“I cannot believe that this global awakening will not lead somewhere”

A wide-ranging interview with Jordanian activist Dania Gharaibeh on the war against Palestine.


Hello Dania. Thanks for talking to us. Could you start by introducing yourself?

My name is Dania Gharaibeh. I am based in Amman, Jordan. I’m half-Egyptian, half-Jordanian, and I’ve been involved in activism for Palestine for two decades now. I lived in Washington, DC, and did awareness raising there. I work on gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the humanitarian sector. Right now I work with a humanitarian organization responding to Gaza.

Could you say something about recent pro-Palestine activity in Jordan

In Jordan, I don’t think anybody talks about anything else but Gaza these days. There are a number of protests. I participate as much as I can and take my 5-year old child with me but can’t stay long. Protests are often started by a small group of people in specific spaces, i.e. the Israeli Embassy, and proliferate through social media. The most active group diligently organizing protests are the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and other affiliated Islamic movements. There have also been efforts by the workers unions, medical workers syndicate,and the lawyers syndicate. Fridays witness the largest protests where most of us know where to go after prayer. I would say that the biggest protests have really happened spontaneously. Gaza is on all of our minds and we all feel the need to do more than just voice out our frustration on social media.

To understand how Jordanians are feeling, it is important to know the relationship between Jordan and Palestine. Historically, the people in what is now called Jordan (a.k.a. Transjordan prior to 1946), and the people in Palestine, have always been one people. Jordan as a nation state, with its current borders (give or take) was created in 1946 as a result of British colonialism of this region. The Brits have allied with a number of key tribes across the Levent area and the Arab peninsula to expel the Ottomans during the first World War. After the Ottomans’ defeat, the Brits (and the French) made some back of the napkin deals with the heads of these tribes to divide the region up and assign each of them a territory to establish a sovereign state. In a nutshell, a bunch of drunk white men wanted to appease a bunch of territorial tribesmen and divided and conquered. By the way, there is even literature about how much booze was consumed by these diplomats during this period.

At a socio-cultural level, the division between Jordanians and Palestinians are superficial and trivial. We differentiate each other the way Germans jokingly talk about the differences between Southwesterners and Rhinelanders, for example. Palestinians and Jordanians have the same folklore, traditions, dress, food, landscape, vernacular, even slang. The West Bank is less than two hours away from downtown Amman.

Today Jordan falls between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. If you look at the different people that make up Jordan, the ones that fall around Palestine and Syria have always been identified as Levantines first. These are our people we are seeing getting slaughtered. 

In addition, Jordan fought Israel when it was created in 1948 and annexed large parts of the West Bank where it granted its people Jordanian citizenship. And then we have the many Palestinians who sought refuge in Jordan during and after the 1967 war. Many of whom continue to live in refugee camps across Jordan to this day.

Consequently, over 70% of people in what is now called  Jordan are from Palestinian villages. This is why Jordan has become an epicenter of pro-Palestine activism, aside from Yemen, of course – we cannot forget what the Houthis are doing. 

We got reports about a month ago about very big demonstrations in Jordan. Was that a one off or is it part of a bigger series of events?

The protests are almost constant but their size ebbs and flows based on the brutality of the events unfolding in Gaza as well as the perceived complacency of the Jordanian ruling class. It’s like a fire that every now and then gets stoked with Israeli atrocities and global leaders, and especially Jordanian leaders’ inaction. We are all glued to our social media and TVs. Many of us see that the only way to react is to join the demonstrations. In Amman, most demonstrations happen at the same places which include large, central mosques and the Israeli Embassy.

The demands are clear and consistent. People want the ruling class in Jordan to cut all ties with Israel. As you know Jordan normalized relations with Israel under the Wadi Araba Peace Treaty in 1994. Diplomatic normalization and trade exchange were central in this agreement. Jordanians want to see all ties severed. So far, diplomatic ties have been suspended temporarily when the Jordanian government announced that the Israeli Ambassador – who fled Jordan after October 7th, 2023 – will not be allowed back in Amman and withdrew the Jordanian Ambassador from Israel. However both parties continue to acknowledge each others’ border security. Or in other words, Jordan continues to protect Israeli borders! As for trade ties, we know that they are still in place. These include import, export, and free trade zones. This normalization of relations doesn’t reflect the Jordanian people’s will. 

Another demand is to support the resistance. The overwhelming majority in Jordan view Hamas as a legitimate militant resistance to an occupation. Chants in the protests include “we are all Hamas” and “open the borders, we want to join the fight.” If the Jordanian-Israeli borders were opened, I am certain thousands of young men and women will want to join or at least finance and support militant resistance on the other side.

The protests were largely peaceful until February this year where there was a huge crackdown. That is where we began seeing the use of tear gas and arrests. We have also started seeing arrests of activists for their online content under a rather oppressive cybercrimes law that was passed in August last year. 

The largest crackdown was in April this year after the Iranian attack on Israel. Jordan proudly announced that it intercepted and countered the missiles. This was seen by most Jordanians as a betrayal. In fact, some felt that Jordan endangered Jordanians by hitting the missiles which landed on Jordanian homes and shops to protect Israel. We woke up one morning to hear of missile debris in public spaces, some of it being sold on e-Bay! This led to protests that had anti-government and anti-monarchy chants.

Jordan as a country doesn’t have many natural resources… One of the only things it has going for it is its geopolitical importance… Jordan receives over $ 1.5 billion from the U.S. in aid annually. The U.S. Government has provided Jordan with more than $17.3 billion in foreign aid since its creation in 1946.

The crackdown since has calmed down the past few months but that may be because the protests are not as big as they used to be recently.

One of the sore points is that Jordanian security forces continue to protect the Israeli embassy which protesters often try to breach. If you go near the Israeli embassy, there are military security forces that block access to most streets heading to the embassy.  I know it’s their job, and it’s impossible for them to get out of the chain of command. But that has always been the point of tension between the Jordanian public and Jordanian security forces. 

My father lives right next to the Israeli embassy and I often experience the tension in that area first hand.

What’s the attitude of the Jordanian government towards Israel?

Jordan is a monarchy. The cabinet is appointed by the king. The National Assembly has two chambers. One appointed by the king and another based on elections. Civic participation in elections is very weak. Voter turnout in the last parliamentary elections was below 30%.  I am sharing all this to point out that the government doesn’t represent its people in Jordan.

The Jordanian government has always brilliantly played a balancing act. It has a rhetoric for internal consumption and another for international consumption. In reality, Jordan decided to normalize relations with Israel  and accept the occupation as a de-facto presence in the region since the 1970s.

The reality is, the Jordanian government is very much under American rule, and serves American interests. Its very sustenance is dependent on that. Jordan as a country doesn’t have many natural resources. Economically, it is in a very dire place. One of the only things it has going for it is its geopolitical importance, for example during the Iraq War or for Palestine. This is its biggest commodity for diplomacy, and it has used it accordingly. Jordan receives over $ 1.5 billion from the U.S. in aid annually. The U.S. Government has provided Jordan with more than $17.3 billion in foreign aid since its creation in 1946. Recent news revealed that there are over 3000 U.S. troops in Jordan.

We were and continue to be deprived of experiencing the evolution of a political consciousness because any awakening will jeopardize Israeli and American interests.

So Jordan is walking the line. Against its public’s wishes. And with no strong representative political bodies, the public will continue to be ignored. Jordan deals with Jordanian dissent, especially against its alliance with the U.S. and by extension Israel, as a chronic illness that can be managed when it flares.

The lack of representative political bodies across the Middle East and not just in Jordan is, indeed, by design. Any attempt across the Middle East to have a democratically elected rule that represents the will of its people will be disastrous to Israel. We have been deprived of democracy, human rights, and all the other freedoms we are entitled to for the protection of Israel in the nation. Almost 500 million people in the Middle East pay and have paid the price of this occupation for over 7 decades.

I am half Egyptian and half Jordanian. I know from my parents’ generation how the left, which represented the political leanings of a critical mass back then, was squashed and pulled out from its roots in both countries during the 60s and 70s and later replaced with religious fundamentalism and later globalization that serves neo-colonial interests. We were and continue to be deprived of experiencing the evolution of a political consciousness because any awakening will jeopardize Israeli and American interests.

What does this mean about the demands of the demonstrations? Are they just about Israel, or are demands made of Jordan or the USA?

The demands are very clear: to sever all relations, revoke the peace treaty, revoke any economic ties – there is significant exchange in produce, water, gas, energy.

As mentioned earlier, the clearest demand, especially from the youth, is to open the borders. A lot of young men and women want to go into Palestine now. For many, that means going back home. There have been many skirmishes at the borders. In 2021, over 6 young men infiltrated the border.

If you go towards the borders of Israel or Palestine with Jordan, you find that the checkpoints start maybe 100 kilometers before you reach the border. And it’s one checkpoint after one another to stop any breach of that border.

Do you think the demand to open the borders can be successful?

No, never. No. 

The stakes are too high for Jordan. One of the reasons the monarchy has been able to survive is the economic situation in Jordan. While Jordan is in a dire place, it is not Syria or Iraq or Egypt. Its economy is relatively stable because of the injections of aid it is able to mobilize by walking the line.

As I said earlier, Jordan has allowed the U.S. to have military outposts on its soil. This was not known to the public until the death of 3 American soldiers and wounding of 30 more was announced by the Americans in January. Jordanian officials shamelessly went on TV denying the presence of American bases in Amman despite the news. It was later revealed that this is one of many posts. Some hypothesize that some are even there to support Israeli intelligence gathering and protect Israel.

It was rather embarrassing for the Jordanians. On one hand the White House was saying that their troops were killed in Jordan, on the other Jordan denying their very presence.  I think it was a glitch in the system in their coordination with one another. 

Can you talk about the wider region as a whole? There are lively demonstrations in Jordan, but not in Egypt. What is different about Jordan?

Although Jordan is not a full democracy and not the ideal place for free speech it is nothing compared to Egypt. Egypt’s crackdown on civil society and freedom of speech during Sisi’s reign is unprecedented. We’re talking about draconian levels. People just disappear for expressing the slightest disapproval. So there’s much more at stake in Egypt. 

In addition, Sisi has overwhelmed Egyptians with a rhetoric that the world is conspiring against Egypt, and wants to destroy it. He shut down any dissent and has only allowed communication about how foreign agents are trying to destroy Egypt by inciting political upheaval. A lot of Egyptians who are barely able to make ends meet believe this rhetoric, so there’s very little engagement.

Today, the Left is merely a theoretical framework to be admired from afar. Left icons, literature, concepts are celebrated but only at a cultural level. Never as a concept to reimagining political life.

The challenge in Egypt is that political opposition has been completely annihilated after the 25 January revolution and especially since Sisi took power. The economic problems are much bigger than in Jordan. The living standards are much lower. And people are really just so busy trying to make ends meet and very disincentivized to speak up because the price could easily be their lives.

Is there much contact between the movement in Jordan and people in Egypt? Do you get the feeling people in Egypt are watching what you’re doing?

Liberation movements across Egypt and Jordan are ailing and struggling. When I was studying in Egypt 20 years ago, I was part of the progressive left. The movement was small but at least it existed. It even coordinated with like-minded movements in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. In Sisi’s Egypt all forms of opposition were thwarted. You can only do politics in Egypt if you are loyal to Sisi. In Jordan, the Muslim brotherhood and small Islamist-leaning political parties have increasingly gained traction over the past two decades. But so far there have not been cross country movement mobilization across any part of the political spectrum. Many of these movements are barely staying alive.

What is the state of the Left in Jordan? You said earlier that the Muslim Brotherhood and some trade unionists are organising things. How strong is the Jordanian Left?

Sadly, both in Jordan and Egypt, the left now is nothing but a cultural movement. It has lost faith in mobilizing masses when it was pitted against Islamists movements. Secular opposition is all but dead in both countries.

I know it is a bleak picture but it is the truth. 

In the early 60s, anti-occupation activism and resistance movements in the Middle East were established by the Left. The Left or left-leaning rule in the Middle East posed a great threat to the West as well as Israel. Simply because the left was anti-colonialist. The Left never saw the day of light in this region because of that. Even left-leaning governments, such as Nasser in Egypt, were embargoed.

Today, the Left is merely a theoretical framework to be admired from afar. Left icons, literature, concepts are celebrated but only at a cultural level. Never as a concept to reimagining political life. There is no political organization at all, or political aspirations for the Jordanian Left. It is very weak, and has limited itself to cultural leftism.

Do you see any chance of the Jordanian Left becoming more active through the demonstrations?

No. The momentum is really being hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamic movements. I attended a protest In 2014 against the massacre that was going on in Gaza then and found only one person, one sole person, holding a banner for the Jordanian communist forum. I was ecstatic to see him. That is how much of a rarity that was. I screamed at him from across the crowd “Comrade. Hello!!!” I even took a picture of him. I asked him if he was part of a larger, more organized group. He said he was but today he showed up to the protest on his own.

I don’t really see the left picking up anytime soon, partly because of the lack of mobilization. The Islamist movement has always been much better at mobilizing, and has always been better at providing tangible and immediate social support to communities. People want to come to a political event to receive a bag of flour or sugar. Not to hear about class struggle and the evils of capitalism.

Have you any sense of what will happen next in the region?

The occupation and its support system are  a mammoth, and mammoths move slowly. I really don’t know what will happen, but I cannot believe that this global awakening will not lead somewhere better. But I don’t think it’s going to be a sudden shift. It’s going to be incremental and cause a lot of pain.

But I’ve never seen this global awakening to the Palestinian struggle that I am witnessing here. That’s the only thing giving me hope. Right now it has become normalized to criticize Israel amongst many circles. I know it’s not in Berlin yet, but even there it’s much more than it was two years ago. My only hope is that this will lead to action. I do believe that right now it’s still stuck at rhetoric. But rhetoric precedes action.

In democracies like Germany, you actually elect your representatives, and with a social justice lens. This demonstrates your awareness of the privilege that you have in that democracy as this awakening proliferates and becomes more pervasive.

Apart from changing our governments, is there anything else that people in Germany can do to support the movements in Jordan and the Arab world? 

Start talking outside your own circles. We continue to gather with like minded people. This is very cathartic and important, but how do we raise awareness of people who are on the fence? How do we raise awareness of people who are too busy and don’t want to be inconvenienced in their daily life with what’s happening in the world? 

How we can galvanize the neutrals is very important. Yet many progressive movements in the world end up sitting in our own choir and talking to each other about things that we agree with. We need to think strategically about how to galvanize more people into the cause.