John Feister continues his reports from the Middle East, today visiting Zarqa, Jordan's industrial center, a Palestinian refugee camp, and Madaba. The group arrives at the Israel border.
Day 3: Zarqa, Madaba
The Church is, at its best, a witness to hope, a sign of life’s fullness. Today, traveling to locations in Jordan, our journalists’ group saw much to be hopeful about, but also saw more than one place that is far from the fullness for which we all hope and pray.
After a short night’s sleep—many of us burned the midnight oil filing stories after Sunday’s adventures!—we boarded the bus at our Amman hotel and headed for Zarqa. This city of about one-half million people is Jordan’s industrial center. An hour’s drive from Amman, known for inexpensive real estate, it is home to about 50 percent of Jordan’s industry. Surrounded by all of that industry, with the pollution and disarray that implies, we entered one internationally established Palestinian refugee camps: Zarqa Camp. It’s a small, poor city-within-a-city, home to 70,000 Palestinian refugees.
Established in the 1940s, it still has no infrastructure, period. No plumbing, no centralized services, no sewers, no building codes. These people do not want to establish permanent residency—They want to return home to their ancestral lands, in today’s disputed territories. There’s a good background article about this at
. The terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose legacy continues to threaten us was from here.
Dirty, poor, with nearby toxic chemicals spewing, it reminded me of other polluted places in the Third World, full of families who love their children, live day to day, and are hopeless about any change.
In the midst of that poverty we met the Dominican sisters who run a clinic for mothers and their infants—the only one available in the camp. By the time we arrived at 9:30 a.m., the clinic’s seven medical staff had already treated 87 babies, mostly for inoculation. The halls and examination rooms were teeming with women and young children, sometimes with husbands and fathers waiting with siblings in other hallways.
To protect the dignity of the families, the clinic charges a nominal fee—a fraction of the fees charged at public facilities that would not be accessible for most of these families. The clinic is fully sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Photo by John Feister
A different Sisters’ order had established the clinic in the 1980s, after initially traveling to the camp in mobile health care units. As that community dwindled in membership, they had to pull out, about seven years ago. Catholic Near East recruited the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, a community besieged in Mosul, Iraq, to send sisters to replace them. Sister Habiba is the leader of this brave group of sisters. She is headed back to Iraq, though, to head her community and found a clinic in Mosul.
We visited in the crowded hallways, took pictures and videos of those who would allow us, talked to mothers, fathers and staff, cajoled young children to smile, took in the parish school next door. Then it was back on the bus.
We drove another hour or so to Madaba, paying a friendly visit to the Greek Orthodox parish, which includes a famous, ancient, mosaic map of the Holy Land, a marvelous guest house for visitors who come to visit this important arts center, and the Greek New School, teeming with bright young children and their teachers. The principal, Suhr, who commutes daily from Amman has a clear vision for her students: “We are all one culture, Muslim and Christian, in Jordan.” English and computers are important at this school, Suhr says: “If you don’t know English and computers, you don’t get ahead. We teach both.”
Back to the bus, and Israel, driving through the desert country, stopping at Mt. Nebo, where Moses looked across the Dead Sea to the Promised Land, weaving around camels that Bedouin herders bring along with them as they move through the desert during three or four months each year.
Photo by John Feister
Our rude awakening came at the Israeli border, where we got a firsthand look at how Israel treats the Palestinians. Each one is a suspected terrorist. There are tens of thousands, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Though most of our group passed through seven stages of inspection fairly quickly, one member, Katie, of the Arlington Catholic, whose middle name sounded vaguely Arabic, spent the better part of an hour answering questions about her father, her grandfather, what she was up to here, and so on. Our CNS photographer, Paul, had a similar experience because of his photo equipment. Armed military—seemingly mostly 20-year-olds, were hard to miss. After an hour or so of waiting, our group was reunited and headed off to Jerusalem, now in a new bus with a new driver. Our Palestinian driver and bus would never have made it across the border.
When we got to Jerusalem, there was a late dinner and orientation at our Vatican-owned motel, and another late night of documenting the day's experiences. The next day promises to be a full one.
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