The Ripple Effect of Peace

text by the Rev. William D. Corcoran
photographs by Miriam Sushman

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On 5 June, Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl met with King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in the tiny Jordanian village of Bakoura. Most Jordanians had never heard of the hamlet. Ironically, our CNEWA-PMP staff in Amman was quite familiar with it. Yet we could not imagine why anyone would hold an international political conference in this desperately impoverished village. Everything had to be shipped in to accommodate these sessions – even the tents to house the meetings.

Located on the banks of the Jordan River, near the base of the Sea of Galilee, Bakoura has fallen victim to politics for years. The location is so militarily strategic that even now, one year after the signing of the formal peace agreement between Jordan and Israel, I am still required to cross checkpoints and show a Jordanian identification pass before entering the area.

The tents for the conference were pitched on a parcel of land just recently returned to Jordan. Littered with the remains of the cement barracks of British troops who occupied the area more than 45 years ago, the site seemed ripe for discussions of peace.

Most of the inhabitants of Bakoura arrived from Palestine after having fled their native villages and towns – Tiberias, Nablus and Sirin – during the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948. After fleeing across the Jordan River, the refugees settled on the first safe spot in Jordan. Dazed and distraught, thousands squatted here in tents, hoping for a speedyreturn to their homeland. By 1966, 8,000 people continued to huddle in temporary shelters on this unstable frontier.

Now, more than 47 years after they arrived in Bakoura, the 800 villagers who remain have begun to build more stable dwellings. Most are constructed of cement block. Yet it is difficult to call some of these structures houses – many are without furniture, windows or bedrooms. What came to our attention, however, was the fact that these people lived without sufficient Water supply.

During the 40-odd years of the state of war between Jordan and Israel, the fresh waters of the Jordan River were off limits: soldiers stood guard on both sides. A local fisherman could not cast his nets in the river from the Jordanian bank; instead he had to travel to the riverbank in the nearby village of Sheik Hussein for his diminishing daily catch.

Water was delivered to the entire population of Bakoura once a week through a four-inch-diameter pipe. Those with sufficient oil barrels, plastic jugs and metal boxes tried to store enough to survive the week. Generally, however, bathing or safe drinking water were the stuff dreams were made of – water was at a premium. With the average household including six children, life was neither hygenic nor pleasant. And with summer temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, something had to change. Strangely, a line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” seemed appropriate here: “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”

Then, a year ago, the villagers cautiously sought assistance from our Amman office. How could a village of Muslims request support from a Christian – a pontifical – organization? They prepared themselves for a polite rebuff and an escort to the door.

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Tags: Israel Jordan War Village life Water