'The right of return will destroy us all'
AMMAN - Abu Majd had to press the release button of the glove compartment three times before the small, filthy door popped open. With a flash of annoyance, he pulled out a large brown envelope. "Here, these are her papers. I keep them with me in the car, so that she won't tell them that she's turning down the offer."
Abu Majd is referring to his daughter Hala, who just graduated from Zaytuna University in Amman. Hala, 23, is "physically healthy," as it says on the form. "She's also a lot prettier than what's necessary," says Abu Majd, and has already received an extraordinary offer. "Look! Look how much they want to pay her in Kuwait. She'd come out with about 650 Jordanian dinars a month. Here she'd only get 180 dinars. About a month ago, a search delegation from the Kuwaiti Education Ministry, which has a shortage of teachers, especially Arabic teachers, came to Jordan. The delegation summoned female university graduates in the education departments and interviewed them. Hala, praise God, did very well and they gave her a contract on the spot."
But now there's a problem. "Her mother is scheming behind my back not to let her travel to Kuwait. 'We keep our girls with us,' her mother says, 'and don't turn them into foreigners.' 'What are you talking about?,' I asked her mother. 'She'll be traveling with other girls from Jordan, they'll live in the teachers' dormitories, and if anything happens she can always complain at the Jordanian embassy in Kuwait, or come right back home. She also has a brother who works in Dubai, in the hotels. What can happen to her?' But her mother is not easily persuaded. She's a stubborn Palestinian woman. So I took the forms with me, so she won't be able to inform them of the cancellation and I'm gradually trying to convince her. Money like that is an incredible opportunity. Afterward she won't have to marry just anyone. She'll be able to tell her husband that she has a respectable income of her own and doesn't need to be dependent on him. She'll be master of her own household. And it's not just her. When I get old, she'll also be able to support me. Yes, really, a daughter who will support her father. What's good for the Jews is good for us, too."
Abu Majd knows the Jews well. He even possesses an ID card "of the occupation" and also a Palestinian Authority ID. Before he moved to Jordan, he worked in a bakery in the Tel Aviv area. When we pass by a certain neighborhood in Amman, he asks: "Doesn't it remind you of the entrance to Kiryat Ono? Look, there are the same exact sidewalks, the same square houses that you can't tell who lives in them. They're all the same. Who knows - maybe the contractor who built Kiryat Ono built this neighborhood here in Amman."
Once every two or three months, Abu Majd crosses the border into Israel, visits relatives in a village near Ramallah, stays for a week to 10 days ("Also so they won't forget me in the village, and so the Israeli authorities won't take away my ID") and then goes back to his job in Jordan.
Right now he's a little worried. True, the children are set and, inshallah, his daughter Hala will eventually go to Kuwait to work, but he was still tempted a few days ago to buy stocks. "Everyone told me to buy stock in the Palestinian electric company. A good company and one whose services everybody needs. I went and bought 5,000 dinars worth of stock. When I went to get the confirmation of the stock purchase, I found out that this doggone electric company is in Gaza. Who wants to buy stock in a company that's in Gaza?
"You know, as much as I think of myself as an open-minded person, as someone who knows the world, who knows something about how to get along in life, it suddenly hit me that I just don't trust anything that comes from Gaza. Even though it's just as Palestinian as a company in East Jerusalem or Ramallah, I still can't explain to myself why I despise Gaza so much. Maybe it's because of the Gazans? Those poor people, they're Palestinians just like us. Or maybe not exactly. Yes, they're different. Refugees, the poor things. Who will take them back? The Egyptians don't want them, in the West Bank they don't want them, Israel won't let them return. What will happen to them? And what do you think will happen with my stocks?"
Now comes Abu Majd's real reckoning with the occupation. "If there is peace, say, that means that Israel will release the Palestinians' money and let them build houses and factories, right? And then they'll need more than electricity. Which means, this company will develop and grow and them my money will grow, too - won't it?"
But then a dark cloud seems to suddenly appear: "Will they give out the money in Gaza like they will in the West Bank, or will they screw them over as usual? And then what will become of the development there? Will they need electricity like in the West Bank?"
By now we've reached Jerash, the city where the Jordanian authorities stage a music and dance festival each year among the Roman ruins and pillars. A dusty, khaki-colored city that can lay claim to being a "nature town" solely by virtue of the surrounding mountains and vegetation-filled wadi that runs through it. It's early afternoon, and this is a good time to eat at the Green Valley restaurant. This sprawling establishment has grown year after year, layer upon layer, room upon room, fountain upon fountain. Efficient Egyptian waiters long ago replaced the Syrian waiters, and they expertly attend to the large crowd that shows up here on Fridays.
"You know who this restaurant belongs to?," Abu Majd asks and then supplies the answer: "You know the way to Ramat Gan via the zoo? The Safari? You know the giant mountain of garbage? Hiriya? So that's it, the owner is from Hiriya. The elderly father died but his four sons run the place. Millionaires. You think any one of them will go back to Hiriya? Right of return or no right of return. Here they have the right to make money." But these words are soon revealed as a tranquilizer that Abu Majd uses whenever the subject of the right of return comes up. He himself is not a refugee. In other words, when the time comes, he won't get a "pension" from the Jews.
"How do you think they'll calculate the compensation money," Abu Majd wants to know right away. Not if they'll calculate, or when they'll calculate, or who will do the calculating, but "how."
"Just for the house or for the land, too? Because, you know, here in Jordan, every time they start to talk about the right of return there are always two types who leap up: The refugees who pull their refugee card out of the drawer and dust it off, and the Jordanians who want a piece of the spoils in return for 'hosting' the refugees for so many years."
Abu Majd doesn't belong to either one of these groups and thus is not assured of any slice of the pie that he expects to one day be divvied up among the refugees or their hosts. He's just a Palestinian from the West Bank who lives and earns in Jordan. "This right of return will destroy us all," he says, predicting catastrophe. "There will be a war over money. A war over documents of proof. A war over testimonies that people will need to give about their neighbors. Who had a cow and who had a chicken. Then everyone will put each other's eyes out - 'Why did this one get more and this one get less.' And then there will be a war among the heirs."
As the future wars engendered by the right of return come into sharper focus, Abu Majd realizes just how fortunate he is. "I won't be in these wars, thank God. Just give me my salary and let Hala work in Kuwait and make good money. And I also have our land in the village near Ramallah. And I also have the stocks in the Gaza electric company. Still, it would be good if there were a refugee in the family. If only to spread out the investments."