“Then Moses went up from the lowlands of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, eastwards from Jericho. And the Lord showed him the whole land…There in the land of Moab Moses the servant of the Lord died, as the Lord had said.” – Deuteronomy 34
To walk the steps of Mount Nebo, or “Jabal al-Nabii”, is to walk in the steps of pilgrims, popes, and prophets. According to Biblical accounts, it was here that Moses first saw the Promised Land on the West Bank of the River Jordan, a land that was then known as Canaan and is today called Israel and Palestine. As such, it’s a site important to Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike, all of which consider Moses to be among the most important of prophets, behind perhaps only Jesus in Christianity and Mohammad in Islam.
From atop Mt Nebo, a thin blue-green line can be glimpsed as it snakes it way through the fertile Wadi Urdun, or Jordan Valley, before draining into the Dead Sea. This is the Jordan River, the line that serves as the border between Jordan and Israel/Palestine, and according to Biblical texts marks the edge of the Promised Land as granted by God to the Israelites. Moses himself, the prophet who led the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, would never set foot on this land– he would die on Mt Nebo within site of the West Bank, with his successor, Joshua, the one who would lead the Israelites into Canaan.
Today, the other side of the River Jordan- the West Bank- is notable not only as the edge of a land vastly important to the world’s three leading faiths, but as a place of political and social conflict, with the current Israeli settlement of the West Bank and the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict being one of the most enduring and polarizing issues of world affairs. While our dialogue takes place in Jordan, and not in Israel/Palestine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as much a part of the history and politics of Jordan as it is of Israel, especially when it comes to the territory we collectively refer to as the West Bank.
From the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 to 1967, the West Bank, or “Cisjordan”, was considered a part of Jordan itself, with the Palestinians living there granted Jordanian citizenship. Following the Six Day War of 1967, thousands upon thousands of Palestinians fled across the river into Jordan, forming one of the largest Palestinian refugee populations in the world. Today, some 3 to 3.5 million Jordanians are Palestinian– a fact reflected in everyday interactions in Amman, with every odd person identifying themselves as Palestinian or claiming to have a Palestinian parent. For the most part, “Jordanian Jordanians” and “Palestinian Jordanians” get along just fine– they all hold Jordanian passports, speak the Jordanian Ammiya dialect, and are treated equally under the law. If anything though, the loss of the West Bank to Israel and the subsequent Palestinian population has tied Jordan even more closely to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and today it serves as one of the states most vital to any kind of political situation to the ongoing problem.
I came to the Dead Sea and the East Bank of the River Jordan while reading “The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation”, by former Jordanian diplomat (and first Jordanian ambassador to Israel) Marwan Muasher. In it, the author describes the vital position Jordan holds in being the “Moderate Center” of the Middle East, a power broker that lies in balance between the West in America and Europe and other Arab nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, especially in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian issue is understandably incredibly important to Jordanians, who see the Palestinians as being unjustly occupied and oppressed by a colonial force, but by and large the Israel-Palestine conflict is viewed here as being a problem in need of a political solution, rather than a military one (although there are still fringe groups within Jordan who might still advocate for the latter). That’s important, especially considering the historic wars between the Arab States in Israel that occurred throughout the 20th century: for Jordan at least, Israel is seen as a legitimate, if problematic and unwelcome, state that can be reasoned and negotiated with, and with whom a solution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict can still be mutually reached.
Just as it was telling to stand amongst an apricot orchard and peer into Syria, it’s likewise thought-provoking to stand atop Mt. Nebo, or on the edge of the Dead Sea, and see the West Bank nearly close enough to touch. The West Bank, Israel-Palestine, the Promised Land, the Holy Land: whatever one calls it, it’s a land hugely important to billions of people on Earth, and is it perhaps because of this importance that we still fight over it today.
Yet as much as Muslims, Christians, and Jews may seem divided over the Israel-Palestine conflict, to stand on Mt. Nebo carries another reminder: that these three religion share more than merely conflict, but also dozens of tales of emancipation, struggle, redemption, promise and above all faith that exist in one form or another in all of the holy books. Christianity, Islam, Judaism: all come from the same roots, and all worship the same God. We often forget this by focusing on seemingly irrevocable differences, but perhaps we are all more alike than many of us would like to admit.
Something to think on. Also, on a side note: if anyone needs a refresher on Moses and the Exodus story, the animated “Prince of Egypt” does a great job, and has some pretty great musical numbers thrown in to boot. Check it out!