Jordan Table of Contents

Jordanians tended to refer to Palestinians as persons who fled or were driven from Palestine during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and the June 1967 War. Some immigrants from Palestine who had entered Jordan in preceding centuries, however, were so thoroughly integrated into the local society as to be indistinguishable from their neighbors. The Majalis, for more than a century the leading tribe in Al Karak area, came originally from Hebron. For political and social purposes, they and others like them were considered Jordanians. Other Palestinians from Hebron, who came to Al Karak as merchants well before 1948, remained to a considerable degree outsiders, for the most part taking their spouses from the Hebron area and maintaining economic and other ties there.

Al Karak is not representative of the impact of Palestinians on East Bank society and culture. In 1948 the population of the East Bank was about 340,000. The 1950 annexation of the West Bank increased the population by about 900,000. This increase included the West Bank population itself (around 400,000 to 450,000) and about 450,000 refugees from those areas of Palestine that became Israel in 1948. In addition, many thousands of Palestinians not classified as refugees entered Jordan after 1948. As a result of the June 1967 War, in 1967 an additional 250,000 to 300,000 West Bank Palestinians entered Jordan as refugees.

Most of the refugees, inside and outside refugee camps, continued to live in Amman and areas to the north. In 1986 UNRWA reported that 826,128 Palestinians were registered as refugees in the East Bank; of these, nearly one-fourth resided in camps. Many other refugees lived on the fringes of the economy in urban areas.

A substantial number of Palestinians had the kind of education and entrepreneurial capacity that enabled them to achieve substantial economic status. A few brought some of their wealth from Palestine. Some became large landowners or businessmen, whereas others became professionals or technicians. A number worked for the government, often in posts requiring prior training. Many Palestinians were merchants on a small or medium scale, craftsmen or skilled workers, or peasants.

Whatever the social or economic status of Palestinians in the East Bank, their sense of national identity had aroused much debate. Such identity depended on international and regional political developments with respect to the Palestine question, the interests of Palestinians themselves on the East Bank, and the balancing act of the government between East Bank Jordanians and those of Palestinian origin. One observer indicated that the regime had an interest in perpetuating the idea of a Palestinian majority so that East Bank Jordanians would continue to perceive Hussein as ensuring their interests and that of the East Bank.

An autonomous Palestinian political identity did not begin to assert itself until the mid-1960s. In the 1950s, no political organization existed around which a specifically Palestinian identity could be articulated. Pan-Arabism was a dominant mode of political expression, and the Hashimite regime strongly promoted Jordanian sovereignty over Palestinian affairs and identity. Nevertheless, and in spite of a security apparatus that kept a close watch on political affairs, Palestinian national identity emerged and grew. The loss of the West Bank in 1967 and the repressive Israeli occupation contributed to nationalist sentiments, as did the Jordanian government's repression of opposition political movements. The rise in the mid-1960s of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its international recognition furthered this nationalist climate. The PLO offered an organizational format to Palestinian political identity separate from a Jordanian identity. The 1970-71 war between the fedayeen (Arab guerrillas) and the Jordanian government and the 1974 Rabat Summit further enhanced Palestinian nationalist sentiment.

Wide divergences in political identity and sentiment existed among the Palestinians in the East Bank. Factors influencing a person's identity included the date of arrival in the East Bank, whether the person was a refugee or lived in a camp, and the degree of the person's economic success. The merchants and professionals who came prior to 1948 generally identified closely with the East Bank. Refugees who came in 1948 but who did not reside in the camps and were government employees or successful professionals or businesspeople tended to be tacit supporters of the regime and to invest heavily in homes and businesses. More militant were the refugees who arrived in the wake of the June 1967 War, including those refugees who were not living in camps. Persons residing in the camps tended to be the most militant. They were the poorest and had the least stake in the survival of the Hashimite regime.

Socioeconomic and political events in the late 1980s converged to fuel growing frustration with East Bank political policies. The reduced flow of remittances to Jordan from expatriate workers in the oil-producing states was a source of anxiety for the regime. For refugees living in the camps and for urban squatters, the economic downturn led to greater poverty, compounded by the high unemployment rate in the East Bank.

The Palestinian uprising (intifadah) in the occupied territories caused the Hashimite regime concern. The continuation of the uprising and the occupation seemed likely to radicalize less prosperous Palestinians in the East Bank.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress