A handy but deficient handbook on Jordan

The Palgrave Handbook is an important contribution to understanding the challenges which Jordan faces.

The Palgrave Handbook of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Palgrave Handbook of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
(photo credit: Courtesy)

The Palgrave Handbook is an important contribution to understanding the challenges which Jordan faces.
“From small Sheikhdom to Over-Population” by Onn Winckler (University of Haifa), examines the sociological and demographic implications of Jordan’s population expansion as a result of influx of Arab Palestinians from the “West Bank” in 1947-49 and in 1967.
Jordan is the only Arab country that gave them full citizenship and civil rights; today they represent two-thirds of Jordan’s population, larger than the combined number of Palestinians living in other countries. In fact, Jordan is the Palestinian homeland by its history, geography and demography. As a result of conflicts in neighboring Arab states, especially Syria and Iraq, Jordan has absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Francoise De Bel-Air’s chapter on “Foreign Workers” notes that “Out of a working-age population of over 4 million, only 40% of Jordanian nationals were economically active in 2017 and only 13.4% among women.”
As result of many Jordanians moving to Gulf States, where they found work, she notes the high levels of foreign workers in what she describes as a “rentier welfare state.” This “laid the ground for the consumer society in the absence of a productive economy and high dependency on the external financial input at the domestic (remittances) and public levels (foreign aid and loans).” This distorted the labor market and Jordan’s economic structure; unemployment is high, manufacturing is low, and the country is severely under-developed. Hundreds of thousands of refugees living in UNRWA-sponsored compounds are not allowed to work. 
Miranda Egan Langlry’s brief chapter on “Minorities,” highlights the role of refugees and migrants and their perceived “alienation from the general Jordanian identity.” She mentions ethnic groups, such as Druze, Bedouin and Kurds, but provides little information about them.
In her chapter on “Christians in Jordan,” Nanneke Wisman notes that there are important Christian churches in Jordan, one that dates from the First Century, perhaps the oldest in the world, Bethany, and the famous Byzantine-era church at Madaba which contains a map of the Middle East in the floor made of mosaic tiles with names of many Biblical sites. The Christian community in Jordan is “very well integrated, hold ministerial portfolios,” and they are represented in “upper level positions in the military,” as well as the media and academia. A chapter on Circassians by Chen Bram and Yasmine Shawwaf is interesting. A non-Arab Muslim elite group that immigrated from the Caucasus, where they were persecuted, they are fully integrated in Jordan society and well-represented in the civil service, army, police and many professions.    
Imad El-Anis’s chapter on “Political Economy” examines the challenges of lack of natural resources, especially freshwater, high unemployment and underemployment, poverty, and energy insecurity. His analysis  is backed up by chapters on “Environmental Challenges” by Moshe Terdiman and “Sustainable Development” by Manjari Singh.
Other chapters include Nationalism (Alexander Bligh and Gadi Hitman), King Abdullah I (by Ronen Yitzhak), King Hussein (Muddassir Quammar), The Arab Legion (Graham Jevon), Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism (Joas Wagemakers), West Bank under Jordan (Avraham Sela), Jerusalem (Yitzhak Reiter), Jordan-Hamas Relations (Hillel Frisch), Political Reforms (Arthur Malantowicz), and essays on Jordan’s foreign policy and security by Victoria Silva Sanchez, Faisal Odeh Al-Rfouh, Meron Medzini, Russell Lucas, Tally Helfont and Hayat Alvi.
P.R. Kumaraswamy’s introduction presents an overview of the problems which Jordan faces. Unfortunately, however, the book has no adequate presentation of Jordan’s history. There is no reference, for example, to the Nabateans, an Arab nomadian civilization that operated trade routes and ruled the area from the 4th century BCE to the 1st century CE, and whose capital was Petra. The monumental structures which they built there are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World and are a UNESCO historical site; one of the buildings is even pictured on the cover of the book. Also not mentioned is the tomb of Aaron, Moses’ brother, located on a mountaintop high above Petra, and the tomb of Miriam.
Donna Robinson Divine’s chapter on the Palestinians is especially disappointing. An anti-Israel professor at Smith College, Divine refers to the “Nakba” – the “1948 disaster,” the establishment of the State of Israel and its victory in 1949 – as the heart of the story. She completely ignores attacks by local Arabs – they were not called “Palestinians” until after 1949 – during the 1930s and 1940s, and the genocidal war, assisted by the Jordan Legion, to wipe out the Jews of Israel/Palestine. She provides no analysis of the vast Arab populations that moved to Jordan after the wars of 1948 and 1967 and became Jordanian citizens. And she discusses Palestinians living in Lebanon and Syria, but does not explain that they are in UNRWA-sponsored towns and that their host countries refuse to extend basic civil and humanitarian rights to them. ■
The writer is a PhD historian and journalist in Israel         
The Palgrave Handbook of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Edited by P.R. Kumaraswamy
Springer Nature Singapore (2019)
536 pages, $24