At 6:30am we caught a minibus to Amman. The trip was a little under three hours, most of it on Jordan’s high-speed Desert Highway. The driver blasted the news in Arabic the entire drive up, and all I could catch from the newscast were numerous references to Yitzhak Rabin, as well as a few mentions of King Hussein, Shimon Peres, and Bill Clinton. I assumed that it was a show about Mideast politics, though I never thought to ask anyone else on the bus. The Jordanians all sat there quietly, smoking their cigarettes and thumbing their worry beads.
We arrived in Amman before 10am. For a Middle Eastern city, Amman seemed very clean, sophisticated and modern (then again, we only had Cairo and Luxor as reference points). Pictures of King Hussein with his characteristic pinch-his-cheek smile were ubiquitous in a city largely devoid of billboards, at least on a scale similar to that of Cairo’s streets.
As we checked into the quaint Canary Hotel, off on a street near the Abdali bus station, we noticed a TV was turned on to an English language broadcast. It was a news program that was cycling through the week’s events, with lots of coverage on the recent economic summit that had occurred in Amman a few days before. All seemed quite slow and I joked that there weren’t any major wars or killings to speak of this week. Then, the news program returned to the program headline- Yitzhak Rabin had been shot the night before.
At first, I thought I had heard it wrong, because Susanne was chatting with this Aussie woman and I couldn’t hear very well. But when they showed a solemn picture of Rabin with the text 1922-1995, I knew it was real. Susanne and I stood there dumbfounded, part of us numb, part of us thinking “What the hell do we do now? Can we get back into Israel?” Our greatest fear was that a Palestinian did it, because that would mean all borders to the West Bank, and to perhaps anywhere else, might be sealed and we’d be stuck in Amman indefinitely. Even worse, there could be war, depending on who claimed responsibility.
We asked the manager what he knew, and he said it had happened about 12 hours earlier and that a Jewish extremist did the shooting. My first thought was that if this had to happen, I was thankful that it was one of those racist, right-wing hyperzionists. If it had been an Arab, all hell would break lose, but since a fellow Jew did it, it make actually help in the sense that Israel would be forced to recognize its own homegrown terrorist groups as well as the violent rhetoric that had been brewing as of late in the nation. In a way, this would be not unlike how the Oklahoma Bombing affected the US eight months previously. (note: as I write this, I’m not sure how clear or perhaps even cold-hearted this might sound, so perhaps my complex thoughts on Mideast politics should be saved for another venue.).
Even though it was early morning in the States, we called home just to say we were fine. This was more of an issue for Susanne, since her mother had seemed a bit nervous ever since we had announced six months earlier that we were planning to go to the Middle East. As for my family, I assumed they knew I wasn’t dumb enough to be camping out at Kiryat Arba or some other West Bank hotbed of insanity, but I called nevertheless so they’d at least know where I was at the time.
After chilling out for a bit, we caught a cab and headed north to the Syrian border to the ancient Roman city of Jerash. Our cabby scammed us big-time, but at the time, I was in no mood to argue. Anyway, Jerash was one of ten major Roman outpost towns on the Asian frontier, and today it’s the most well-preserved of the bunch. Columned streets radiate from an enormous square, and there were two amphitheaters in excellent condition. Unfortunately, it was an usually hot day, there was little shade, and the assassination was still looming on our minds, so by late afternoon we headed back to the hotel to watch more news and to make sure that the border crossing at Allenby Bridge was still open.
We then had an early dinner in downtown Amman – a bustling, almost European neighborhood with hundreds of people on the streets, shopping and hanging out at cafes. Our restaurant, Al-Quds, had really good hummus and mensaf, a slow cooked dish of spiced lamb or chicken and rice. We also delighted quite sinfully with a mixed platter of baklawa-style desserts.
Painfully bloated, we returned to the hotel. The next day, we would have to leave by 6am to get to Israel in the morning, and we assumed that the border could take several hours to cross. I was dreading that morning.