Our guide for the week was Ali Abu Shakra, the son of a Palestinian father who fled Israel during the occupation of Gaza. As a 12-year-old boy he boarded a bus, not knowing where he was bound. In the early morning, he stepped off on a street corner in Amman, Jordan.
He was taken in by a woman whom Ali referred to as his grandmother. There he helped with the housework and ran errands. Eventually he married and had eight children, Ali among them.
Estimates suggest over 75 per cent of Jordan’s population is Palestinian, and the country houses over 1.8 million descendants of Palestinian refugees.
At one point on our long bus journey, he told the story of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and little Joseph with his fine coat. Their stories feature in the Bible and the Qur’an, and he added facets from both traditions as the story unfolded.
Muslims draw their line from Ishmael, the son of Sarah’s servant and Abraham’s second wife Hagar, and Christians from Isaac, the son of his wife Sarah. According to Muslims, Ishmael was the beloved son God asked Abraham to sacrifice; according to Christians it was Isaac. But it doesn’t matter which son it was, Ali said.
“Either way we’re cousins. Why should we kill each other over details of history?”
All are children of Abraham: Jews, Muslims and Christians.
He said extremists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict don’t want to even hear the word “Palestine” or the word “Israel.” “But why can’t it just be Israel-Palestine?” he asked. “Why can’t this child and that child both have the right to go to school?”
But it’s a matter of military power, and of histories of oppression. “If those who have been persecuted for so long have the chance to strike back, they will. It’s not about religion anymore. It’s anger. If I say, ‘You’ll grow up to be a terrorist, so I’ll kill you now,’ that’s not right. That’s not a way to treat a cousin.”