Anger on the streets: Israeli deals and relations 'outrightly rejected' by Jordanians

Anger on the streets: Israeli deals and relations 'outrightly rejected' by Jordanians
See in pictures: From opposition to the Wadi Araba treaty, to the gas deal, to Trump's 'peace plan,' Jordanians have been protesting for years against normalising ties with Israel.
7 min read
12 February, 2020
Hundreds of protesters gather in front of the US embassy in Amman [Sherbel Dissi]

Carrying two bundles of flags, Mohammed(*) moves swiftly between hundreds of protesters as chants grow louder in downtown Amman. He holds Jordanian flags on his right hand, and Palestinian flags on his left hand.

It's been a busy, tumultuous start of the year for the Jordanian-Palestinian flag-seller. Since January, hundreds have braved the cold weather, rain and even sleet to hold protests on a weekly basis.

First, to oppose the Israeli gas that started to be pumped into Jordan earlier this year. Then to protest against US President Donald Trump's plan for the Middle East, dubbed "the Deal of the Century", announced on January 28.

"We are against the deal of the century. It doesn't meet the demands of Palestinian people, it doesn't meet the rights of refugees and our right of return," says Mohammad, who has been going to every protest to sell flags, but says he wholeheartedly supports protesters' demands.

Read also: 'Wake up Israel, wake up America': Saeb Erekat leads Palestinian pushback against US plan

"I am a Palestinian refugee from Jaffa, the bride of the sea," he adds. Like Mohammad, more than half of Jordan's population is of Palestinian descent.

Trump's plan, presented alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without the participation of Palestinians, gave Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem and the right to annex a big part of the West Bank. 

A protester holds a sign with a map of Palestine saying: "Palestine from the river to the sea" in front of the American embassy on January 31 after Trump announced his Middle East plan [Sherbel Dissi] 

Human rights groups have condemned the plan saying it violates international law and further strips Palestinians of their rights. A draft UN resolution stressed the illegality of the annexation of occupied Palestinian territories.

It's not the deal of the century, it's the spit of the century

"It's not the deal of the century, it's the spit of the century," says Nirmeen al-Shaba, who joined the protest on January 31 holding a large photo of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque close to her chest.

Protesters urged for the protection of Jordan's custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem, chanting "Al-Aqsa is ours! Jerusalem is ours!"

A boy carries a miniature of the Dome of the Rock mosque at a protest in downtown Amman on January 31 [Sherbel Dissi]

Before the plan was announced, Trump's administration had already moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognising the disputed city as Israel's capital, given Israel permission to annex the Golan Heights and said Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land would no longer be considered illegal.

Thousands demonstrated outside the US embassy in Amman when Trump announced that Jerusalem would be recognised as "Israel's undivided capital" in December 2017.

The Trump administration also decided to cut off aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees and the Palestinian Authority.

Demonstration in front of the US embassy to condemn Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017 [Sherbel Dissi]

The Trump administration's policies have further marginalised Palestinians. Many fear that Trump's deal will end all prospects of establishing a Palestinian state and see it as an attempt to smother Palestinians' calls for justice, dignity and freedom.  

According to political analyst Labib Kamhawi, the Trump deal doesn't just threaten Palestinian rights and the future of Jerusalem, but also Jordanian interests and security as Netanyahu's pledge to annex the occupied Jordan Valley would sever Jordan from the West Bank and destabilise the entire region.

"The ultra-right in Israel sees Jordan as an extension of Palestine but this is something Palestinians and Jordanians can never accept," says Kamhawi.

Promoted as the "Jordanian option" by the Israeli right, the possibility of Jordan becoming an alternative homeland for Palestinians by absorbing more refugees is a threat that haunts Jordan. 

Promoted as the 'Jordanian option' by the Israeli right, the possibility of Jordan becoming an alternative homeland for Palestinians by absorbing more refugees is a threat that haunts Jordan

"The Palestinians should have the right to stay in their land, and to return to land that was taken from them," adds the political analyst.

Wearing a Palestinian kuffiyeh, a protester joins the daily demonstrations in December 2017 in front of the US embassy in Amman [Sherbel Dissi]

In 1994, Jordan became the second country in the Arab world after Egypt to establish diplomatic ties with Israel by signing a treaty in Wadi Araba. But relations have been strained by an increasingly belligerent and right-wing government in Tel Aviv.

Last year, Israel detained two Jordanian citizens of Palestinian descent without charges on vague security allegations, causing diplomatic tensions between the two countries and sparking widespread outrage in Jordan.

Hiba Labadi and Abdulrahman Mirie were detained in August at the border crossing between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Labadi was held in solitary confinement and started a hunger strike to protest her detention and mistreatment in an Israeli jail. Mirie, a cancer patient, was held for over two months without charge.

Abdulrahman Mirie, a calligraphist who was detained without charge by Israel, sits in his home studio in the northern Jordanian village of al-Hashimiya on November 9 [Sherbel Dissi]

"A Jordanian official who came to visit me in jail said that it was the worst period ever for diplomatic relations," Mirie told The New Arab. 

Hundreds of Jordanians poured to the streets to demand the release of Jordanian citizens administratively detained in Israeli jails. Jordan recalled its ambassador in protest, and negotiations eventually led to their release in November.

Other popular mobilisations against normalisation with Israel, however, have failed to achieve similar results in Jordan.

Before the protests against Trump's deal, thousands took to the streets to protest against a controversial deal to import gas from Israel.

Struck in 2016 between the Jordanian state-owned electricity company and a US-Israeli consortium, the $10 billion deal went ahead despite overwhelming popular opposition and the parliament's vote against it.

Protesters say the deal forces normalisation on every household, and have raised concerns over the decision to make Jordan dependent on Israel in the strategic sector of energy.

Hundreds took to the streets on January 17 to protest against the deal to import gas from Israel [Sherbel Dissi/7iber]

What unites demonstrations over the last years against moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel's detention of Jordanian citizens, the Israeli gas deal and Trump's deal is opposition to the Wadi Araba treaty and calls to sever ties with Israel. 

In all of these protests Jordanians called for the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman and the annulment of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

Wadi Araba is not peace! Wadi Araba is surrender!

"Wadi Araba is not peace!" Jordanians shouted at every demonstration. "Wadi Araba is surrender!"

A protester chants during a demonstration in Amman, January 31 to condemn Trump's Middle East plan [Sherbel Dissi]

"There have been persistent calls to cut relations [with Israel]," says Mirie. "These deals and relations are outright rejected by the people."  

For political analyst and writer Lamis Andoni, the Wadi Araba treaty, the Israeli gas agreement and the "deal of the century" have all been pushed forward by the US and have the same ultimate goal.

"It's about accepting the occupation of Palestine and normalising it," she says. A leading voice against normalisation with Israel, Andoni says US pressure has been used against the interests of Jordanian citizens to try to make the oppression of Palestinians "acceptable" and "normal." 

Read also: Jordan's cool criticism of the 'Deal of the Century' could be King Abdullah's biggest win

"Normalisation is about providing authorisation to kill, dispossess, kidnap and torture," she adds."It is to accept these crimes being committed against Palestinian people." 

Abdulrahman Mirie and Hiba Labadi at a ceremony celebrating their release, in Amman, Jordan on November 8 [Sherbel Dissi]

(*) Mohammad withheld his last name for privacy 

Marta Vidal is a journalist focusing on social justice and human rights. Her work has already been published by MEE, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post and other outlets. 

Sherbel Dissi is a Jordanian-Palestinian photographer who has been documenting anti-normalisation campaigns in Jordan since 2017. His work and visual projects have been featured in Electronic Intifada, The Guardian and the Independent. Follow him on Instagram: @sherbel.dissi