Jordanians protest nightly against peace deal with Israel amid anger over Gaza war

Israel has killed more than 33,000 people in its war on Gaza. — AP

IT’S become a ritual for 35-year-old Anas Nayef: Every night he and several friends drive an hour and a half to a well-appointed neighbourhood in Jordan’s capital a mile from the Israeli Embassy – as close as authorities will allow. They join thousands in pro-Palestinian demonstrations that eventually end in low-grade tussles with security forces.

Their demands? Ending Jordan’s nearly 30-year-old peace deal with Israel.

“Normalisation is ...,” bellows Nayef. “Treason,” the crowd replies.

More than six months into the Israeli war on Gaza, Arab governments that signed peace deals with Israel find themselves excoriated by populations enraged that their leaders are not joining the fight against a country they say is committing genocide.

In Jordan, the cause has special resonance. Palestinians make up at least two million of the country’s 11 million people, and a frequent chant at the nightly protests is: “Who said we are separate? Jordan’s blood is for Palestine.”

The normalisation of relations with Israel in 1994 has always been deeply unpopular in Jordan. Still, the agreement has kept the peace and allowed for economic cooperation on water, natural gas and electricity. The war threatens to upend all that.

The Israeli ambassador left Jordan soon after Oct 7, when Hamas operatives attacked southern Israel and killed 1,200 people.

In November, Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel because of an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, where authorities say Israel has killed more than 33,000 people in its retaliatory invasion. Later that month, Jordan backed out of a water-for-energy deal brokered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi saying, “Can you imagine a Jordanian minister sitting next to an Israeli minister to sign the deal while Israel is killing our people in Gaza?”

In interviews, Jordan’s Queen Rania – who is of Palestinian origin – has accused Israel of genocide while King Abdullah II has castigated the West for double standards when it comes to Palestinian lives. Meanwhile, Jordan spearheaded airdrops of aid into Gaza, with King Abdullah donning a military uniform and getting on a C-130 plane to deliver the assistance.

Those moves have not placated protesters who have been demonstrating intermittently since last October and have turned protests into a daily presence since March 24.

“Do we think our protests will directly stop the genocide?” said Maasa, a 25-year-old psychiatry student, who worried that publishing her full name would invite reprisals from authorities. “No. But this is about trying to protect our country too. It also encourages people in other Arab countries with peace deals, like in Egypt, to do the same,” she said.

Others accuse the Jordanian government of helping the UAE and Israel conduct trade in the face of a Red Sea blockade by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Goods travel overland through Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Critics also rebuke Jordan’s government for stationing soldiers along its border with Israel and police near the Israel Embassy. Other points of contention include the presence of American military personnel and United States bases in the country, and the arrests of hundreds of activists during protests over the last month.

Somewhere in the crowd, a man shouts support for Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades: “Gaza is our cause! Al Qassam is our army! Hamas is our movement!”

The crowd repeats his words.

Upon hearing the chant, Nayef turns to a reporter and explained why protesters side with Hamas.

“It’s because armies in Arab nations are with the Americans,” he says. “They aren’t meant to defend us. They don’t defend our civil rights, let alone our political rights.”

A coffee shop worker and university student named Jasser joins the conversation, straining to make himself heard above the noise of the crowd: “These protests are the least we can do, to show the people of Gaza that we too are besieged by the authorities and wish we were with them.”

Pro-Hamas rhetoric has aroused suspicion among Jordan’s leaders, who have accused protesters of acting as provocateurs beholden to “outside agendas”.

Writing in local media outlets in the last week, pro-government commentators launched broadsides against the demonstrations, saying they have been weaponised in the service of the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful opposition group, or Iran to foment unrest and topple the Jordanian government.

Those fears have only been strengthened by calls from Hamas leaders for Jordanians to rise up and fight against Israel, along with a statement last week from the head of the Iraqi Shiite militant group Kataib Hezbollah saying it was ready to arm 12,000 Jordanians to help disrupt trade between the UAE and Israel.

In interviews, demonstrators reject the notion of the protests being about allegiance to Hamas or other Iran-backed groups.

“We are with the resistance in general, in all of its different types,” says Widad Daanah, an architect in her 50s and a regular presence at the protests.

“I’m with any liberation movement, regardless of its leanings,” she says, explaining that, as someone with a secular mind-set, she is not a typical Hamas supporter.

“I may not be with their methods and thinking, but in the broad outlines I’m with them.”

Rand Khattari, a physician, insists the target isn’t the Jordanian government.

“Whether these protests are useful or useless, I don’t care,” she says.

“I want them to send a message to Israel, that regardless of what our governments do, it won’t matter. People won’t accept. We’ll teach our kids to be even more vicious about this and reject them.” – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service

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Jordan protests , normalisation , Israel , Gaza war


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