Protestors chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan July 28, 2017. The poster reads "Close the terrorist embassy, dignity for the people". Photo by Muhammad Hamed/REUTERS.

Jerusalem-Amman diplomatic row continues over embassy attack


Jordan refuses to allow Israel’s ambassador to return to country unless security guard who shot dead two Jordanians is investigated and tried

Jordan remains steadfast in its refusal to allow Israel to return its ambassador to Amman unless an Israeli security guard involved in a shooting at the embassy last month is brought to trial.

Speaking to The Media Line, Yahya Al-Saud, head of the Palestine Committee in Jordan’s parliament and who is responsible for the Jerusalem file, confirmed that “an order was issued [Monday] banning the Israeli ambassador in the absence of an initial investigation in Israel over the actions of the security guard.

“And Jordan must be involved and kept aware of the proceedings,” he stressed.

Al-Saud’s statements comes after Jordanian government officials were quoted by local media as saying that they had sent a letter to Jerusalem reiterating that Einat Schlein could not return to her post without “guarantees of a serious and thorough investigation of the embassy guard and the bringing of him to trial.”

The guard, Ziv Moyal, was allegedly stabbed by teenager Mohammed Jawawdeh on July 23, after which he opened fire, killing the attacker along with a Jordanian bystander. The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis, which intensified when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave Moyal a hero’s welcome upon his return to Israel—a move described by Jordanian King Abdullah II as “unacceptable and provocative.”

In this respect, a Jordanian source told The Associated Press over the weekend that Netanyahu’s action had “damag[ed] bilateral relations and the regional acceptance Israel is seeking.”

Israel has since launched a probe into the incident, which the Jordanian parliament speaker called a “step in the right direction,” before adding that “justice must be served.” While Israel’s attorney general said the inquiry was routine, Moyal will likely be investigated on suspicion of manslaughter, according to media reports. As a signatory to the Vienna Convention, Israel is required to probe suspects upon their return from a country that provided them with diplomatic immunity against potential charges.

Hassan Ka’bia, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed to The Media Line that “the investigation is ongoing but that once it is done, a report will be transmitted to Jordanian authorities, in accordance with the law.” He said that no conclusions have yet been drawn.

Ka’bia further asserted that the incident should have led to such a blowup, and explained that the decision to bring home the Israeli diplomats was made by the Netanyahu government and that Amman had not expelled them. Lastly, he contended that “there are no issues between Israel and the Jordanian side, and, in fact, there is a meeting scheduled next week which will also be attended by the Palestinian Authority to discuss the borders.”

Nevertheless, the incident prompted widespread condemnations from Jordanian citizens, who held mass demonstrations including outside the Israeli embassy where protesters chanted “Death to Israel.” At Jawawdah’s funeral, thousands of people gathered to urge Abdullah to cancel the 1994 peace treaty between the countries.

“I prefer to cut all relations with Israel,” Yahya Al-Saud affirmed to The Media Line. “It is not about the latest incident. I don’t think it is important for us to have ties with Israel, period. Our relationship is like a five-star hotel—it only benefits the heads of the country and not the average person.”

The embassy incident occurred against the backdrop of recent tensions centered on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. Following the killing of two police officers at the compound on July 14, Israel installed metal detectors at the holy site, a move vehemently rejected by Muslims worldwide. Two weeks of upheaval ensued, leading Netanyahu to backtrack and remove the security measures.

Thus far, Moyal has rejected all claims that the incident at the embassy in Jordan was sparked by an argument over furniture, instead insisting he was attacked for “nationalistic” reasons, an Israeli term used to designate acts of terror.

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wave during a reception ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7. Photo Mohamad Torokman/REUTERS.

Jordan’s King Abdullah makes rare visit to Ramallah in West Bank


Jordan’s King Abdullah visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah for the first time in nearly five years.

The two leaders in their West Bank meeting reportedly discussed President Donald Trump and the peace process, as well as the recent crisis over the Temple Mount.

Abdullah has not visited Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, since December 2012.

Abdullah reportedly told Abbas that Trump is committed to brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and “stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to create real political prospects for progress toward resolving the conflict,” the Jordanian government’s Petra News Agency reported.

Both the king and Abbas emphasized “the need to preserve the historical and legal status quo” of the Temple Mount, which Petra called the Al-Quds Al-Sharif. Abdullah reiterated that the Hashemite Kingdom would continue to take seriously its guardianship of Muslim holy sites in the city and involve the international community, according to the report.

Abbas reportedly praised Abdullah for his efforts to defuse the recent Temple Mount crisis.

The two sides agreed to form a joint task force that would study the crisis, which was sparked by the murder of two Druze-Israeli police officers by three Arab-Israeli visitors to the site, and to prepare for possible future conflict at the Temple Mount.

Abdullah flew into Ramallah by helicopter, which required coordination with Israeli authorities, but did not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The failure to meet was meant to show the king’s unhappiness with Netanyahu in the wake of the Temple Mount crisis and the incident late last month in which an Israeli security guard from the Israeli Embassy shot and killed two Jordanian civilians after he was stabbed by one of them — a teen who was installing furniture in an apartment used by the embassy.

Policemen are seen near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan July 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of REUTERS.

Jordan allows Israeli Embassy employees, including guard who killed attacker, to return to Israel


The members of Israel’s diplomatic mission in Amman, Jordan, including a security guard who shot and killed his teenage assailant and a bystander, are back in Israel.

The embassy employees, who had been confined to the embassy compound all day Monday following the stabbing attack Sunday evening by a 17-year-old and subsequent shooting, returned late Monday through the Allenby Bridge.

In a statement issued shortly after 11 p.m. Monday, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said their return “was made possible by the close cooperation that took place in the last 24 hours between Israel and Jordan.”

The head of the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, traveled Monday to Jordan in an effort to diffuse the crisis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke that afternoon by telephone. Abdullah told Netanyahu to remove the metal detectors placed at the entrances to the Temple Mount used by Muslim worshippers, put into place after three Arab-Israelis killed two Druze-Israeli police officers in a July 14 terrorist attack near the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Israel’s Security Cabinet met for several hours Monday evening in an effort to resolve the crisis over security measures on the Temple Mount and the escalating diplomatic crisis with Jordan.

In the attack Sunday, the assailant entered a residential building occupied by the embassy to install furniture and stabbed the Israeli guard with a screwdriver. The guard shot and killed the assailant. The building’s owner, who was standing nearby, was killed after being hit by a stray bullet.

Jordanian police had demanded to question the guard, while relatives of the stabber called for the death penalty. The embassy refused to turn the guard over to the Jordanians for questioning, saying he had immunity.

Jordanian security forces reportedly held mobs of protesters who had gathered at the embassy at bay following the incident.

The Israeli media reported that the government is considering removing the metal detectors and replacing them with high-tech security cameras, and is aiming to make the changes before Friday, the busiest day at the site for Muslim prayers.

The cameras reportedly would be located a distance away from the gates into the site, so as not to offend the worshippers, who have been protesting the metal detectors by refusing to enter the sites and holding worship services at the gates, leading to clashes with Israeli security forces that have killed at least five Muslims.

Security forces stand guard outside the Israeli embassy in the residential Rabiyeh neighborhood of the Jordanian capital Amman following an 'incident' on July 23, 2017. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Israeli Embassy guard in Jordan kills assailant, bystander after being stabbed with screwdriver


An Israeli Embassy guard in Amman, Jordan, killed his 17-year-old assailant and a bystander after being stabbed in the chest with a screwdriver.

The attacker reportedly entered the home of an embassy official on Sunday evening to replace the furniture when he saw the security guard and stabbed him. The guard then pulled out his firearm and shot the attacker in the chest.

Reports said the owner of the residential building used by the embassy was hit with a stray bullet and killed.

Jordanian police are demanding to question the guard, while relatives of the stabber are calling for the death penalty.

The Israeli Embassy has refused to release the guard to the Jordanians for questioning, saying he has immunity. Jordan, meanwhile, refuses to allow the guard to leave the country.

The Israeli diplomatic team remains confined to the embassy compound, despite plans to evacuate the embassy staff and return them to Israel, Haaretz reported.

The Foreign Ministry told the Israeli media that it considers the incident to be a terror attack and related to the current Temple Mount crisis.

The father of the teen assailant reportedly told a Jordanian television station that he does not believe his son intended to attack an Israeli. However, he also said, “I consider my son to be a martyr for Allah.”

Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated against Israel in Amman on Friday over the installation of metal detectors at the Temple Mount. Among the chants heard at the demonstration was “How beautiful it is to kill soldiers in Jerusalem,” Ynet reported.  The Jordan-based Islamic Waqf is the administrator of the Temple Mount.

King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

Jordan’s anti-Israel rhetoric on rise despite security cooperation


The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which Israel fought against Jordan and other Arab states, is showing how much has changed in the Israel-Jordan relationship.

Since 1994, the two countries have had an official peace treaty, and over the years, security cooperation has deepened. Ties between their armies are close, and they share an interest in preventing unrest in the West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Furthermore, Israeli intelligence officials say the security cooperation and intelligence sharing between Jordan and Israel are stronger than ever. They count this cooperation as one of the strongest weapons in Israel’s arsenal and say it is crucial for both countries’ stability.

At the same time, however, popular sentiment in Jordan against cooperation with Israel is rising. Last month, a delegation of sheikhs from various tribes visited Israel, where they met with President Reuven Rivlin, whose father was one of the first to translate the Quran, the Muslim holy book, from Arabic into Hebrew and was an Islamic scholar.

The sheikhs spent five days touring Israel and meeting religious figures. When they returned, they encountered an outcry against them and their visit to Israel in the mainstream media and on social media. That anger intensified after two incidents — the first, when Israeli troops shot and killed a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker after he stabbed an Israeli policeman; the second, when Israeli troops in September shot a Jordanian tourist who tried to carry out a knife attack.

“There is a clear increase in anger and support for anti-normalization,” said Mohammed Husainy, the director of the Identity Center in Jordan.

Anti-normalization means opposition to cooperation with Israel in any field. It is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for a boycott of the Israeli government and Israeli citizens. For example, BDS has tried to prevent pop stars from giving concerts anywhere in Israel, not only in the West Bank.

After Israel and Jordan signed the peace treaty in 1994, Israeli tourists began to flock to Jordan, especially to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Jordanians began to visit Israel, although mostly to see relatives in the West Bank and to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Some Israeli analysts say that King Abdullah allows the anti-Israel rhetoric as a way for Jordanians to blow off steam.

“The Jordanian regime maneuvers between its need to cooperate with Israel and to address the sentiment of the population,” said Eyal Zisser, a professor at Tel Aviv University. “They do allow anti-Israel rhetoric in the media and at the popular level whenever there is a small incident.”

The situation is similar to that of Egypt, the other country with which Israel has a formal peace treaty. Although security cooperation is close, most Egyptians are vehemently anti-Israel. 

Egypt, Jordan and Israel have similar security concerns and all want to eliminate the terror threat from ISIS, which also has killed dozens of Egyptian police in the Sinai. All three countries see a nuclear Iran as a potential threat.

Most analysts say that in the long run, the common security interests will continue to overshadow the public anger at Israel. 

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (unseen) at the presidential palace in Cairo Aug. 2, 2015. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/REUTERS.

Egypt and Jordan: Don’t give up on two-state solution


he heads of Egypt and Jordan said a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on having two states.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan met Tuesday in Cairo.

“The two sides discussed future movements to break the gridlock within the Middle East peace process, especially with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration taking power,” read a statement issued after the meeting.

“They also discussed mutual coordination to reach a two-state solution and establish a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital which is a national constant that cannot be given up.”

The leaders also reportedly discussed Jerusalem and the maintenance of the status quo on the Temple Mount.

The meeting came days after the Israeli daily Haaretz first published a report revealing that one year ago, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a secret meeting in Aqaba that included Abdullah and al-Sisi.

The deal would have included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries.

The meeting also comes after last week’s meeting in Washington, D.C., between Netanyahu and  Trump, in which Trump did not commit to a two-state solution in a break from U.S. policy from the early 2000s.

Jordan’s schools more open to Syrian refugees


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

In many parts of the world, mid-August is back-to-school season with frazzled parents dragging cranky children through store aisles buying school supplies, uniforms and books. The parents are often eagerly awaiting the first day of school after the two-month school vacation; the kids are often a little less eager.

But in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, more than a million children of Syrian refugees, many of whom fled Syria years ago, are not enrolled in any educational program. In Jordan, bureaucratic obstacles, as well as a poverty rate of more than 86 percent, have made it harder for children to go to school.

According to Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in Turkey, over half a million children under the age of 18 out of a total of 900,000 Syrian refugee children are not in school, and in Lebanon more than 250,000 children were not in school. In Jordan, there are 145,000 in school and 83,000 not attending school.

One reason is that Jordanian regulations, put in force before the Syrian refugee crisis began five years ago, is that any child who has been out of school for three years cannot return to school. In addition, refugees must present “service cards” issued by the Interior Ministry to enroll in public schools. Refugees who left camps after July 2014, and do not have a male Jordanian relative over 35 years old as a guarantor, are not eligible to receive these cards. Human Rights Watch says the total number of cases could be in the tens of thousands.

Mohammed Thneibat, Jordan’s Minister of Education, today announced that every child in Jordan under the age of 18, can enroll in school for the coming year. Those who do not have service cards will have until the end of the first semester to deal with the government bureaucracy.

“This is a really positive signal,” Van Esfeld told The Media Line. “The hope now is that we have some time to continue to work on the Interior Ministry to make sure they won’t be kicked out of school.”

The obstacles are not only bureaucratic, however. Many children have to work to help their families make ends meet. Child marriage has increased dramatically, and parents often worry about girls’ safety on the way to school.

But as the Syrian civil war has dragged on, and more and more children have missed years of school, there is concern about an entire lost generation of children and teenagers.

“One of our top priorities is to make sure that every vulnerable child gets an education,” UNICEF spokesman in Jordan Miraj Predhan told The Media Line. “Jordan is on the right track but needs support from the global community.”

One new program aims to allow 25,000 children who have not been in school for more than three years, to enroll in special classes to catch up on what they have missed and then join regular classes. However, according to Human Rights Watch, this program would only apply to children age 8 – 12.

The problem of Syrian refugee children not in school gets worse for odler children. Only about 5,500 of an estimated 25,000 or more secondary-school age Syrian children were enrolled in formal education last year. Others are working.

Getting Syrian children back in school is a priority for human rights groups. They hope that a success in Jordan will pave the way for similar programs in Turkey and Lebanon.

“The donor community has woken up and they would like to see a success story in Jordan,” Bill Van Esfeld said. “They say they want to prevent a lost generation but in many ways we already have it.”

Israelis barred from entering Jordan over kippot


A group of Israeli tourists were prevented from entering Jordan because members of the group were wearing yarmulkes.

The incident occurred more than a week ago, but was first reported by Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday.

The group was planning to travel to the Tomb of Aaron near Petra. The tomb is believed to be the burial place of the first High Priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses.

In December, an Israeli family was denied entry to Jordan at a crossing near Eilat because the husband and the couple’s sons wore kippot; they were told they could not enter Jordan with “Jewish items.”   After that incident, Jordan told Israeli authorities it was a one-time error, according to Channel 2.

A Foreign Ministry official told Channel 2 that not allowing tourists carrying Jewish religious items in their bags to enter Jordan appears to be official policy. The ministry reportedly has sought clarification of the issue from Jordan.

Airport planned for Israel-Jordan border clouds neighborly ties


A new airport planned by Israel near its border with Jordan is clouding the usually businesslike relationship the two neighbors have built since making peace in 1994.

Due to open next April, Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport at Timna, in Israel's desert south, will be 10 km (6 miles) from Jordan's King Hussein International Airport. They will serve Eilat and Aqaba, the adjacent Israeli and Jordanian resort cities on the Red Sea.

Citing worry the proximity could spell dangerous disruptions to its air corridors, Amman last year complained to the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Israel said Ramon would abide by ICAO regulations and pose no safety risk. The ICAO later said Israel and Jordan were addressing the matter directly “as one would expect from two countries with a peace treaty and a wide scope of cooperation in many fields”.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz played down the dispute with Jordan, one of two Arab states with full ties with Israel.

“There is no confrontation,” he told Reuters in an interview. “There have been discussions (and) it was agreed that we will hold a professional-level meeting. The (Ramon) airport will open, and there will be coordination of air traffic.”

Jordan sounds less upbeat, however.

“We do not want to stand in the way of Israeli projects, but we have our concerns regarding our own airport, and there is also the matter of keeping the spirit of our peace agreement,” said a Jordanian official who declined to be identified.

The official was referring to a proposal, discussed in conjunction with the treaty, of building a jointIsraeli-Jordanian airport.

Katz said such a facility was an “option” that had gone unexercised. Opened in 1972, King Hussein underwent expansions after the 1994 peace accord to meet what the airport's website said was the rising demand of air traffic. Katz said Israel was therefore free to open Ramon on its side of the border.

 

TOURISM

Jordan's concern, he suggested, was over the prospective loss of tourists to Israel. Ramon will have a 3.6-km (2.2-mile) runway able to accommodate the largest airliners while King Hussein's runway length is a more limiting 3.1 km (1.9 miles).

King Hussein currently handles around four to six takeoffs and landings a day. Israel is planning for 10 times that capacity at Ramon.

“The thing is, this (Ramon) is a big international airport, representing a mass of tourists, which is seen as possibly competing with them in tourism and such things,” Katz said.

“We will propose to them that large planes that can't land there (King Hussein) will land here. I have no problem with people going to Aqaba from there (Ramon). They can cross at Arava crossing,” he said, referring to an overland border terminal north of Eilat, a 15-km (9-mile) drive from Ramon.

Peace with Israel was never popular among ordinary Jordanians, many of whom are Palestinian, and Amman officials sometimes lament what they see as the sluggish dividends from economic cooperation with their richer neighbor.

One Jordanian official based in the Aqaba area accused Israel of building Ramon airport to “market Petra” – the nearby archaeological wonder in Jordan – for excursions by tourists who would spend the bulk of their vacation in Eilat.

“We are protecting our national tourism industry from any invasion and from selling it illegally,” said the official, who also requested anonymity.

“Now we have imposed on those coming from the (Arava) crossing to either pay sixty dinars ($85) for a one-day (visa) or spend two nights in the kingdom,” with the fee refunded, the official said.

Eilat is currently served by a small municipal airport whose planned demolition will free up real estate within view of the beach.

Named after an Israeli astronaut lost in the 2003 space shuttle disaster and his eldest son, who died in a 2009 air force accident, Ramon is envisaged as an emergency alternative to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel's main international gateway. Ben Gurion was briefed shunned by most foreign carriers due to incoming Palestinian rockets during the 2014 Gaza war.

Jordanians hired by Eilat hotels in groundbreaking program negotiated with Israeli gov’t


In a first for Jordan-Israel relations, a small group of Jordanian citizens recently gained employment in Israel’s hospitality sector as part of a pilot project negotiated by the two countries.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the program, which “very quietly” launched six months ago, currently permits 700 Jordanians to cross the border to work in the Red Sea resort town Eilat. The program ultimately will allow in 1,500 Jordanians.

On the program’s first day, in November, 172 workers arrived in Eilat, according to The Tower. That day, Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom greeted the new workers, saying, “This is a day of celebration for Israeli-Jordanian cooperation … that will strengthen ties between Israel and Jordan, improve service in Eilat hotels and prevent illegal migrants from working in Israel.”

Eilat’s 40 hotels employ 9,000 workers, a third of them in housekeeping, according to the Post.

Ahmed Riashi, 25, told the Post that his dishwashing job at Isrotel’s Royal Garden Hotel pays twice what he made working as a waiter in Amman, Jordan’s capital. He said the Jewish Israelis he has encountered on the job have reacted positively upon learning he was Jordanian and several asked to take selfie photos with him.

The tightly regulated program requires the Jordanian workers to return to Jordan by 8 each evening, bars them from traveling outside the Eilat city limits and restricts them to cleaning jobs.

According to the Post, the new employees are 99 percent male and, after being vetted by the Jordanian government and Israeli hotels, undergo a background check by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency.

Because the program’s goals include ending the hotel sector’s reliance on illegal African migrant employees, hotels are required to fire an African each time they hire a Jordanian, according to the Post.

Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, becoming Israel’s second Arab neighbor after Egypt to establish full diplomatic relations.

Jordan drops Temple Mount video surveillance plan


Responding to Palestinian objections, Jordan announced Monday that it will not install surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abudullah Ensour said his country was abandoning the plan, which had been part of a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last fall to defuse tensions at the Jerusalem compound, The Associated Press reported.

“We were surprised since we announced our intention to carry out the project by the reactions of some of our brothers in Palestine who were skeptical about the project,” Ensour said. “We have found that this project is no longer enjoying a consensus and it might be controversial. Therefore we have decided to stop implementing it.”

The Palestinians have claimed that if surveillance cameras were placed inside the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, Israel would use them to spy. Israel has accused Palestinian protesters of using the mosque for cover while throwing stones and firecrackers at Israeli security forces.

The Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews and Muslims, is adjacent to the Western Wall and the one-time location of Judaism’s first and second temples. The site has witnessed numerous outbreaks of violence.

Rumors that Israel planned to change the status quo that allows only Muslims to pray there sparked the wave of Palestinian violence that began in October. Israel has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the status quo; however, a growing number of Israeli Jews who advocate for greater Jewish access to the site have visited the Temple Mount in recent years.

Israel promised acess to Straits of Tiran after Saudi-Egypt deal, says defense chief


Israel was guaranteed in writing free passage through the Straits of Tiran after Saudi Arabia’s planned takeover of two strategic Red Sea islands, Israel’s defense minister told reporters Tuesday.

Egypt agreed to hand over the islands, which it has controlled for more than 60 years, as part of a deal to build a bridge over the sea between the two countries that was announced during a weekend visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

The deal had raised questions about Israel’s continued access to the passage, the revocation of which was a casus belli of the 1976 Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors. But Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel was consulted early in talks over the deal and gave its consent.

“An appeal was made to us – and it needed our agreement, the Americans who were involved in the peace agreement and of the MFO,” Yaalon said, referring to the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping forces at the Israeli-Egyptian border. “We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the peace agreement.”

In the document given to Israel, Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal relations with Israel, pledges to abide by the principles that have governed Israeli-Egyptian relations since their 1979 peace treaty, Haaretz reported. According to the treaty, the Straits of Tiran and the entire Gulf of Aqaba are international waterways open to free passage by Israel and overseen by the international observers.

The islands being relinquished to Saudi Arabia, Tiran and Sanafir, stand sentry at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Israeli city of Eilat and the Jordanian city of Aqaba are located at the northern tip of the gulf. The Saudi-Egyptian deal has faced public criticism in Egypt as a blow to national pride.

Jordan’s king: Solving Israeli-Palestinian conflict necessary to defeat ISIS


The Islamic State cannot be defeated until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, Jordan’s king said.

Speaking Friday at the Munich Security Conference, an international gathering of foreign and defense policy leaders held in Germany, King Abdullah II said, “Left unresolved, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will become a religious conflict of a global dimension,” according to the Times of Israel.

Abdullah noted that the “festering injustice” of the unresolved conflict “continues to be exploited by [ISIS] and its kind.

“Left unresolved, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will become a religious conflict of a global dimension. And it is only a matter of time before we may be faced by yet another war in Gaza or in south Lebanon,” he said. “This is why reaching a two-state solution should remain a priority for us all.”

Abdullah also called for “a new level of global action” focused on defeating ISIS.

“We, as Arabs and Muslims, have a responsibility and duty to be in the lead in the fight against the Khawarej, or outlaws of Islam. This is a war to protect our religion, our values and the future of our people,” he said, “but it must be global in partnership, just as it is global in scope.”

Muslim Waqf opposes expanded egalitarian prayer area at Western Wall


The Waqf, the Islamic trust that oversees the Temple Mount, says it opposes an expanded egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall.

The Waqf has filed a complaint with the Israel Police and will consider other steps, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing Omar Kiswani, director of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The Muslim body lays claim to the antiquities at the holy site and says the expansion disturbs the status quo there.

On Jan. 31, Israel’s Cabinet approved an agreement to expand the non-Orthodox Jewish prayer section of the Western Wall.

Jordan reportedly also is protesting the plan, saying it will damage the ruins of the Umayyad Palace at the site where the expanded section is to be built, south of the Western Wall and next to the Temple Mount.

The Waqf claims the area also should be under its jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, a plan to install surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount announced in October by the United States in order to deter violence at the site has been delayed due to disagreement between Israel and Jordan, Haaretz reported.

Among the areas of disagreement are where the cameras will broadcast, whether Israel can edit the transmissions or control the broadcasts, and where the cameras will be stationed, according to Haaretz.

Israeli officials fear there could be more tension and violence on the Temple Mount if cameras are not installed by Passover.

Uncertainty grips Middle Eastern markets


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

The impact of the Middle East’s ongoing woes on the region’s tourism businesses has been well documented. The industry’s standing has been tarnished not just by continuing conflicts, but also by repeated terrorist attacks against foreign tourists in a number of countries in the region. What has been less discussed is the downturn in the Middle East’s industry, business, and inter-regional commerce.

Syria, the focal point for much of the violence in the region, was described by the World Bank as a “lower middle income country,” with agriculture and petroleum exports making up the bulk of its trade in 2010. Five years later, its economy has been characterized as anywhere between collapsed and as a ‘war economy’. But the country is hardly the only state whose financial position is hugely affected by the sectarian conflict raging in, and across, its borders.

In a research paper for the World Bank published last year, Elena Ianchovichina and Maros Ivanic described how the impact of the war has been felt chiefly by Syria and by Iraq. With stretches of its western provinces captured by the Islamic State, including areas of oil production, it is hardly surprising that Iraq has suffered large scale economic regression. Ianchovichina and Ivanic also discussed a second tier of affected countries — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — neighboring Syria and Iraq, who have taken in the bulk of the war’s refugees.

Despite the scale and the length of the conflict the economic repercussions onto global markets have not been large, Jason Tuvey, a Middle East economist at Capital Economics Research Company, told The Media Line. Syria’s economic output was far more relevant to its direct neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, than to global markets, Tuvey said.

As well as a loss of trade both countries have borne the brunt of Syria’s refugee exodus. Lebanon has taken in so many Syrians that refugees are now 25% of the population and in Jordan the Zaatari refugee camp is so crowded as to constitute the country’s fourth largest city, the economist explained.

Turkey too has taken in large numbers of refugees but is more financially stable than the two smaller host nations.

Whether or not Syria’s reduction in trade has adversely affected the broader Middle East the war is still hampering the region’s economy due to the uncertainty it produces, Colin Foreman, news editor at MEED Middle East Business Intelligence, told The Media Line. Similar to the early years of the Arab Spring – the pro-democracy protests that took place throughout the Middle East in 2011 – the Syrian war creates uncertainty in Middle Eastern markets, Foreman said.

The difference is that in 2011 petroleum prices were stable, so uncertainty actually benefited exporting nations, whereas now the cost of a barrel of oil is low and so the market is more adversely affected, the editor explained.

Conflict in Syria is not the only cause of this situation as political turmoil in Egypt and war in Yemen also add to the uncertainty, Foreman said.

Escalating the uncertainty yet further is the Islamic State (ISIS). “The situation in Syria has deteriorated particularly since mid-2014 with ISIS taking a foothold,” Foreman argued. This has led to the refugee crisis and to a significant downturn in the value of the Iraqi oil industry, the editor suggested.

Tuvey was not as sure that the impact of the Islamic State was felt strongly on Iraqi oil exports. “In Iraq most of its oil fields are in the south away from ISIS – Iraq has actually been increasing its oil production over the last year or so,” he explained.

He went onto suggest the current price of petroleum may be limiting the damage ISIS can cause to global markets.

“It has not had an enormous impact because we’re now in an era when we have a huge glut of oil – ten years ago it might have been more concerning,” he said.

Jordanian sheik clarifies: It’s ‘mandatory’ to kill Jews


A Jordanian sheik who said it is forbidden to kill Jews except in a time of war clarified his statements, saying that jihad against the Jews is a “mandatory duty.”

In a video distributed Tuesday, Ali Al-Halabi said the Jews should be killed, but the Palestinians and the Arab world are not strong enough to do so yet. The video was translated into English by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Halabi, the director of the Imam Albani Center for religious and methodological studies in Jordan, had said in a videotaped statement made last year but distributed recently on social media that it is permitted to kill Jews during a declared war or clashes with Jewish soldiers, but that at other times it is a betrayal.

In the new video, he said, “Unfortunately tens of thousands of Palestinians work with the Jews, they get money from the Jews. They need the Jews. Sadly this is the reality of an occupied people.

“I am not saying this as some people mistakenly understood it, as praise for the Jews, who deserve nothing but more and more curses. I am talking about the reality,” Halabi said, acknowledging that the Muslim community would lose an “asymmetrical war” against Israel and the Jews.

“Jihad against the Jews, fighting them and liberating the land from them, is a binding and mandatory duty, incumbent upon the Islamic countries and upon the Muslim individuals, but it depends on capabilities, because everybody knows that America has Israel’s back,” he said.

Jordanian sheik: It is forbidden to kill Jews except in war


A sheik in Jordan said it is forbidden to kill Jews except during times of war.

Ali Halabi said in a videotaped lecture distributed on social media that it is permitted to kill Jews during a declared war or clashes with Jewish soldiers, but that at other times it is a betrayal.

“Someone who protects you, gives you electricity and water, transfers you money and you work for him and take his money — would you betray him, even if he was a Jew?” the sheik responds to a question from a student. “If you trust him and he trusts you, then it is forbidden to betray him. And therefore you are forbidden to murder him.”

Halabi, the director of the Imam Albani Center for religious and methodological studies in Jordan, also said that he understood that Palestinians are not attacked by Israeli soldiers unless they are first attacked. He added that he was not trying to defend the “despised Jews,” but that practically, if they were killing the Palestinians indiscriminately, then “nobody would remain.”

Muslim activists have attacked the sheik for his statements, the Arabic-language Al Watan news website reported, including distributing videos of Israeli soldiers shooting at would-be Palestinian attackers.

Jordan could play key role in calming Israeli-Palestinian tensions


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

When Secretary of State John Kerry decide to fly to the Middle East to try to calm rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions after a wave of stabbing and shooting attacks, he did not land in Jerusalem, but in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Kerry’s choice shows the important role of the Hashemite Kingdom’s head of state, King Abdullah II, who has good relationships with the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Americans.

Following the talks, Kerry announced a series of  steps designed to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinian centered on Jerusalem and the compound at the heart of the city, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslim as the Noble Sanctuary. Chief among these measures was the King’s proposal to place 24-hours security cameras overlooking the contested site.

Jordan’s reigning monarch since 1999, the English educated, 53-year old, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein remains popular among Jordanians. Pictures of the King adorn the interior of offices and stare down onto pedestrians in the street in every city in the country. Jordan maintains a key role in the ongoing dispute in Jerusalem, as its peace treaty with Israel states that the Hashemite Kingdom is responsible for supervising the Noble Sanctuary. The Muslim Waqf, which supervises the site, is a Jordanian body, although Israel maintains overall security at the site, and will send Israeli soldiers in when officials believe it is needed.

Israel and the United States would be keen to see Abdullah intervene and try to put an end to violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Yoram Meital, head of the Herzog Center for Middle East studies at Ben Gurion University, told The Media Line. From the Israeli government’s point of view, Jordan’s role is essential, due to the hostility between the current right-wing cabinet and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“For Bibi (Binyamin) Netanyahu, King Abdullah would be a much better partner (than Mahmoud Abbas) to speak with and maybe get into agreement with on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa,” the professor suggested.

However, Abdullah is unlikely to relish being brought in as mediator. For one, if Abdullah was to declare that Israel was maintaining the status quo, as both Israel and the US desire, the King would lose credibility with his own people. Although high level cooperation exists between the two neighboring countries, Israel is still viewed with suspicion by a great number of Jordanians. Amman, the country’s capital, has recently seen demonstrations, where protestors condemned what they declared as Israeli violence towards Palestinians in recent weeks.

“King Abdullah is not a mediator to Israel and Palestine – Jordan has made this clear,” Oraib Rantawi, the founder and director general of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told The Media Line. Jordan views itself as committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and so does not wish to be pushed into acting as neutral mediator, Rantawi explained.

“It is the US who has the power and the moral responsibility (to take this role),” he said.

To add to Abdullah II’s reasons for shying away from becoming a broker, is his inability to trust the Israeli Prime Minister, both Rantawi and Meital separately suggested. “Abdullah has no trust, no confidence, in Netanyahu because he does not commit to what he says,” Rantawi argued.

Despite this Kerry managed to reach some agreement. “I am very pleased to announce today that Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to what I think is an excellent suggestion by King Abdullah, to provide 24-hour video coverage of all sites,” John Kerry said. Such monitoring will reduce the ability of individuals to use the holy site as a means to create incitement in Jerusalem, the Secretary of State declared.

However, when Muslim Waqf officials tried to install cameras this week, Israel took them down, saying they had not been coordinated.

“This arrangement that Kerry put through will not hold water in the long term because he did not address the core issue – Palestinian claims for full sovereignty,” Meital said.

For the time being such concerns are being overshadowed by other events in the Middle East. For the US and Jordan, the Islamic State (ISIS) poses a more pressing danger. The jihadist organization and the Syrian civil war which helped create it, represent a continued threat to Jordan.

However, it is something that that the monarch, after sixteen years on the throne, has the experience and the reputation to handle, Rantawi hinted. “Jordan is one of the few Arab countries still secure and stable – this does not happen accidentally, it is the result of policies enacted by the king himself,” the academic declared.

Jordan’s handling of the turbulence of 2011 and the Arab Spring appear to coincide with this view. Although street protests did occur, unlike in most neighboring states the security forces did not require large scale violence to put down demands for reforms. As Rantawi put it, “in Jordan people talked about regime reform but not regime change.” Compared to Iraq, Syria or even Egypt, the smaller Hashemite Kingdom appears stable and running business as usual. 

Israel and Jordan agree to put surveillance cameras on Temple Mount


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan agreed to place surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount in what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “could really be a game changer” in discouraging violence at the Jerusalem holy site.

Kerry announced the placement of the 24-hour-a-day cameras at an appearance before reporters on Saturday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman.

“This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency, and that could really be a game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site,” Kerry said, calling it a “first step” toward bringing Israel and the Palestinians back together to discuss long-term peace. “I expect Jordanian and Israeli technical teams will meet soon to discuss the implementation of this idea alongside other measures to maintain and enhance public order and calm.”

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Jewish-Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Palestinian Authority President Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu has continued to vehemently deny.

In televised remarks on Saturday night, Netanyahu said there would be “increased coordination between the Israeli authorities and the Jordanian Waqf, including to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area, and all this in accordance with the respective responsibilities of the Israelis authorities and the Jordanian Waqf.” The Muslim Waqf is responsible for overseeing the Temple Mount site.

Judeh in his appearance with Kerry called Jordan “a stakeholder” when it comes to Palestinian-Israeli peace, saying all the final status issues “touch the very heart of Jordan’s national security and national interests.” He added that no final arrangement can be arrived at between the two “without the input and active participation of Jordan.”

On Sunday, at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu defended his decision to install the cameras.

“Israel has an interest in stationing cameras in all parts of the Temple Mount,” he said. “First, in order to disprove the claim that Israel is changing the status quo. Second, to show where the provocations really come from and to foil them before they ever happen.”

In his televised remarks, Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount.

“Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu said, adding later, “As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.”

Palestinians criticize Temple Mount surveillance plan


Palestinian officials are opposing a plan to install 24-hour surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount.

Several Palestinian leaders criticized the proposal on Monday, Bloomberg News and Reuters reported.

“The placement of cameras in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not only a violation of the status quo; it also enables Israel to exercise security control and provides it with more enhanced means of surveillance,” Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “Israel, as it has repeatedly done, will use it against the Palestinians and not against extremist Jewish settlers or Israeli officials.”

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Voice of Palestine radio that the plan was “a new trap,” according to Reuters. Maliki accused Israel of planning to use the footage to arrest Muslim worshippers that it believes are “inciting” against it.”

The plan, which was announced by the United States on Saturday with support from Israel and Jordan, aims to deter violence at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the plan proposed by Jordan as a “game-changer.”

Netanyahu blasts Jordan’s King Abdullah for Temple Mount criticism


A day after Jordan’s King Abdullah sharply criticized Israel’s actions in defusing violence on the Temple Mount, Israel accused Jordan of being partially responsible for the conflict.

In a strongly worded message to Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed on Monday that the Jordanian Waqf, an Islamic authority that administers the Temple Mount site, allowed Muslims to stockpile weapons in the Al-Aqsa mosque.

“Don’t run away from your responsibility,” Netanyahu’s message read, according to Israel’s Channel 2. “The Waqf broke the status quo by letting rioters armed with stones sleep in the Al-Aqsa mosque.”

On Sunday, Abdullah told a group of visiting Arab-Israeli Knesset members that the Temple Mount was only for Muslim prayer. He condemned an Israeli police raid on Sept. 13 that uncovered a stockpile of bombs and rocks that officials feared would be used to injure Jewish worshippers.

“What is Netanyahu trying do achieve with this action; is he trying to cause an explosion?” Abdullah said in the meeting, according to the Hebrew website Maariv.

Abdullah hinted that he would bring up the issue with the European Union.

Israeli police have clashed with Muslim protesters in and around the Temple Mount over the past two weeks. Jews are allowed to enter the site but are not allowed to pray.

Tensions at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque spill over onto international stage


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Following three days of clashes between Israeli security forces and Muslim demonstrators at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the King of Jordan has warned Israel that its “provocation” is risking the relationship between the two neighbors. The compound surrounding the mosque – the Temple Mount to Jews; the Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims, and sacred to both – is located in the center of Jerusalem’s Old City, but remains under the custodianship of Jordan which controlled the area before 1967.

“Any more provocation in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel,” Abdullah II, monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom, said, adding that his government “will not have a choice but to take actions, unfortunately.”

Jordan is one of only two Arab states, along with Egypt, that have signed peace treaties with Israel. Tensions rose in the Old City during the religious holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. With a number of Jewish holy days taking place in the upcoming weeks, including the holiday of Yom Kippur – coinciding this year with Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice – there are possibilities of further clashes. This could lead to increased diplomatic tensions between Israel and Jordan, which temporarily withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv last year following similar confrontations.

The Hashemite Kingdom’s view of Israel is based on two separate levels – the government and the population, Yoav Alon, from Tel Aviv University’s department of Middle East and African history, told The Media Line. Both governments share a number of strategic interests including countering the Islamic State, links between military and intelligence institutions and curtailing Palestinian nationalism, Alon said.

It is only on the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque that the two struggle to see eye to eye. “Jordan sees itself as someone that is responsible for the Temple Mount and that is why they are so touchy about the status quo,” Alon suggested.

Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan controlled the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Following the capture of this territory, and the holy sites within the Old City by Israel in the Six Day War, Jordan remained custodian of Al-Aqsa.

However the strategic ties of the government in Amman with Israel are not supported by many Jordanians.

“There will always be tension as long as the Palestinian situation is not resolved… because half of the population in Jordan originate in Palestine,” Alon said. This forces King Abdullah II’s government to maneuver between its commitments to the wishes of its people and to the pragmatic approach of realpolitik. “The Jordanian regime has to walk on a tightrope doing a balancing act,” Alon explained.

Negative views of Israel are strong on the streets of the Hashemite Kingdom. “The majority in Jordan are looking to Israel as a government of occupation… especially with the latest escalation against the Palestinians civilians around Al- Aqsa Mosque,” Mohammed Shamma, a Jordanian journalist, told The Media Line. There are activists within Jordanian society who aim to see the peace agreement with Israel cancelled. These groups use events like the clashes in Jerusalem to draw attention to their cause, said Shamma, pointing to a recently held anti-Israel protest in Amman.

Additionally, during Arab spring protests in Jordan in 2011, along with calls for reform and democracy there were widespread demands to change the relationship with Israel, Shamma said. Clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque always push public perception in this direction, with social media users widely disseminating images and videos they believe demonstrate abuses by Israeli security forces, the journalist explained. 

Irrespective of what ordinary Jordanians may think, relations between the government and its Jewish neighbor have remained strong for years. It is worth noting that the King spoke about the relationship with Israel being changed without specifying what that could entail, Uli Wacker, the Jordan director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, told The Media Line.

The king knows that once he hints Israel has crossed a line it will get the message, Wacker said. Both states share an interest in stable relations and since this confrontation happens every year there is no reason to believe it will affect their relationship, Wacker said.

“The only concern of the Jordanians is that Israel might change the rules on the Temple Mount,” Wacker argued, suggesting that if Jews were allowed to pray there this would bring the whole Islamic world against Israel. But the Jewish state is not stupid enough to do this, he added.

“This little area is one of the tensest areas on this world, because two faiths maintain religious aspirations to this place – the Jewish Temple and the Al-Aqsa mosque,” he concluded.

Germany’s moral courage


Around 7 a.m. last Sunday, The New York Times landed on my balcony with a thud, like it always does. It woke me up and startled my cats, like it usually does, until we all realized it’s the same old, same old, and lay our heads down again.

But when I finally emerged about an hour later, dressed, cats fed, coffee in hand, I pulled The Times out of its sea-blue plastic wrapping, scanned the front-page headlines and had to do a double take: There was nothing ‘same-old’ about the day’s big news.

Beneath a picture of an ecstatic-looking crowd of men and women of various ages, all with huge smiles on their faces and arms raised in celebratory cheer, was the astonishing headline:

Germany Welcomes Thousands of Weary Migrants.

Wait a minute, my brain cautioned. You mean, that Germany?

I read a little more…

MUNICH – Germans waving welcome signs in German, English and Arabic came to the train station here Saturday to greet the first group of what is expected to be about 8,000 migrants to arrive in Germany by early Sunday… Germans applauded and volunteers offered hot tea, food and toys as about 450 migrants arrived… Germany, which had held out an open hand…

Germany. Which held out an open hand.

Oh, sweet irony of history!

But indeed it was so: While the rest of Europe fretted over what to do about a crisis that is being called “the largest wave of emigration since World War II,” Germany, led by its courageous and moral Chancellor Angela Merkel, signaled its willingness to heed the call of millions of desperate refugees, many of whom have been rendered stateless by the war in Syria and other Middle East crises.

While the United States has sat idly by, draped in its aggrandizing values of justice and liberty for all, its political passivity partly responsible for the refugee crisis to begin with, Germany steps forward with leadership and humanity.

While the Gulf States of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates defend themselves against charges of apathy and indifference, Germany opens its arms. “You can’t welcome people who come from a different atmosphere, from a different place, who suffer from psychological problems, from trauma, and enter them into societies,” Kuwaiti commentator Fahad Al-Shelaimi, chairman of the Gulf Forum for Peace and Security, said last March during a televised address on France24’s Arabic channel.

The Gulf States – and the United States – have a few things in common: Both have opened their checkbooks (Saudi Arabia: $18.4 million; Kuwait: $304 million; U.S.: $1.1 billion), while refusing to open their borders. Instead Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, whose per capita incomes are but a fraction of those in the Gulf States, have absorbed the largest number of refugees (Turkey: 2 million; Lebanon: 1.2 million; Jordan: 630,000). The U.S. has agreed to a paltry 1,500.

So far, only Germany, and her neighboring Austria, have risked their own stability and security to absorb these fleeing refugees, with Germany expecting to receive 800,000 this year alone.

The country’s compassion moved the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to praise Germany, Austria and “civil society” itself for their “remarkable” response to the crisis. “This is political leadership based on humanitarian values,” said a UNHCR statement issued on Sept. 5. Newsweek declared Germany’s Chancellor Merkel “Europe’s Conscience.”

Yes, that Germany. The Germany that between 1939 and 1945 provoked a frantic emigration of its own – that is, for the lucky few who could actually escape its death grip as the country’s maniacal leader and his obedient minions sent millions of Jews and other unfortunate minorities to death pits, concentration camps, gas chambers and burning ovens. That Germany saw itself as superior; as a burgeoning empire that had to cleanse itself of the other –the stranger, the refugee, the Jew – who did not belong, as the Kuwaiti official would have us believe, in a civilized society. That Germany destroyed a generation, murdering 11 million human beings as easily as it obliterated entire states. But history, it turns out, does not repeat itself in Germany.

Who could have predicted that one of the 20th century’s leading countries in moral depravity would become the 21st century’s world leader in moral courage?

  

While Lady Liberty rusts in the heat of an increasingly simmering sun, Hitler’s onetime puppet country beckons the tired and poor, the huddled Middle Eastern masses yearning to breathe free – of violence, and poverty, and terror. “I just want my sons to study and get jobs,” 35-year-old Syrian refugee and mother of three, Rania al-Hamawi told The Times.

What a lucky twist of fate, then, that the country with the biggest heart also boasts one of the world’s most robust economies. God could hardly have planned this any better.

Seventy years ago, who could have imagined that the country that nearly annihilated God’s Chosen would one day be chosen as a light among nations? Who could have foreseen that the place that almost destroyed the Jewish tradition would come to embody some of its most essential, enduring tenets: Teshuvah, change is possible. The future need not look like the past. Redemption is yours, waiting to be claimed. The world can indeed be re-created: Hayom Harat Olam, Rosh Hashanah tells us. This is the day the world was created – and it is created again and again, every year.

Germany is living these values. We should, too.

Shana Tovah.

World’s largest ‘Slip n’ Slide’ to be built in Jordan


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The desert kingdom of Jordan might seem like an unlikely location for the world’s largest water slide. Breaking the record for the longest “Slip n’ Slide”, the long sheet of thin plastic that becomes slippery when wet, is designed as a gesture of little Jordan’s ability to compete with the giants in the profitable world of tourism, organizers said.

An opening of the slide at the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea, will showcase the many wonders that Jordan has to offer to foreign tourists, hopes Monaco Business Development, the company behind the project. From there the slide will travel around the country visiting the capital Amman and key tourist sites at Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba – no easy feat considering the slide weighs around 5 or 6 tons.

The development company would not reveal the exact length of their slide but confirmed their intention to beat the current record of 1,975 feet held by one in the United States.

“It’s symbolic that Jordan, in this region, can take on the world if you put your heart into it,” Mona Naffa, Monaco Business Development’s director, told The Media Line.

The one-piece, plastic slide was hand made in Jordan in order to support local jobs, Naffa said, adding that her company was committed to using out-of-the-box ideas “to showcase Jordan in the mainstream media.” The local company previously staged the largest floating human image, when a collection of hotel workers formed a giant peace symbol on the Dead Sea last year.

At the beginning, the slide will be open only to invited guests. After that, a fee will be charged but organizers hope to arrange subsidies for poorer local children, Naffa said. Conservation of water and the cultural sensitivities of Jordanians will also be taken into account at the events.

“We are a moderate country… (but) we are also realistic… we have a website with a strict dress code – no bathing suits,” Naffa said, suggesting that shorts and tee-shirts were a better option. Water will be saved through recycling, she added.

Jordan has few natural resources like gas or oil, and tourism is an essential part of its economy.

“It’s critical – 10% of the GDP for the country (is from tourism),” Matt Loveland, the co-founder and general director of Experience Jordan tours, told The Media Line. “(Tourism is) the highest employer of people in Jordan – the national economy depends on it.”

But tourism has been hard pressed by ongoing political and security concerns in the Middle East following the outbreak of violence in Iraq and Syria and to a lesser extent Egypt. According to statistics from the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the country received just over 5 million visitors in 2014, down from over 8 million in 2010 prior to the start of the Arab Spring.

Bookings have fallen by as much as 50%, Loveland said, even though there has been no violence in Jordan, and it is safe to visit. The Jordanian government and Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities are doing what they can to bring tourists back, Loveland said, but concluded that the misperception is hard to reverse.

“People hear about a suicide bomber in Baghdad and they think of Jordan and the Middle East… but its several hundred kilometers away in another country,” he explained.

Holy to half of humanity – the polluted water of the Jordan River


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

When US Naval officer William F. Lynch became the first Westerner to sail the lower Jordan River in 1847, he traversed the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan to the Dead Sea over current so strong that, according to his journal, he required four metal boats, one of which was smashed on the rocks of the powerful rapids. Lynch goes on the recount the broad and forceful flow of the then-mighty river.

Today, though, the Jordan is barley a trickle – just four meters wide and two meters deep in some parts. Its color is an opaque brown; and despite being holy to the world’s three major religions, a mouthful of the river’s water would most likely lead to a variety of rather unpleasant effects.

Throughout the years, successive governments in Syria, Israel and Jordan have redistributed the water supply for various reasons. Sewage has been leaked or directly pumped into the river; while a variety of overflows from agricultural and fish farming add to the flavor. A variety of plants and wildlife, including willow trees and otters, which had formerly followed the banks of the meandering river can no longer be found along its shores.

If you had told William F. Lynch that a rejuvenation program costing billions of American dollars would be required to restore an adequate flow to the Jordan River within a mere 150-years, it is a fair guess to say it’s unlikely he would have believed you.

EcoPeace, a non-governmental organization formerly known as the Friends of the Earth Middle East, sees the restoration of the Jordan River as a problem for all people of the region: especially Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Not only is the degradation of the water supply harmful to the environment and the communities which rely on it, but it is wasting the huge financial potential of the valley which could improve the living standards of many.

The successful transformation of the river would lead to huge economic and environmental advantages, argues Gidon Bromberg, the organization’s director in Israel. He told The Media Line that EcoPeace believes that if its proposals were enacted, the number of tourists and pilgrims visiting the Jordan Valley would increase to as many as ten million each year –a tenfold increase that Bromberg called “a game changer” for the region’s economy.

EcoPeace has put together a series of policy proposals which it has termed the “Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley.” A variety of measures ranging from pollution control, water resourcing and ecological management; to the development of tourism and cultural heritage sites make up the organization’s wish list, forecasted up to the year 2050.

The benefits would be felt in agriculture and industry as well as in the tourism and environmental sectors, Bromberg said, while explaining that changes in perception would need to be made. “It requires that we treat the river differently – as a livelihood source, as the healthy economic engine, instead of seeing the river as the sewage canal and as the dumping ground.”

“We feel that the Jordan Valley is part of the common cultural heritage of this region and it is being shared between three parties here: the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Israelis,” Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, said, keen to show that the EU was a partner to the Master Plan.

The benefits of cooperation and of sustainable development when living in a well-populated compact area were clear to see, the ambassador said, suggesting that this is true in Europe and in the Jordan Valley as well. Bottom-up cooperation, as evidenced by EcoPeace’s past work, could lead to peace building, Faaborg-Andersen said, adding, “We hope that the (local) governments will take inspiration from this.”

Europe’s economic and political integration following the Second World War, and the decades of relative peace which have followed since are a model to follow according to Bromberg, who argued that just as steel and coal, the continent’s two most important resources, were were able to form ties in Europe, water and energy could do the same in the Jordan Valley.

Yet, inevitably, as with everything in the region, the discussion devolves into a political one. “Water is not a problem, it is not a zero sum game. Some people, especially in Israel, have a surplus of water,” Dr. Nader Al-Khateeb, EcoPeace’s director in the Palestinian Territories, told The Media Line. Politics, and not a shortage of water, was causing the pollution and lack of economic resourcing seen in the area, he charged. According to Al-Khateeb, it is for this reason that the NGO EcoPeace weighs in on politically-charged issues and debates and is “very clear about our political position, [supporting] a two state solution, within the international (consensus) on recognized 1967 borders.”

A stance on politics is not unnatural Bromberg said, “Our name is EcoPeace: ecological peace – we are an environmental organization at heart but we are also a peace organization.” In order to move forward on the environmental agenda, Bromberg argued, such issues have to be touched on and therefore EcoPeace advocates for a two-state solution.

“We don’t think that this is particularly radical – our Israeli Prime Minister says he’s in favor of a two-state solution,” Bromberg pointed out.

But he did acknowledge that EcoPeace is not without its detractors. Activists in the Palestinian Territories and in Jordan have received threatening phone calls and activities by the organizations have been disrupted by individuals aligned with the “anti-normalization campaign”[Editor’s Note: a movement in the Arab world opposing all efforts to “normalize” relations with the state of Israel or institutions located inside the Jewish state.] In Israel, EcoPeace has found itself labelled as traitorous.

Extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are hostile to EcoPeace’s work, Bromberg said. Such individuals believe that any cooperation with the other side prior to a resolution of the conflict is an attempt to maintain the status quo or is collaboration against your own people, the Israeli Director said. “We think that has no analytical or practical basis what so ever,” Bromberg concluded.

A pro-Israel think tanks maintains that water has increasingly become a politicized weapon in the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is being used as a tool to delegitimize the Jewish state. NGO Monitor, an organization which aims to expose anti-Israeli sentiment among many of the groups working in Israel, listed a number of NGOs it felt were using water as a political tool. EcoPeace was not among the list, reinforcing its assertion that “it focuses on the environment and not on the conflict.”

In the meantime, while the politics is debated, the Jordan continues to trickle by and thousands of pilgrims come to be baptized in its sickly beige water each year. If environmentalists are able to get their way, within a few decades the water such visitors bathe in might even be clean.

Israel coordinates transfer of lion cubs from Gaza


Israel coordinated the transfer of a pair of lion cubs from Gaza to a wildlife sanctuary in Jordan.

The cubs, Max and Mona, were transferred to Israel from Gaza on Sunday through the Erez crossing and then taken to a sanctuary near Amman, where they arrived on Sunday evening.

They first arrived at Erez on Friday after the Israeli side of the crossing had closed, and without any prior coordination. Hours later they were allowed back into Gaza and stayed until Sunday morning in a Gaza hotel.

The cubs had been purchased when they were a month old last summer from a zoo in the border town of Rafah, that was seriously damaged during the Israel-Gaza war and was concerned it would not be able to feed them as they grew, the Associated Press reported. They were raised as family pets at a private home in Rafah.

The British charity Four Paws International convinced the al-Jamal family to give up the animals and arranged for their new home.

Four teachers among six Israeli-Arabs charged for promoting Islamic State


Israel's Shin Bet undercover internal security agency and police said on Monday they had arrested and charged six Arab citizens, including four school teachers, with supporting and spreading the ideology of Islamic State.

The six, residents of the Bedouin Negev desert town of Hura in southern Israel, were charged with various offences and three were alleged to have planned joining Islamic State militants in Syria, a statement from Shin Bet said.

“The investigation uncovered that the suspects met secretly to discuss and promote Islamic State's ideology,” Shin Bet said.

“The hard core among the activists are employed at schools in the Negev. Some took advantage of their position and attempted to plead the case for ISIS among pupils and teachers on school premises,” it added.

The six appeared at Beersheba District Court and the statement said five of the six admitted the charges. Lawyers for the accused were initially unavailable.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the teachers.

“Terrorists will not be teachers in Israel … I have ordered the director general of the Education Ministry to revoke the teaching licenses of all those involved and to sack them immediately,” Bennett said on Monday.

Arabs, the majority of them Muslim, make up around a fifth of Israel's population. While often sympathetic to the Palestinians and resentful of what they see as entrenched discrimination, they seldom resort to violence.

Israeli security officials say a few dozen Arab citizens have left to fight with Islamic State in Syria, usually traveling through Turkey or Jordan.

Last year, an Israeli-Arab who spent three months fighting with Islamic State in Syria before quitting the group and returning home, was sentenced to a 22 month jail term.

Israel approves extending fortified fence on its Jordan border


Israel's security cabinet has approved extending the fortified fence along its Egyptian border into a section of the frontier with neighboring Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

Jordan and Israel closely coordinate security for their 240 km (150 mile)-long border as well as for the strategic 95 km (60 mile )-long Jordan Valley within the West Bank, where Palestinians seek statehood.

But the Netanyahu government worries that African immigrants and armed jihadi infiltrators might try to reach Israel via Jordan after the Egyptian Sinai border was fenced off with a 5 meter (16 foot)-high razor-wire barrier in 2013.

That fence runs from the Gaza Strip to the southern Red Sea resort of Eilat. Briefing Israeli lawmakers, Netanyahu said his security cabinet on Sunday gave the green light for a new 30 km (18 mile) stretch of fence that will run northward from Eilat along a now often porous Jordanian border.

He said the fence would help protect an Israeli airport due to open next year at Timna, 19 km (12 miles) from Eilat, and which has been billed as a wartime alternative should Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport come under rocket attack.

“This is an important matter. It is part of our national security,” Netanyahu said.

The fence, he said would go up in Israeli territory, “without in any way harming the sovereignty or national interests of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan”.

Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 and one with Egypt in 1979.

The country has already built hi-tech fences in the north on the Lebanon border and along the Golan Heights boundary with Syria. Much of the West Bank is also divided by a network of fences, barriers and walls, while the Gaza Strip is closed off behind high fences and walls.

A fence along the Jordan frontier would leave Israel surrounded by a steel and concrete ring.

Israeli businessman hopes to ship goods through Jordan to Arab world


This post originally appeared on The Media Line.

Haifa, Israel – The captain peered over the side of the Turkish-flagged ship at his cargo of long metal rods that have come from Turkey and are headed to an unspecified Middle East country. The crew piled into a van at the Israel Shipyards, bound for the duty-free shop at the nearby Haifa port. On a recent afternoon, ships from all over the world were docked at this Mediterranean port, carrying goods bound for Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

The Middle East has radically changed in almost every way possible since the beginning of the “Arab spring” revolutions in 2011. In Syria, the main port of Latakia in northwest Syria has been shut down completely, meaning the goods that used to come from Turkey, Ukraine, and other countries to Syria, and then be transferred to trucks for delivery in Jordan and Iraq, need a new way to travel.

Shlomi Fogel, the chairman and CEO of the privately-owned Israel Shipyards next to Haifa port has the solution. He wants ships from all over the world to dock at the Haifa Shipyards where it will be loaded on trucks and taken across Israel’s border with Jordan. From there it will be distributed throughout the Arab world. Fogel has invested in a tax-free zone on both sides of the Israeli – Jordanian border called Gateway Jordan, that has already begun to operate.

“First of all we’re doing business, and nobody cares what religion you are,” Fogel told The Media Line in his office at the Israel Shipyards, on the Mediterranean coast in Haifa. “That’s exactly why it works. Everyone can make money out of it.”

The Shipyards, Israel’s largest privately owned port, specializes in bulk cargo. Ships carrying everything from animal feed to salt to metal to plastic. Large cranes unload the ship, dumping the goods onto plastic sheets laid out on the ground. The goods are then loaded into trucks where they cross the border between Israel and Jordan and are delivered to a free trade area called the Jordan Gateway, where it is placed on Jordanian trucks for delivery to Iraq, and other countries.

“We do business and slowly, slowly, that’s how you make a relationship with your neighbors,” Fogel said. “I might be a good thing for future peace but the way to do it is through economic progress. You don’t need governments, you only need traders, and it goes ahead.”

Business is picking up at the Israel Shipyards despite growing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during Israel’s recent election campaign that he does not foresee a Palestinian state. Tensions have also grown over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to join the International Criminal Court with the objective of bringing Israeli soldiers involved in last summer’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip up on war crimes trials. Many Palestinians are boycotting Israeli goods.

Yet, says Fogel, everyone wants to make money.

“The grain that comes via Israel goes through several people,” Fogel said. “Some of them are Arab citizens of Israel who are buying the grain, taking it to Jordan, storing it there, distributing it and doing business. Everyone makes money and everyone is happy.”

The current alternative to the Syrian port is via the Suez Canal in Egypt, he says. Goods traveling via Suez are taxed, and the distance also increases the price. Bringing the Ukrainian grain via Israel has already brought bread prices in Jordan down by five percent.

There are still difficulties. Fogel is waiting for Jordanian government approval to build a direct bridge between the Israeli and Jordanian sides of the free trade zone. For now they use the border crossing called the Sheikh Hussein Bridge.

“It took us five years to get permit from the Israeli government to build the bridge, and now we hope the Jordanian King will give us permission in the next few months,” he said. “The minute that happens we can create thousands of new jobs and huge new opportunities to develop business.”

He mentions a recent conversation with a Jordanian businessman who already imports live animals but wants to build a slaughtering house on the Jordanian side of the boder.

“He’s a Jordanian Muslim but he wants to hire a rabbi and an imam so the meat will be both kosher and hallal (adhering to Muslim dietary laws,” Fogel said laughing. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”

Egypt may import natural gas from Israel


Egypt might import natural gas from Israel, according to a senior Egyptian government official.

Egypt would import the natural gas, drilled in the Mediterranean Sea off of Israel’s coast, if its price is low enough, and if one of the drilling companies drops a legal action against the Egyptian government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We would approve the gas deal if it will meet domestic demand, offer high value for the Egyptian economy and if the international arbitration with one of the companies is resolved,” Egyptian Oil Minister Sherif Ismail told the Journal.

The legal action was brought by a joint Italian-Spanish gas venture, which has filed an international complaint against Egypt over breach of contract. The venture, Union Fenosa Gas, signed a 15-year contract last May to sell Egypt 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas from Israel’s offshore field. British energy company BG Group has also signed a 15-year contract to send 7 billion cubic feet of Israel’s gas to Egypt.

Jordan has also signed a $15 billion 15-year letter of intent to import Israeli natural gas.

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