Jordanians demand divorce from Israel

A large pro-Palestine demonstration

Jordan has been rocked with mass demonstrations ever since 7 October.

Jaclynn Ashly

On a recent afternoon, a flat-screen TV on the wall of a quiet café in Jordan’s capital Amman broadcast muted news footage of bewildered Palestinian men pulling bloodied bodies from underneath collapsed buildings in Gaza and distraught children covered in dust from the rubble.

A woman, sipping tea, glanced up at the images, clicked her tongue, and shook her head.

At a nearby convenience store, the shop owner’s tired eyes, encircled by dark bags, were glued onto the same screen; he grabbed items from his customers, sliding them across the counter, and rang them up without ever unlocking his stare.

“It is America’s fault this is happening,” he barked, briefly disconnecting his eyes from the heart-wrenching images from Gaza to light up another cigarette.

Since 7 October, when the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, carried out Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, a complex military assault on Israel that killed hundreds and resulted in about 240 Israelis and some foreigners taken captive, Amman’s atmosphere has been tense and heavy.

Israel’s military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip has subsequently killed over 23,000 Palestinians, including nearly 10,000 children. Some 85 percent of Gaza’s population – about 80 percent of whom are already refugees or descendants of those expelled from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1948 – has been displaced, forced to live in overcrowded schools and UN facilities, in flimsy tents and on the streets in the southern part of the strip.

This unprecedented Israeli aggression on one of the most densely populated areas in the world, follows Jordanians around in their daily lives like a cloud of gloom. Around 60 percent of Jordanians are of Palestinian ancestry and the country hosts more than 2 million Palestinian refugees.

The ongoing massacre in Gaza has pierced through the heart of Jordanian society.

Fierce protests with thousands of demonstrators have erupted in cities throughout Jordan and have continued for months. Enraged Jordanians have attempted to rush towards the country’s boundary with Israel to demonstrate there, while others planned to push through to help Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

But three decades ago, the Hashemite Kingdom signed the Wadi Araba agreement with Israel, which ended hostilities between the countries and established mutual diplomatic relations. As part of this agreement, Jordan is obligated to prevent unregulated movement to its boundaries with Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Jordanian security forces quickly intercepted the angry youths, pushing them back with tear gas and detaining some – before they could make it to the boundary.

Nightmare of the occupation

Jordanians, who are generally against normalization with Israel, have long demanded that their government cancel the Wadi Araba treaty and all other agreements between Jordan and Israel. Since Israel’s latest aggression in Gaza, these demands have mushroomed into mass protests across the country.

“Wadi Araba was a betrayal,” said 27-year-old Minwer Dawood, from a protest in downtown Amman, reiterating a statement often used as a protest chant at the demonstrations.

“It has nothing to do with peace. It is about submitting to defeat and giving up.”

A group of youths next to him began shouting:

“To al-Quds [Jerusalem] we are going! Martyrs in the millions!”

One of them pulled out an American flag and the youths surrounded it and burned it.

Palestinian flags are hoisted all over Amman and graffiti express the Jordanian people’s commitments to Palestine. One cannot order a shawarma without a sticker being placed on the paper wrap or styrofoam box that reads: “I Support Gaza.”

Christmas celebrations were canceled across the country in solidarity.

McDonalds has remained empty for months as Jordanians observe a nation-wide boycott of the fast-food restaurant after it provided thousands of free meals to the Israeli military.

Jordanians have also boycotted other restaurants and products connected to Israel or its allies, especially the United States. With the mass boycott of Coca Cola products, Jordanians now prefer Matrix, a Jordanian produced soda, when ordering at restaurants.

During the global strike in support of Gaza, on 11 December, it seemed like not a single shop across Jordan was open.

Outside the Israeli embassy, thousands of protesters chanted “No Zionist enemy on Arab land!”

Demonstrators have held up their shoes and pointed them at the American embassy, in a reference to when Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi hurled his shoes at George W. Bush in 2008.

“America is the head of the snake,” the protesters howled.

Each Friday, mass protests continue to be held in Amman’s downtown, and there are daily, smaller demonstrations.

“Al-Qassam, we are your army,” protesters shout. “All of Jordan is Hamas!”

“No choice” but to sign

“Most Jordanians here have relatives in Gaza because Gaza itself is a big refugee camp,” said Rula AlFarra Alhroob, the secretary-general of Jordan’s Labor Party and one of the leaders of the protests. “People here are connected to the families in Gaza, including myself. So far, I have lost 53 people from my family in Gaza during this latest aggression.”

“These are our cousins,” she continued. “So you can imagine how furious Jordanians are, because what’s happening in Gaza is not just a matter of having sympathy for the suffering of other people. It’s the suffering of our people, our relatives.”

A mural of Batgirl and the bat signal painted as the Palestinian flag over al-Aqsa Mosque

Graffitti related to Palestine has cropped up across Amman.

Jaclynn Ashly

In November, Abu Obeida, the spokesperson of the Qassem Brigades, specifically addressed the Jordanian people in a speech.

“We call on our brothers in Jordan, in particular, to escalate all forms of popular and mass resistance,” he said. “You, our people in Jordan, are the nightmare of the occupation that fears your movement and strives tirelessly to neutralize and isolate you from your cause.”

Abu Obeida’s speech imbued the protests with new ferocity, with thousands taking to the streets and chanting: “All the people of Jordan are with you! Abu Obeida, we answer your call! We’re coming for you, our enemy, we’re coming!”

Jordan’s late King Hussein signed the Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel in 1994, following the Palestine Liberation Organization’s official recognition of Israel in 1993.

According to Anis Kassim, an international lawyer based in Amman, the Wadi Araba agreement – which ostensibly settled land and water disputes, created cooperation in tourism and trade, and obligated both countries to prevent military strikes on the other from their territories – was a “very bad treaty and disadvantageous to the Jordanians.”

“The agreement did not establish the basis for a friendly relationship between equal countries,” Kassim says. But King Hussein “did not have much of a choice but to sign it.”

King Hussein had supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, pitting him against the US, his once longtime ally.

When Saddam was defeated and Iraqi forces retreated back to Iraq, “the King wanted to go back to his original [political] track and tried to reconcile with the United States,” Kassim told The Electronic Intifada. “But the Americans were very tough and angry at the king.”

Signing the Wadi Araba treaty was an avenue for King Hussein to appease the Americans, according to Kassim, and restore their diplomatic relationship.

No trust in Israel

Jordan has recently gone on to forge a gas deal with Israel and was close to signing a water-for-energy deal, in which Jordan would be expected to supply solar energy to Israel from a United Arab Emirates-funded plant and receive desalinated water from Israel in return. In response to Israel’s latest aggression in Gaza, however, the Jordanian government announced in November it would not go ahead with the deal.

“The people of Jordan do not trust the Israelis’ intentions towards Jordan,” said Labor’s Rula AlFarra Alhroob. “Especially after we have seen how they have dealt with the people in Gaza, preventing water, food and energy from entering. They can do exactly the same to Jordan at any time when we make a decision of which they don’t approve. They will use this water and energy as economic weapons against the safety of the Jordanian people.”

The Wadi Araba agreement, along with consequent deals between Israel and Jordan – all of which were signed with American support – is “America’s way of shoving Israel down our throats,” said Kassim. Jordan is a key recipient of American financial aid, including $425 million in military assistance annually.

Jordanian authorities, meanwhile, have strongly condemned Israel’s war on Gaza.

Jordan has airdropped medical supplies onto its field hospitals in the besieged enclave. Israel bombed the vicinity of one, injuring several people, including Jordanian medics.

At the same time, however, the Jordanian government has allowed the US to station additional military forces on its soil as part of a military buildup ordered by President Joe Biden to defend Israel in case the conflict escalates.

According to Kassim, this is a direct result of a defense agreement signed between Jordan and the United States by royal decree – and only made public in 2021 – that allows free entry of US forces, aircraft and vehicles onto the kingdom’s territory.

A placard with Abu Obeida's face at a demonstration

Abu Obeida has become a hugely popular figure with Jordan’s youth. 

Jaclynn Ashly

“The people of Jordan feel like the government’s policies do not represent them and the government doesn’t listen to the people’s voice,” Labor’s Alhroob told The Electronic Intifada. “They do not act upon the people’s wishes; rather they act upon America’s wishes.”

It is not surprising then that, along with canceling all agreements with Israel, the protesters are demanding the abrogation of the defense agreement with the United States and a prohibition on American forces establishing military bases on Jordanian soil.

They are also calling for the reactivation of a “popular army,” which would entail providing civilians with opportunities to be trained in using weapons in coordination with the Jordanian armed forces. To enable this, protesters are also demanding that the country’s anti-terrorism law be modified to legalize armed resistance.

Echoing the sentiments of the protesters, Alhroob said it is time for Jordan to change its political trajectory by breaking ties with Israel and becoming economically self-reliant, while strengthening its economic partnerships with other Arab countries.

“We can depend on ourselves, our economy and our own wealth to build a healthier economy,” Alhroob said. “But the Americans and Israelis do not want us to have economic independence because that means we will have political independence and they won’t be able to control our decisions.”

The Electronic Intifada reached out to the Jordanian foreign ministry for comment, but no one responded.

“My only representative”

The anguish felt by Jordanian people is palpable on the streets of Amman. Greetings are offered through yawns as many stay up through the night, glued to their phones or televisions.

When Abu Obeida releases his weekly speeches, which consist of military updates and the progress made by the Qassem Brigades against the Israeli army’s ground invasion, the city goes silent, with everyone circling around phones to listen.

Despite the heartache, there is also a feeling of hope.

“Hamas and the Palestinian resistance has given the young generation the hope that Israel is not unconquerable,” Alhroob said. “For many years, Arab media have spread the belief that Israel cannot be defeated – it is too powerful.”

“But now we see people who have been besieged for 17 years with minimal food and water and energy and they were able to achieve a historic military victory with minimum equipment.”

This, she continued, “flies in the face of what has been implanted in people’s minds, which is you have to accept the fact that Israel exists and it took the Palestinians’ lands. Right now, that thinking has changed completely.”

Abu Obeida, whose real identity is unknown, has become an icon for what some observe is a new awakening across the Arab world following 7 October. Abu Obeida’s image – his face always hidden behind a red and white checkered kuffiyeh (scarf) – is plastered on protest placards around the world.

During demonstrations in Jordan, protesters will sometimes hold up the index fingers of their right hands, shaking them while chanting – mimicking a hand gesture used by Abu Obeida during his speeches which symbolizes him pointing towards God. Placards exhibiting Abu Obeida’s image are also commonly supplemented with the Quranic verse: “the victory of God is near.”

“Abu Obeida is my only representative,” said Ibrahim, a 27-year-old protester who asked that his last name not be published.

“I’m someone who believes in actions and not words. I’m very sick of people who talk and then do nothing. Abu Obeida always tells us what [Hamas] has already done; not what they are planning to do in a few days. I really admire this about him, because I don’t see this quality in many other people or leaders, especially in Jordan.”

Protesters also express admiration for the determination of the Qassam Brigade fighters, the majority of whom are young men raised as orphans after losing their families in previous episodes of Israeli violence.

“Hamas is facing the strongest and richest countries in the world, which have access to the most advanced military technology and equipment,” Ibrahim told The Electronic Intifada. “Yet the [Palestinian fighters] are not afraid. They still have faith and exhibit strength because they know they are fighting on the side of truth.”

“To be faced with death and the most destructive weapons known to mankind, and then still be able to stand confidently in the face of your enemy without a hint of fear… That is a really big thing for us.”

Jaclynn Ashly is a freelance journalist.