Jordan is the country to Israel’s east with which Israel has had a formal peace for 23 years.
And its people hate Israel, and Jews, even more than the Iranians do.
Every once in a while, the Jordanian people are given a chance to express how they really feel about Israel. It’s ugly.
Twenty years ago, on March 13, 1997, 7th and 8th grade girls from the AMIT Fuerst junior high school for girls in Beit Shemesh packed box lunches and boarded a school bus that was to take them to the Jordan Valley for a class trip. The high point of the day was the scheduled visit to the so-called “Island of Peace.”
The area, adjacent to the Naharayim electricity station, encompasses lands Israel ceded to Jordan in the 1994 peace treaty and Jordan leased back to Israel for continued cultivation by the Jewish farmers from Ashdot Yaakov who had bought the lands and farmed them for decades.
Israel’s formal transfer of sovereignty – and Jordan’s recognition of Jewish land rights to the area – were emblematic of the notion that the peace treaty was more than a piece of paper. Here, officials boasted, at the Island of Peace, we saw on-the-ground proof that Jordan and Israel were now peaceful neighbors.
Just as Americans in California can spend a night at the bars in Tijuana and then sleep it off in their beds in San Diego, so, the thinking went, after three years of formal peace, Israeli schoolgirls could eat their box lunches in Jordan, at the Island of Peace, and be home in time for dinner in Beit Shemesh.
Shortly after they alighted their buses, that illusion came to a brutal end.
The children were massacred.
A Jordanian policeman named of Ahmad Daqamseh, who was supposed to be protecting them, instead opened fire with his automatic rifle.
He murdered seven girls and wounded six more.
On Jordanian territory, the guests of the kingdom, the girls had no one to protect them. Daqamseh would have kept on killing and wounding, but his weapon jammed.
In the days that followed, Israel saw two faces of Jordan and with them, the true nature of the peace it had achieved.
On the one hand, in an extraordinary act of kindness and humility, King Hussein came to Israel and paid condolence calls at the homes of all seven girls. He bowed before their parents and asked for forgiveness.
On the other hand, Hussein’s subjects celebrated Daqamseh as a hero.
The Jordanian court system went out of its way not to treat him like a murderer. Instead of receiving the death penalty for his crime – as he would have received if his victims hadn’t been Jewish girls – the judges insisted he was crazy and sentenced him instead to life in prison. Under Jordanian law his sentence translated into 20 years in jail. In other words, Daqamseh received less than three years in jail for every little girl he murdered and no time for the six he wounded.
Not satisfied with his sentence, the Jordanian public repeatedly demanded his early release. The public’s adulation of Daqamseh was so widespread and deep-seated that in 2014, the majority of Jordan’s parliament members voted for his immediate release.
Three years earlier, in 2011, Jordan’s then-justice minister Hussein Majali extolled Daqamseh as a hero and called for his release.
Last week, sentence completed, Daqamseh was released. And within moments of his return, in the dead of night to his village, crowds of supporters emerged from their homes and celebrated their hero.
Daqamseh, the supposed madman, never expressed regret for his crime.
And now a free man, he was only too happy last week to use his release as a means of justifying, yet again, his crime.
“Normalization with Zionists is a lie!” he declared in an interview with Al Jazeera. He went on to call for the conquest of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish state.
Jordan owes its existence not to its population nor even to its silver- tongued monarch, Hussein’s son Abdullah. It owes its existence to its location. For Israel and the West the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a critical piece of real estate.
For Israel, the kingdom is a buffer against Iraq and Syria.
For the Americans it is a safe port in the storm in the midst of the Arab world now suffering from convulsions of jihadist revolutions, counterrevolutions, insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.
Jordan, which since 2003 has absorbed a million refugees from Iraq and another million from Syria, is viewed by Europeans as a great big refugee camp. It must be kept stable lest the Iraqis and Syrians move on to Europe.
If it weren’t for Israel and the Western powers, the Hashemite Kingdom would have been overthrown long ago.
Today, Jordan is an economic and social tinderbox. Its debt to GDP ratio skyrocketed from 57% to 90% between 2011 and 2016. Youth unemployment, while officially reported at 14%, actually stands at 38%.
Jordan, which is the second-poorest state in terms of its available water sources, relies on Israeli exports of water to survive. Its government is its largest employer. Its largest export is its people, whose remittances to their relatives back home keep 350,000 families afloat. And those remittances have fallen off dramatically in recent years due to the drop in oil prices on the world market.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the second largest political force in the country. Although Jordanians were revolted in 2015 when Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria burned alive a downed Jordanian pilot, ISIS has no shortage of sympathizers in wide swaths of Jordanian society. More than 2,000 Jordanians joined ISIS in Syria and several thousand more ISIS members and sympathizers are at large throughout the kingdom.
Whereas Palestinians used to make up an absolute majority of the population, leading many to observe over the years that the real Palestine is Jordan, since the Iraqi and Syria refugees swelled the ranks of the population, the Palestinian majority has been diminished.
Jordan is a reminder that nation building in the Arab world is a dangerous proposition. With each passing year, the US provides Jordan with more and more military and civilian aid to keep the regime afloat. And with each passing year, voices praising Daqamseh and his ilk continue to expand in numbers and volume.
Jordan shows that the concept of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is of limited value. So long as the hearts and the minds of the people of the Arab world are filled with conspiracy theories about Jews, and inspired by visions of jihad and destruction that render mass murderers of innocent schoolchildren heroes, the notion that genuine peace is possible is both irrational and irresponsible.
Recently it was reported that last October, Israel’s ambassador to Jordan Einat Schlein gave a pessimistic assessment of Jordan’s future prospects to IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkott. Eisenkott reportedly reacted to her briefing by suggesting that Israel needs to figure out a way to help the regime to survive.
Eisenkott was correct, of course.
Israel, which now faces a nightmare situation along its border with post-civil war Syria, does not want to face the prospect of a post-Hashemite Jordan, where the people will rule, on its doorstep.
But Israel can ill afford to assume that this will not happen one day, and plan accordingly.
Under the circumstances, the only way to safeguard against the day when Daqasmeh and his supporters rule Jordan is to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and encourage tens of thousands of Israelis to settle down along the sparsely populated eastern border.
After the massacre, the parents of the dead children and the public as a whole demanded to know why the school hadn’t smuggled armed guards into the Island of Peace to protect them. Their question was a reasonable one.
Daqamseh was able to kill those girls because we let down our guard.
The only way to prevent that from happening again – writ large – is to reinforce that guard by reinforcing our control over eastern Israel.
23 years after the peace was signed, nothing has changed in the Kingdom of Jordan. No hearts and minds have been turned in our favor. The peace treaty has not protected us. The only thing that protects our children is our ability and willingness to use our weapons to protect them from our hate-drenched neighbors with whom we share treaties of peace.