Palestinians say Kingdom ‘lung’ of West Bank

RAMALLAH — Fadi Abu Saada from Bethlehem has several relatives in Amman. Having worked and lived there for two years, he also has many friends in the city. His first instinct Wednesday night when he heard the news of the bombings was, like that of many others, to get on the phone.

“I called everyone. And when the network was busy I tried another network. I couldn’t remember people’s landline numbers, so I ended up phoning my former office at Ammannet, which is near the Radisson [SAS Hotel], to make sure everyone was OK.”

None of his friends or relatives was hurt, but Abu Saada says he is still reeling from the shock.

“It was as if it happened here. In a way I think we [Palestinians] can sympathise better than most, because we live this kind of situation all the time under the Israeli occupation. We are used to ringing around to find out whether our friends and relatives are still alive.”

Shops, government offices and schools stayed closed and all official institutions flew the Palestinian flag at half-mast yesterday, as the Palestinian Authority declared three days of national mourning. In Ramallah, while people were still milling around, there was a quiet about town normally reserved for Fridays.

Abu Saada’s reaction illustrates the close ties between the West Bank and Jordan. Hardly anyone here does not have relatives or friends in Amman. Most know Amman as the first port of call to the outside world, the only way out of the West Bank and away from the Israeli-imposed closures and restrictions that hamper every move here.

Jordan is, says Hisham Ahmed, the only “lung” Palestinians of the West Bank have.

“It will be felt particularly deeply here,” says Ahmed, a professor of political science at Birzeit University. “Not only are we used to such events, but no one here does not have loved ones there. This is where Palestinians go to get out of here; it is the only place we can go.”

The burning question now, says Ahmed, is why?

“Amman is not isolated like Sharm El Sheikh, it is not Baghdad. It is another incident in the sequence of chaos that is engulfing this region. I believe this is a message not just to the Jordanian government but to all Arab governments that `nobody is immune’. I could have been at one of these hotels, and so could anyone.”

Indeed, several Palestinians were killed in the blasts, among them Bashir Nafeh, a head of the PA’s West Bank intelligence service, and a man Ahmed knew personally and “admired deeply.”

“His entire life, Nafeh spent fighting the Israeli occupation,” says Khader Khader, media coordinator of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre. “To then die in a bombing completely unrelated in Amman is a tragic and strange fate.”

Khader, however, said many Palestinians, until the targets and nature of the victims were known, might have initially received the news with mixed feelings.

“There is always a sense, especially here, that Arab regimes have failed the Palestinians. So when Arab regimes are hit, there is a feeling that it was coming. Arab countries have not been strong on the Israeli occupation, they did not resist the invasion of Iraq and so few garner much sympathy. But then you look at the victims, and you realise that this guy, Abu Mussab Zarqawi, if he was behind the bombings, does not care for anyone. Why is it ordinary people that always have to suffer?”

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