July 12, 2020

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21-Jul-19: Jordan, peace and how little has actually changed

Today happens to mark the seventieth anniversary of a Middle East milestone:

The quote is from a scholarly tome dealing with the work of the United Nations Security Council. Turns out the military phase they mentioned had several more violent and deadly rounds to go over the following decades. So much has changed, especially here in Jerusalem where we live.

And in some ways so little too.

British-led soldiers of the Arab Legion, Jordan’s state army, at the
renowned Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City
shortly after conquering, and just before utterly destroying, the synagogue.

Starting in 1948 when the Kingdom of Jordan’s British-led military overran Jerusalem’s eastern part and occupied the Old City and its unique holy places, unrestrained state-inspired vandalism became the fate of one of the world’s most revered places.

Here’s how the Jewish Telegraph Agency described it in a 1967 report compiled shortly after Israel finally took over:

A shocking record of destruction and desecration of Jewish holy places in and around Old Jerusalem during 19 years of Jordanian rule was documented today in the report of an inter-ministerial committee that was appointed after the Six-Day War to determine the state of Jewish shrines in Jordan held territory. The findings of the committee were summarized by Zerach Warhaftig, Minister of Religious Affairs, at a press conference here. 

As examples of the wanton disregard of the religious rights of others, Mr. Warhaftig noted the destruction of all but two of the 58 synagogues in the Jewish quarter of the Old City and the almost total destruction of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives which has been in continuous use for more than 2,000 years. 

The cemetery was one of the Jewish holy places to which access was promised by the Jordanians in the 1949 armistice agreements although the promise was never observed. Tombstones were carried away for purposes ranging from fortifying mortar positions to building lavatories and the report says, documentary evidence and eye witnesses “make it clear beyond doubt that the desecration of the cemetery was carried out by Jordanian authorities for official purposes.”

The Jordanian Government, according to the report, had placed a special guard at the cemetery, but only to prevent tombstones from being pilfered by private persons. Their use was authorized for building military camps, fortifications, pathways and other installations and the walls of the building that housed the army commanders. Part of the road to the Intercontinental Hotel was paved with tombstones, the report said. And the Jordanians never bothered to remove the remains of the dead. In the Old City of Jerusalem, the report went on, only the synagogue of the Chabad Hassidim and the Torat Chayim yeshiva were left standing.

Dr. Warhaftig said that there was only one known instance of a clergyman protesting against the desecration and he was told by the Jordanian authorities to mind his own business. Moslem dignitaries whom Dr. Warhaftig questioned about the outrages disclaimed all knowledge. [Cabinet Report Says Jordan Destroyed 56 Old City Synagogues, Desecrated Cemetery“, JTA, November 2, 1967]

An armistice agreement signed almost exactly seventy years ago (April 3, 1949) in Greece governed relations between the new-born state of Israel and the Jordanians. The burden of the safeguards it included never really troubled the Arabs who ignored them totally. No one else seems to have cared:

  • Jordan had undertaken to give free access to the Holy Places and to cultural institutions, and use of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives [Section III, Document 6, Article VIII, and Section V, subsection E, Documents 15 and 16]. It never observed any part of these obligations. 
  • Jews were entirely barred from the Old City and denied access to the Western Wall and other Holy Places. 
  • The Jewish Quarter in the Old City was destroyed.
  • Moslem residents of Israel were not permitted to visit their Holy Places in East Jerusalem. 
  • The Christians didn’t fare much better. In 1958, Jordanian legislation required all members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre to adopt Jordanian citizenship. 
  • In 1965, Christian institutions were forbidden to acquire any land or rights in or near Jerusalem. 
  • In 1966, Christian schools were compelled to close on Fridays instead of Sundays, customs privileges of Christian religious institutions were abolished Jerusalem was bisected by barbed wire, concrete barriers and walls. 
  • In May 1967, the Temple Mount became a military base for the Jordanian National Guard.

A year later almost to the day, on 24 April 1950, a joint session of Jordan’s House of Deputies and its House of Notables adopted a resolution [source] seizing formal control of all of the West Bank and the eastern (and older) part of Jerusalem. Viewed through the lens of today, the opening words of the annexation document are startling:

In the expression of the people’s faith in the efforts spent by His Majesty, Abdullah [great-grandfather of the present-day king of Jordan who has the same name], toward attainment of natural aspirations, and basing itself on the right of self-determination and on the existing de facto position between Jordan and Palestine and their national, natural and geographic unity and their common interests and living space, Parliament, which represents both sides of the Jordan, resolves this day and declares:
First, its support for complete unity between the two sides of the Jordan and their union into one State, which is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, at whose head reigns King Abdullah Ibn al Husain, on a basis of constitutional representative government and equality of the rights and duties of all citizens…

It’s easy to forget now that when the Hashemite military was riding high, the Jordanians and the Palestinian Arabs had no problem seeing themselves as a single Arab entity with shared interests, shared living space, national unity. Occupied territories? National self-determination for a Palestinian people? Two-state solution? In your dreams.

Most readers understand that Jordan – the Hashemite Kingdom and its absolute ruler King Abdullah II – gets a lot of our attention these days. This of course is mostly because they harbor our daughter’s killer and so far at least refuse to hand her over for criminal prosecution in the United States despite a treaty that requires them to do just that.

Hussein, Clinton, Rabin at the 1994 peace treaty signing

Jordan has never publicly addressed this issue, but simply persists in refusing to extradite her despite the perfectly valid extradition treaty the two countries signed, and have basically honored, since 1994. 

In Israeli circles, and despite wars in which Israel has had to defend itself from Jordanian invasion, there’s long been a sense that in the unstable and frequently violent and bigoted Arab world, Jordan’s has been a voice (relatively speaking) of moderation and reason.

It’s a complex situation, and is growing more complex as Jordan’s troubles mount, particularly the widespread and deep dissatisfaction with how the country’s economy is being managed.

But complex or not, when Jordan has the opportunity to join moderate Arab voices but pointedly refuses, then Israelis and those who care for Israel’s well-being will notice and draw inferences. For instance:

Oman FM: Palestinians must reassure Israel it’s not in peril  | Associated Press Omar Akour | AP | April 6, 2019 at 2:40 PM

DEAD SEA, Jordan — Oman’s foreign minister urged Palestinians on Saturday to reassure Israel that it is not under threat in the Middle East, drawing a rare public rebuke from his Jordanian counterpart.
Oman’s Yusuf bin Alawi and Jordan’s Ayman Safadi shared the stage at a regional gathering of the World Economic Forum, held on Jordan’s shores of the Dead Sea.
Bin Alawi spoke at a time of warming ties between Israel and several Gulf Arab states, as part of an unofficial alliance against Iranian influence in the region.
The Omani minister said that Palestinians “should help Israel to get away from” what he said was its mistaken sense of being threatened.
Safadi responded sharply, to applause from the audience.
“I beg to differ on a number of issues,” said Safadi. He noted that in 2002, as part of the Arab Peace Initiative, scores of Arab and Muslim countries offered Israel recognition in exchange for a withdrawal from occupied lands sought for a Palestinian state.
Safadi said the problem is whether Israeli occupation “is going to end.”
Lebanon’s defense minister and Bahrain’s foreign minister were also present on stage during the exchange.
The recent rapprochement between Israel and several Gulf states has been fueled by deepening rivalries between regional camps, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively. The Trump administration’s hard anti-Iran line has contributed to growing regional tensions.
In October, Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Oman and Israeli officials visited the United Arab Emirates in recent months.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians feel increasingly sidelined, fearing Israel, Gulf states and the U.S. plan to strike a deal behind their backs about the future of war-won lands they seek for a future state.
Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, considers itself a strong advocate for Palestinian political demands. A majority of the kingdom’s citizens are of Palestinian origin.

Jordan’s public bellowing over how Israel deals with Muslim rights in Jerusalem provides a sadly rich source of intemperate and frankly ugly stamping of the foot by Jordan’s foreign ministry. This is from just a few weeks ago:

Jordan has called for an immediate halt to Israeli “provocations” at East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, warning of a new cycle of violence in the Middle East region, Anadolu reports. Hundreds of settlers forced their way into the flashpoint site on Sunday, in a rare tour in the final days of the fasting month of Ramadan, which ends this week. The tour has triggered clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police, which chased assaulted a number of worshippers during the violence. In a statement, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry warned of the “dangerous consequences of Israel’s provocative and repulsive escalatory Israeli practices, which will drag the region into a new cycle of violence that may threaten the security of the region as a whole”. It called on the Israeli authorities to “immediately cease all these provocations”, which it described as “absurd, irresponsible, rejected and condemned”. [Israeli ‘provocations’ will lead to violence: Jordan“, Middle East Monitor, June 2, 2019]

For anyone who knows something of the history of the region and the devastation wrought by Jordan’s heavy-booted occupation over nearly two decades, it’s odd to note those ridiculous adjectives. Jordan, when it had the opportunity during the 19 years of its illegal and violent military occupation of Jordan and the West Bank, carried out deliberate, massive and systematic destruction and desecration of Jewish holy sites in and around Jerusalem.

The “provocations” are the sight of polite, respectful Israelis and Jews visiting Judaism’s single holiest ancient place. For certain kinds of political analysts, politicians and politically-warped media reporters, this sight is just unbearable.

Note how certain especially bizarre elements play a role:

Image Source: Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, a source of rabidly anti-Israel news
  • Jewish and Israeli visitors to the Temple Mount never walk, stroll or simply visit. They storm. The word is used religiously these days. (A quick Google search produces more than 600,000 hits.)
  • The Arab sources quoted in shabby reporting like this always seem to know, without ever speaking with them, that the Jews are “settlers“. Even if they’re from Brooklyn.
  • These Jewish and/or Israeli visitors don’t actually go anywhere near the mosque constructed on the ruins of the First Temple and Second Temple. But in ideologically-obsessed parts of the Arab media, the entire football-field size plateau is lately termed “the Al Aqsa complex” to confer some spiritual air to the largest possible space. And yes, football is indeed played there by Arab boys.
Intemperate news reporting is a problem. But some other problems carry greater weight. For instance these three which bear a disturbing integrity-of-the-homeland similarity to each other:
  • This past October, Jordan decided to terminate the lease by Israel of two small areas on the Jordan River, roughly a thousand acres of agricultural ‎land‎, which had been farmed by Israelis for the past 25 years. The leases were part of the 1994 Jordan/Israel peace treaty. As the Jerusalem Post noted: “The 30 families which reside [there] live off these lands and export millions of dollars’ worth of crops to the world as well as to the Israeli market.” Jordan’s king announced that he seeks “full sovereignty on our land”. There’s surely a message in the unexpected and unwelcome move. From our conversations with relevant people, there’s some doubt what that message is.
  • Another important deal between Jordan and Israel, a far larger and more strategic one signed in 2016, is arousing angst and furor as a result of a bizarre speech by a member of Jordan’s parliament a couple of weeks ago. The deal concerns the sale of natural gas which is to be piped from Israel’s Leviathan offshore gas field to Jordan’s electric company. It’s a $10 billion deal to be executed over 15 years; the first gas is due to be delivered early next year. But as  critically important as this is to Jordan’s need for energy, it’s (of course) opposed by a range of Jordanian political factions including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ local affiliate, on the customary grounds that if it involves normalization and cooperation with Israel, it has to be bad. Tareq Khouri, a Christian and an opponent of the transaction said at a Muslim Brotherhood gathering on July 3, 2019 that good Jordanians should bomb the gas pipeline. “Every lover of freedom in Jordan [should] give up his life and the lives of his children in order to bomb any gas pipeline [from Israel] that passes through Jordanian territory. We shall all be potential martyrs [and] prevent this pipeline from entering one centimeter of Jordanian soil.”
  • A decade ago, reports emerged of the uncovering of an ancient Jerusalem pathway with considerable historical significance. Haaretz said: “Israel Antiquities Authority researchers have re-exposed a stretch of road in Jerusalem dating to the Second Temple period that is believed to have been used by pilgrims on their ascent to the Temple. Existence of the 40-meter segment of road, cleared over the past few months to open it to visitors, has been known of for more than a century. The excavation is taking place in the neighborhood of Silwan near the Siloam Spring.” Then on June 30, 2019, this Israeli update: “After six years of extensive archaeological excavations led by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a 350-meter-long section of the Pilgrimage Road was unveiled at a festive ceremony in the City of David.” Cause for celebration, right? Not necessarily, since Jerusalem is involved. So here’s the full text of Jordan’s official reaction: [Amman condemns Israeli opening of “pilgrims road”“, PETRA Jordan Gov’t News Agency, June 30, 2019]: 
    “Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Sunday slammed Israel for opening a tunnel beneath the Silwad town that is called the “pilgrims road” towards al-Aqsa Mosque/ Haram al-Sharif, issuing a warning that such “illegal and irresponsible” actions escalate tension. The official spokesperson of the ministry Sufian Qudah underscored Jordan’s utter rejection of Israeli attempts that seek to alter the identity of the occupied city of Jerusalem, especially the al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings.  Such Israeli actions are “vile violations” of the international and human law, he said, calling on the international community to assume its moral and political responsibilities in promptly halting these practices and to emphasize the importance of respecting East Jerusalem’s status as an integral part of the Palestinian territories, which have been under occupation since 1967, in accordance with the international law and resolutions of the international legitimacy.”

When they want to, Jordan’s official representatives can be quite talkative. A shame that on the subject of extraditing Ahlam Tamimi, they have not uttered a single official word as a government, leaving it to the media and their highest court to say the relatively little that has been offered to explain their indefensible policy.

As for their official spokesperson in the United States, Ambassador Dina Kawar of Jordan’s Washington embassy blocks us on Twitter.

That of course doesn’t change very much. But along with plenty of other evidence of Jordan being today very far from its moderate image, it contributes to the sense that they haven’t really come a great distance since the days of blowing up ancient synagogues on a massive scale and maliciously denying Jewish history.

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