Mideast Cruelty Was Her Upbringing

[27-11-2020 04:28 PM]

Ammon News -
Samia Dodin was 12 years old when Jordan’s King Hussein decided to move against her fellow Palestinian refugees, three years after they had fled the West Bank of the Jordan River when Israeli troops took it over in 1967.

The Palestinian refugee settlements around Amman--the Jordanian capital--were growing in strength and number, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization had set up headquarters there and was flexing its muscles. Hussein felt threatened, so he called on fierce Bedouin tribesmen to sweep through the Palestinian quarters and massacre a substantial number of the men.

“We were terrified,” recalled Dodin the other day in a coffee shop on the UC Irvine campus, where she is working toward a Ph.D. in business strategy.

“We saw and heard the men being taken out and shot all up and down our street, and there was no place for us to go. So as the troops approached our building, we all huddled in the basement--men, women and children--hoping somehow they would pass us by.”

They didn’t. “large, dark men wearing braids and carrying rifles--found us. They put their guns to the heads of my father and two of my brothers and told them to go outside. And when they did that, we surrounded them. Old women, women with small babies, children of all sizes. We pulled at their uniforms and pleaded with them, and each time they tried to make a path to take my father and brothers away, we simply wouldn’t let them.

“It was the end of the day, and they were tired, and they wouldn’t--or didn’t--attack the women and children. So after several minutes of this, they looked at each other and said, the hell with it--and left. My father and brothers were spared.”

If Orange County seems light years removed from that awful day in Amman almost two decades ago, Dodin has lost none of her concern for nor intense involvement with the people who are today fighting Israeli troops with stones and bottles on the West Bank.

Dodin is no missionary. She speaks the precise English of the academic who has learned it as a second language, and she says she has “internalized a lot of American culture.” But she also believes that few Americans understand the forces that drive the Palestinian people to resistance, even when the circumstances offer little hope of success.

Her credentials are substantial, forged in years of fear and chaos. But they are also unique because Dodin’s father is a highly placed politician who has taken on different colorations over the years. He was banished from the West Bank by Hussein in the mid-1950s for organizing Palestinian groups that wanted to secede from Jordan.

He fled with his family to Cairo, where Samia was born in 1958. Then he worked for Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Gaza Strip until 1966, when Hussein pardoned him and the family returned to its native home in Hebron on the West Bank.

He left politics for business and was working in Amman--and commuting--when the Israelis occupied the West Bank in 1967.

This time, Samia Dodin’s family hid in caves near their home as the Israelis overwhelmed Jordanian troops. “We were packed in there in the dark listening to all this bull on Amman radio about how Jordan was winning a glorious victory, while the Israelis were taking over. . . . That was our first disillusionment. The second was when Nasser gave up. We heard that in the caves too, and I still remember the sobbing because he had told us he would give us back our homeland, and we believed him.”

The Israelis would let no one return to the West Bank, so Dodin’s father was unable to see or communicate with his family for almost a year. By that time, the family was starving, and Dodin’s mother knew that she would have to leave her home and take her seven children to Amman.

“My mother,” Dodin said, “was passionately attached to her land and didn’t want to leave it. She cried bitterly when we finally had to go. It was like a death to her.”

After surviving Hussein’s purge, the family lived well in Amman when Dodin’s father became Hussein’s minister of social affairs. His mission: to tour the Palestinian camps and promote cooperation and good feeling with the Jordanian government.

“Hussein wanted to placate the remaining Palestinians,” Dodin recalled, “and he used my father well. My older brothers and sisters felt betrayed, and I was suddenly looked on in school as Jordanian, and my friends became very careful about what they said to me.

“After the worst of the anger was absorbed, my father was abruptly removed and sent out of the country as ambassador to Kuwait. He saw the end coming and asked to return to the West Bank. The Israelis let him in because they thought they could use him too.

“So my family finally went home, and my mother was able to die on her own land. She had a cancer she didn’t tell us about, and she spent her last nine months on the land she loved so much.”

Dodin, meanwhile, found the direction of her life changed. In 1973, she was selected as an American Field Service foreign exchange student and spent her senior year in high school in Rockford, Ill., with “a family that was very liberal and had a global outlook. It was a fantastic year in which I fell in love with America. It was so difficult for me to go home that my father told me when I got there that he regretted letting me go.”

She didn’t stay long. She was married at 18 to a Palestinian man who had been studying in the United States and came home to find a bride. Within a year, Dodin was back in the United States, winning college degrees at Purdue and the University of Wisconsin--where her husband was working--and giving birth to a boy and a girl.

Four years ago, Dodin’s husband took a teaching job at UC Riverside, and she enrolled in UCI’s program for a master’s degree in business administration.

She is reluctant to talk about her domestic life. She and her husband have been separated for almost a year, with joint custody of the children, Ram, 5, and Reema, 7. A reconciliation is being discussed, and she is hopeful about it.

Meanwhile, Dodin watches events in her homeland and despairs for her people. She went back to the West Bank to visit over Christmas, “and it was very hard to see the Israelis who have settled this area enjoying things that my people can’t have.

“The West Bank Palestinians are a different animal because they have been exposed to the Israelis. On the West Bank, the two cultures have come in direct contact, and the Palestinians are nonentities in the Israeli culture.”

As a result, she said she saw enormous changes taking place in her people. “The Palestinians have become very politically aware, and if I were the Israelis, I’d be worried.

“You see, we’ve always had this passive dependency on others to find us a state of our own. First it was Nasser, then the PLO. But what’s happening now on the West Bank is very different. It’s an implosion, an uprising from within, that finally shows a recognition on the part of Palestinians that no one is going to help us from the outside. It’s an acknowledgment of the death of external hopes. This is a grass-roots movement now, and for the first time, women and children are taking part.”

According to Dodin, the current fighting also marks the end of another kind of innocence among Palestinians: “In our naivete growing up, we didn’t realize there were another people who looked at our land as their own. They were distant from it then, but still very connected. The Jews feel the same proprietorship of land (that) the Palestinians do. In fact, there are many ways in which the Palestinians and Jews are alike.”

Hold up a minute. What ways?

“The Palestinians are a distinct subculture in the Arab world. Jordan means nothing to us. The connection with our own land does.

“When we emerged from British colonialism, we quickly became the best educated of Arabs. Palestinians are tremendous business people who have gone into other Arab countries and prospered--often to the resentment of the nationals. Because we’ve long had the feeling that we’ve been exiled from our own homes, we’ve been forced to develop our business skills.

“These similarities made it possible for the Jews and Palestinians to co-exist . . . before the state of Israel was created in 1948.

“My mother’s best friend when she was growing up was Jewish, and she made me clearly understand that Jews were people much like us. There is much Jewry in Islam; Islam is closer to Jews than to Christians.”

Dodin is aware that the excesses of the PLO have turned many Americans against the Palestinians, but she refuses to be defensive about it.

“The PLO,” she said, “is made up of the children of the Palestinian people, and it was heroic to us when we were growing up. I’ve come to disagree with some of their tactics, but the reaction to the PLO in this country is a wonderful example of the double standard of the West. Menachem Begin was lauded as a freedom fighter for doing the same things to the British that the PLO is doing today. I think Begin understood Arafat quite well.”

What does she think will happen on the West Bank?

She shrugged. “I suppose,” she said, “that pragmatically I’d do what the Israelis are doing now if I were in their place. And I suppose they will step up the pressure until the Palestinians are finally put down and the world will go on to other things.

“Meanwhile, the Israelis will continue to settle our land more and more.”

What would she like to see happen?

“A Palestinian,” said Dodin, a little wistfully, “is an Arab whose ancestors lived in a region now called Israel. We need a state of our own. Two separate states is the only way to go.”

Although both she and her husband became American citizens more than five years ago, Dodin said that “if a Palestine state were created I’d go back. There would be a need for all sorts of skills to build a country, and I think I could contribute. I have a strong urge to be with my people today, but that’s quite different from making a pragmatic decision to go back with two small children into the midst of the struggle taking place there. I’ll never go back as long as my homeland is occupied by the Israelis.”


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