We visited a camp for Palestinians and heard despair for Gaza — and anger at America
AMMAN, Jordan — The concept of "home" can be a tricky one.
Ask a person, "Where's home for you?" and they may respond with where they were born, or where they grew up, or where they live today. This question is particularly fraught for the people we came to meet in Hitten camp, one of 10 refugee camps in Jordan that the United Nations provides services for. About two million registered Palestinians live in Jordan, the most of any country.
Many people at Hitten, northeast of Amman, have spent much or all of their lives here. But ask them where home is, and the overwhelming answer is the Palestinian territories: Gaza or the West Bank.
We came here earlier in November to ask what's on their minds, as war and violence unfold in places that may be miles away, but that feel central to their identities.
The first thing you notice when, as foreign journalists, you secure permission from local authorities to visit Hitten, is how permanent it looks. The word "camp" suggests a temporary arrangement and rows of tents. But Hitten has been here for generations, complete with concrete buildings and well-established neighborhoods dotted with mosques, narrow alleys, shops and a lively vegetable market.
The market is where we find Samir Musri. He is shopping with his eight-year-old daughter. He was born in Amman, but has lived in this camp for years. He identifies as Palestinian, from the West Bank. As we strike up a conversation, we're quickly interrupted by another passerby – an older woman. She shouts that whole families are being eliminated in Gaza, that so many people have been killed. She tells us no one is helping them, not even fellow Arabs.
The sense of anger in Hitten is palpable. We turn back to Musri.
"Of course we're angry, because children are being massacred," he says through an interpreter. "Hospitals were bombed. So yes, it is a massacre, and people are very angry in the camp."
Musri directs us deeper into the camp, to a neighborhood where many Palestinians from Gaza have settled. There we walk with Saleh Nakhleen, who is head of logistics on the committee that runs the camp. He is one of the 90,000-odd people who live in Hitten, about 20,000 of whom live in this particular neighborhood. He explains to us that none of them are refugees from this recent war.
Many of the residents were born in this camp, and some arrived in Jordan at other moments of conflict, like the Nakba, Arabic for "catastrophe" – the mass displacement of 1948.
As we walk with Musri, we're approached by an older man wearing a traditional red and white keffiyeh. As we introduce ourselves, he stops and asks, "American?" We confirm.
Abu Emad Al Din tells us that America is the enemy, but he agrees to talk to us. Many people in the region feel some version of this way, since the United States government – with the strong support of President Biden – offered $14 billion in military aid for Israel's response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.
Al Din goes on to say he despises Biden, but he understands there is a difference between people and their government – a sentiment shared by many of the people we spoke to in Jordan. Al Din was born in Gaza in 1945. He was three when his family was forced out during the Nakba, and has been here ever since.
"I wish I could go back [to Gaza] right now," he tells us through an interpreter. "I would go back in a heartbeat."
We continue to attract crowds everywhere we walk. Another man invites us into his home. His name is Majid Ghawanmeh. He's a pharmacist.
Several others follow Ghawanmeh and our team into his house. We remove our shoes and sit on brown, flowered cushions lining the wall. In the center of the room, a TV is turned to Al Jazeera Arabic, which is showing footage of the carnage in Gaza split screen with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking about the war.
"To be honest with you, we don't entertain or host the enemy," Ghawanmeh tells us through an interpreter. "And today, the enemy is America."
Nonetheless, a young boy circles the room offering each of us small thimbles of Arabic coffee and plump dates on a plate. We begin to discuss the war, and he tells us he wants to see a cease-fire, not a humanitarian pause. His wife is Gazan and her entire family lives there.
"I never imagined in my life that a democratic country would be against a cease-fire — to stop killing civilians, despite any political motive or objective," Ghawanmeh says. "You know what a humanitarian pause [is]? It's a way that the Israeli military can regroup and restrategize."
The man next to Ghawanmeh tells us he was visiting the camp from Gaza for a few months, because his father is from here. His name is Maher Rashaideh – and now, because of the war, he's not able to get home.
His family, his children, are all inside Gaza. His biggest priority is just trying to reach them. Internet and cell phone service have been cut repeatedly in Gaza in the past month. Israel, which maintains a blockade on Gaza, hasn't said if it's trying to cut off communications.
Rashaideh says when he does manage to get a call through, his questions and message are simple: "I told them, 'How are you? Are you living? Take care of yourselves and your sisters.'"
During our conversation, an older woman sits down with us on the cushions. Eventually we realize that she doesn't know anyone in the room – she just saw us walking the camp, wanted to speak to us, and followed us right into a stranger's home.
She asked us to identify her as Um Mohammed, because she's worried about the potential security risks for her daughters who are still living in Gaza. She came to this camp when she got married, but is from Gaza.
"I don't cook anymore. I don't eat anymore because of what is happening in Gaza," she says through an interpreter. Two of her daughters are sheltering at a U.N. school in Gaza near Rafah Crossing.
"I don't sleep," she continues. "You know what my children did? They intentionally broke my TV so I don't watch what is happening there. So I'm on the phone all the time."
Between tears, she tells us she's been in Jordan for 46 years. When we ask her where home is, she points – right around the corner. But her heart, she says, is in Gaza.
When asked if she thinks she'll see Gaza again, she throws up her hands: "Inshallah." God willing. The men around the room nod.
Local producer Rana Sweis contributed to this report. contributed to this story
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