is not home), she searches in every nook and cranny and she sweep the floor until she finds the missing coin.  Then this woman would call up her neighboring women friends to join her and celebrate” (Most of the time they spend more on these gathering than what the coin was worth).  People worked hard to earn a coin and the man of the house would invariable express his displeasure for a missing coin and every women had gone through the same experience many times in their lives and it was a real occasion for women to gather, recount, and recall their daily troubles.  There are times for anxiety and relentless searches and times for relaxation and sharing.

There are moments for prioritizing our quests and leaving many tasks undone to focus on an urgent one, such as saving our soul in order not to anger our Lord.  This story is almost identical in meaning as the shepherd who leaves 99 head of sheep grazing unattended in order to find the lost one.

On Women:

Regardless of exterior behaviors of “non-polite” communication with women, men have utmost respect and considerations for their wives and sisters and girls. Inside the homes the couples are at par in responsibilities and duties if not biased toward the wives; “When there is love affectation is redundant”.  In that spirit, it is the good intensions that count and not the actual behaviors.  The Levantine regards the expressions “If you please”, or “be kind enough” are superfluous because love and respect are natural and come with the territory.  This behavior is compatible with the simple and rough daily living; houses are simply furnished with the basic necessities and the entire family members sleep and eat in one room or two; there are no exclusive rooms or quarters for the grown ups; and thus privacy is not a priority.

The tradition of nomadic tribes raiding sedentary affluent villages and taking women captives heightened the protective customs in the Levant and restricted women’s work within the villages.   Women were restrained from showing off and retorting vehemently in gatherings of men.

The attitude of men of adopting the two extreme behaviors of sanctifying women (horma) and occasional “contempt” might convey a feeling of disdain but it is basically a childish behavior coupled with lack of a cultural life that the harsh demands for survival do not reserve time for “luxury”.  The Hebraic laws considered women with no soul and thus could be transacted as chattel; this is not the case for the rest of the people of the Land; and thus this huge cultural difference between the Hebrew Mosaic traditions and the traditions in the Levant.

“Thus spoken God; they will come carrying the little girls over the shoulders.  Kings will be your vassals and queens will nurse you”  The custom of carrying kid girls over shoulders is widely practiced in the Levant; mother resumes her daily tasks while the kid girls sit on their shoulders while getting a hold on the head. The prophet Isaiah (Ashaya) speaks in imageries what the “noble” class in the Levant expects the common people to practice in their presence.

New Borns were wrapped like mummies; first they are washed with lukewarm water and their bodies rubbed with salt and then scented before a square piece of cloth join their arms by the side of the body and the legs stretched.  An unwanted baby or when someone is cursed the maxim says “You were not rubbed with salt when you were born”

On Feet:

Feet were considered dirty parts and sources of impurity, as the left hand was:  people went barefoot or wearing thongs at best, and wiped their behind with their left hands. The same is true when John the Baptist said about the coming Messiah “I will be most honored if he permit me to untie his shoe lace” because stooping near feet is not acceptable and thus, the custom of sitting by the feet of a nobility is a mark of homage bestowed on him.  When the sister of Martha, Mary of Magdala, pours expensive perfumes on Jesus’ feet and rubbed them with her hair she was expressing her complete humiliation and attesting to the Messiah status of Jesus. 

Note 4:  I have published five posts on the theme of customs and tradition in the Near East extracted from the Bibles, Old and New, with some development and clarifications to the benefit of the western civilizations. This post is a compilation of my previous posts.

Note 5: This series of posts was inspired by the book that I reviewed “The Syrian Christ” by Abraham Metrie Rihbany; it was published in the USA and in English in 1916 and I read the Arabic translation.  I thought that it was a good idea to attach relevant contexts to the fragment of verses that Western predicators are found of using on the ground that abstract concepts don’t need any historical, geographic, or people’s customs context.

Note 6: The people in the Levant are people of faith; they refrain from rationally structuring their religion into dogma.  The early Christian communities relied on the custom of brotherhood and faith in the community. It is only when Christian communities were established in Greece and Rome that structuring got underway.  Hundreds of Christian sects mushroomed in the Levant according to a few alterations in the re-structuring of the dogma that spanned into political and self autonomous sects.

After the conclave of Nicee (Turkey) in 325, during the pagan Emperor Constantine, the Church got highly structured and hierarchical; the pagan ceremonies, symbols, and pageantry were introduced to win over the pagans who were in the majority.  Since then, persecution of the “heretic” Christian sects started and is still alive into modern time.

Note 7:  I am no theologian, and frankly, I don’t feel hot for any structured and formalized religions.  I am a guy who is appalled by sects abusing religion for political ends, for institutional profit, and for personal aggrandizement.  Occasionally, a few books of historical nature in matter of religion drop into my hands and they expose a few lethal fallacies; I have no choice but to react, expose the confusion related to abstract concepts out of their historical, geographical, and cultural context.

I cannot withstand sects that abolish individual reflection for the benefit of the “collectivity” or their close knit communities. I disseminate what my personal reflections feel right to inform and educate.

Of Sand and Land: Women to keep up the struggle (June 4, 2009)

It is mid July 1967.  Nada is trotted by three urchins, bare footed and wearing oversized blouses.  Nada is heading to the “potable” water truck; a long file of women waiting for their turn.  Nada lives in tent #56, street #7 of a makeshift refugee camp, 40 kilometers of Amman.

Nada lived a week ago in a house by the foot of a hill, and tended a small garden across from the Jordan River in the town of Bethlehem.  Nada’s husband Kamal is back to Amman for the nth time searching for a job.  The eldest daughter Amina is ten and attending the refugee’s school , in a tent run by refugee instructors.  The eldest son Farid is twelve: Farid is not seeing life in roses; life to Farid will be scarlet red: he is getting military training with the Fedayyins after school.

What was taken by force will be recovered by force: International Diplomacy has proven its inefficiency, 20 years earlier, when Nada’s parents were chased out of her home in Jafa by the sea, never to return.

The Israeli soldiers kicked Nada door in Bethlehem while sitting for supper.  The neighbor had been calling wolf  for ever: “they are going to blow the house”; the same kind of “caring” neighbor who called wolf 20 years earlier.

Nada is wearing her gold bracelets on her arm with pride: her husband and parents loved her and she showed her loving pride. It cannot look any poorer around the camp but Nada’s Palestinian robe with golden brocades fits a princess.

Mounira is a young and fragile looking woman; she is a delicate flower, sitting on an oversized couch in a villa in the Capital Amman.  Mounira was chased out of her land in Palestine; her husband has been studying and working in the USA for two years now, and is asking her to join him. Mounira is a militant with Al Fatah, the new Palestinian resistance organization in the Diaspora.

During the failed incursion of Israel in the village of Karama on the borders in Jordan in 1969, Mounira and 15 other women fighters and nurses joined the battle when they heard the news on the radio.  The Palestinian fighters could not believe their eyes; the militant women fighters came late, but resumed the task of taking care of the wounded and transporting them to nearby hospitals. (To be continued)

Note: These accounts were extracted from a French book published in 1970 by Laurence Deonna who reported on the conditions of Palestinian refugees after the June 1967 war.

Modern Day Crusaders: The Ashkenazi Spearhead “Jews”, (April 27, 2009)

Brief Ancient history:  Many waves of Crusading forces assembled in Medieval Europe with the avowed purpose of recapturing the Holy City of Jerusalem from the hands of the Moslem “Infidels”.

The successive crusading invasions were mainly of trading nature: the wealthy European new class of merchants wanted a cheaper trade for securing the spice and perfume routes of India and the Far-East Asia via Egypt.

The Crusaders failed to capture Egypt on 3 occasions and the objective of investing money in order to securing cheaper spices and perfumes that were transported by land routes through Iran and Turkey did not generate any return and the Crusading campaigns stopped.

The maritime crusading campaigns restarted in the 16th centuries by Portugal and Spain.

India and the Far Eastern Asian, sources of spices, perfume, and gold were colonized and maritime stronghold ports were established around Africa, India, Yemen, and the Persian/Arabia Sea.  The British recaptured most of these colonies and trading posts (comptoirs) and secured the direct administration of Egypt.

Slightly Modern history:  Britain, France, and Russia realized that it is too costly to colonize the former empires of Iran and Turkey for no major returns, since raw materials could be obtained relatively cheaply by maritime routes. Their best strategy was to weaken these nations and nibble on their neighboring regions.

Russia got interested in the Caucasus triangle of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.

France was interested in Syria and Lebanon.

Britain got mandate power over Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.

And then oil was discovered in abundance in this region, starting in southern Iran around 1906.

The First World War used mechanized troops; diesel engines were substituted to vapor engines as mechanical workhorse for industries.

The USA got in the fray since 1920 for oil explorations in the Arabic peninsula and exhibited its colonial ambitions by conquering Cuba and the Philippines from Spain in 1911.

Modern history:  Britain enticed the Hashemite king of Mecca, supposedly from the same Quraich tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, to support the war effort against the Moslem Ottoman Empire.

Britain quickly realized that the Near Eastern population (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine) would not mind a “nominal” nomadic king from Mecca, but the Levantine people were too independent and urban to relinquish their desires for autonomy.

Consequently, Britain and France decided that it would be too risky to allow the Near Eastern people to unite under a vital and critical Nation.

The alternative was found by using the Zionist movement as a spearhead to disrupting any unification of the region.  The British Foreign Affairs Balfour issued in 1917 a declaration of intent favorable to the settlement of the Zionist movement in Palestine.

In the same year, Britain and France decided to split their mandated powers over the Near East.  Consequently, the Ashkenazi “Jews” of Central Europe, were encouraged to build agricultural colonies in Palestine in order to establishing a “Jewish Homeland” with avowed purpose of re-capturing the Jewish Holy City of Jerusalem.

The modern crusade of the western nations is cloaked in Jewish biblical claims to destabilize this strategic region.

Since 1920, the Ashkenazi Jews were directed by International Zionism to buy and settle Palestine and it was supported by the European governments of Britain and France.

The beginning of Nazi Germany persecutions of Jews in 1933 encouraged the European nations to transfer the Jews to Palestine in order not to alienate Nazi Germany and succumb to its demands for repatriation of the Ashkenazi “Jews” into concentration camps.

It does not mean that the plan to establishing a “Homeland” for the Ashkenazi Jews was inevitable or that the people in the Near East were not aware of the plan and its existential danger.  The main troubles were:

First, this region had not credible institutions and lacked unified organizations to counter politically this harrowing plan;

Second, the surrounding empires of Turkey, Iran, and Egypt were struggling for survival and had no immediate interests in their backyard; and

Third, the mandate superpowers of Britain and France controlled and managed the region and its policies.

The people in the Near East are aware that the State of Israel is a western implant of the same kind of crusadering campaigns in the first millennia. The Zionist ideology prevented the leadership in Israel in alleviating and changing this perception for over 60 years.

There are indications that the USA and Europe comprehend that the game is over and are drawing plans for the counter immigration of the Ashkenazi to their original homelands.

The Sephardic Jews have practically nowhere to go, and they will manage to integrate Palestine as they did since ancient times.

It would be beneficial for the western nations to change their policies of “divide to dominate” in the Near East and start negotiating with the national resistance forces, even if they offer the image of religious resistance forces, because this is the most potent factor when secular conditions are weak.

The western nations need to negotiate with all resistances forces in the region as national resistance to a foreign implant, so that the new emerging nation does not fall to the extremist conservative religious ideologies.

This is a long term fight of 20 years and the secular democratic forces in the Near East need to have an opportunity for a fighting chance.

Note: I am perfectly aware that many would use the dismissive “anti-semitism” cliché in emulation of the lazy media approach to hot issues.  It is interesting to realize that effective and valuable communication is based on personal reflection with rational thinking as guiding rod.




July 2020

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