Jordan’s anti-Israeli voices grow louder

Last month, a Jordanian non-governmental organisation published an advertisement for candidates to join an environmental training project in the Jordan Valley. This neglected to mention the project was in co-operation with Israel, on the Israeli side of the border but it was identical to many previous ads. It prompted a storm of protest after an Islamic newspaper revealed the Israel connection.

To view dictionary popup window put your cursor on the blue words

Israel in the Last Days

“And they shall no more be a preyStrongs 957: z;Ab baz; from 962; plunder:—booty, prey, spoil(-ed). to the heathenStrongs 1471: ywø…g gowy, go´-ee; rarely (shortened) y…Og goy, go´-ee; apparently from the same root as 1465 (in the sense of massing); a foreign nation; hence, a Gentile; also (figuratively) a troop of animals, or a flight of locusts:—Gentile, heathen, nation, people., neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safelyStrongs 983:betach, beh´takh; from 982; properly, a place of refuge; abstract, safety, both the fact (security) and the feeling (trust); often (adverb with or without preposition) safely:—assurance, boldly, (without) care(-less), confidence, hope, safe(-ly, -ty), secure, surely., and none shall make them afraidStrongs 2729: charad, khaw-rad´; a primitive root; to shudder with terror; hence, to fear; also to hasten (with anxiety):—be (make) afraid, be careful, discomfit, fray (away), quake, tremble..”
— Ezekiel 34:28

“They circled my name and phone number in the ad as if to target me,” says the Jordanian organiser, who prefers to remain anonymous. “I do not feel physically threatened and luckily there has been no leverage on me but many others avoid going into the same field of peace co-operation because of such tactics.”

Jordan is the only Arab state where NGO’s openly initiate such co-operation in several fields, including the environment, journalism, healthcare, youth work and even political research.

Israel’s peace with Egypt is cold and few Egyptians collaborate openly with Israelis. In Jordan, protests against such ties – from the country’s anti-normalisation movement, consisting mainly of Islamists with some pan-Arabists – are as old as the country’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel but they are getting louder.

Official tolerance for this movement fluctuates with the state of relations between the government and the Islamists, and with the Israeli-Jordanian relations. The latter have been bleak in recent months.

“It is worse than at any time since the signing of the peace treaty,” says Jordanian analyst and writer Oraib Rantawi. “I’m hearing things from the inner circle of the ruling elite [code for the people close to King Abdullah II] I have not heard before. They are talking about Israel as the enemy.”

The atmosphere between the two countries is poisonous. This is not only because Jordan suspects Israel of trying to block its plans for enriching uranium to make nuclear fuel. It is not even just the heightened apprehension about the many politicians in Israel’s rightwing coalition who see in Jordan an alternative Palestinian homeland instead of the West Bank and Gaza.

It is these elements plus a mistrust that has worsened since Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, first came to power in 1996 and slowed down the peace process. This tension worsened with the second Palestinian intifada in 2000.

Other conflicts, such as the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006, Israel’s Gaza operation in 2009 and its lethal action against the flotilla seeking to breach the blockade of Gaza earlier this year have made even some in the Jordanian government wonder whether the country is not paying too high a price for its peace with Israel.

The treaty has never been particularly popular in Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population. And it has not helped the country score points with hardline neighbours such as Syria.

The NGOs involved in joint Israeli projects feel the increased ambivalence towards the treaty. “The government is keeping a closer watch on what I do and can do less to rein in the anti-normalisers,” says the Jordanian organiser.

Badi al-Rafaih is a leader of the anti-normalisation movement and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He says: “Years ago I was arrested and even beaten up for what I do. But now nobody wants to defend Israel or have anything to do with it.”

Mr Rafaih and his supporters view any co-operation with Israel as legitimisation of a state they feel should disappear entirely. But people in NGOs working with Israel have equally strong opinions. A Jordanian woman, who started a joint Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian journalism project, says: “I think maybe it only helps on a very small scale, but trust has to start somewhere.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Copyright © In The Days