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Jordan's precarious situation amid the Israel-Hamas conflict


The country of Jordan is one of the very few Arab states to have signed a peace agreement with Israel. It's been in force for almost 30 years. But the majority of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin, descendants who fled or were forced from their homes after the creation of Israel in 1948 and weren't allowed back. As NPR's Jane Arraf reports from Amman, Jordan, the war in Gaza is putting the country in a precarious position.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Arabic).

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Outside a mosque in downtown Amman, hundreds of protesters call for Jordan to let them go fight Israel. They cheer when a Muslim Brotherhood speaker sets fire to an Israeli flag.


ARRAF: Jordan shares a border with the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which it once ruled. Since the Israeli attacks on Gaza, Jordanian tanks and roadblocks have kept that border firmly closed to protesters. I meet Issam Nimer. He's originally from Bethlehem but was born and raised in Jordan. He owns a clothing shop and came to the protest with his 20-year-old daughter.

ISSAM NIMER: (Through interpreter) This is what we can do, especially because all the international media is with Israel, so we try to express ourselves.

ARRAF: Business has dropped everywhere in Jordan since the war in Gaza began. Even before this war broke out, widespread poverty and a lack of jobs have fueled discontent across Jordan. The kingdom is a key U.S. ally and depends on foreign aid.


KING ABDULLAH II: Today, Israel is literally starving civilians in Gaza.

ARRAF: At a conference in Cairo on the weekend, Jordan's King Abdullah was unusually blunt.


ABDULLAH II: But for decades, Palestinians have been starved of hope, of freedom and a future because when the bombs stop falling, Israel is never held accountable.

ARRAF: Jordan has seen war before in the region, and people are worried here. They're not going out, and they're not spending money. Foreign tourists have canceled trips.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in non-English language).

ARRAF: On the edge of Amman is Wahdat, one of 10 refugee camps in Jordan that are home to some of the 2 million registered Palestinian refugees in the country. Since Israel was created in 1948, the camps have turned from tents to concrete cities within a city. I'm on one of the main streets in Wahdat Camp, in between two mosques, actually. There are pigeons circling overhead in the sky from people who keep racing pigeons. And it's a day off here, so a lot of the shops are closed. But the barbershops seem to be doing a booming business.


ARRAF: One of the customers is Mohannad, who's originally from Gaza. He says he's been in anguish since he learned his aunt and a cousin were killed in one of the Israeli airstrikes this week.

MOHANNAD: (Through interpreter) Let all the Arabs and Muslims look at us. Look at the children dying. If there was an Arab country that had a heart, it would look at us and do something.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: A group of fourth- and fifth-grade boys who go to the U.N. school across the street play on a truck. They tell us where they're from - places they've never seen but hold dear to their hearts.

(Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #5: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Palestinians came as refugees from across the river Jordan, but they're woven into the fabric of this country. In an upscale part of Amman, Hannan Halaq, a lawyer and businesswoman wearing designer sunglasses, is drinking coffee at a table on the sidewalk. She says her father talks about Muslims, Jews and Christians living peacefully together in their hometown of Jerusalem when he was a child. Now, she says about Israelis...

HANNAN HALAQ: They hate us. They hate our children. They hate how we look. They hate our homes. They want to get rid of us.


ARRAF: Inside the coffee bar, most of the staff serving coffee drinks like rose-flavored lattes are originally Palestinian. Daliah, who's in her 20s, has long, perfectly manicured nails in two shades of purple. She dreams of being a flight attendant and seeing the world, including Ramallah, where her family is from.

DALIAH: There is no difference between Jordanians and Palestinians. We are all like brothers here. But, like, the fact that I've been born in here and I've never seen my own hometown - it's just difficult, you know?

ARRAF: It's a difficult region that has seen more than its share of difficult times. Jordanians and others close to the conflict fear they'll face even more hardship to come. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Amman, Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.