On February 8, Jordan’s state security court ordered the release of Dr Ahmad al-’Armouti on bail of 10,000 Jordanian dinars (about US$ 14,000). His release came just one day after a similar court directive ordered the release of another unionist, engineer ‘Issam Abu Farha, on the same bail. The two were arrested on January 27 with five other leading anti-normalisation activists in the country.
Both were released for health reasons: both were sick and needed treatment. The prosecutor has not, however, dropped the charges, of belonging to an “illegal and unlicensed organisation” and “endangering citizens’ lives”. The so-called “illegal organisation” is the Anti-Normalisation Committee, which was formed in 1995 by the powerful Professional Associations Council in order to spearhead a peaceful grassroots campaign against all forms of ‘normalisation’ with Israel after the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994. The five other unionists still in custody face the same charges. They are engineer ‘Ali Abu Sukkar (chairman of the Anti-Normalisation Committee and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood), and members Muhammad Abu Jabara, Subhi Abu Zaghlan, ‘Abd al-Rahim Barakat, and Ghassan Doughar. An warrant was also issued for the arrest of an eighth member, Ali Hattar, but was not executed because Hattar was visiting Baghdad when the arrests took place. The detainees were held in the notorious Juwaydah prison, 15 kilometres south of Amman.
Two of the activists, Abu Sukkar and Hattar, also face charges of possessing explosives and bomb-detonators to be used for “illegal purposes.” But relatives accused the security services of planting incriminating material, including documents and bomb-detonators, in their homes in order to implicate the men with false evidence. Among the documents planted by the security forces were leaflets carrying the signature of the Jordanian Islamic Jihad Resistance Movement.
The Jordanian security services carried the arrests out in a manner intended to terrorise the activists, their families and society at large. They were taken into custody in pre-dawn raids on their homes. Gun-wielding members of the security services, some of whom were masked, used unnecessary force against the activists, insulted them and their relatives, and conducted extensive searches of the premises. They also confiscated documents and other evidence. Family members said that the security services showed neither identification nor arrest warrants when they came.
The arrests came just six days after the committee had published a blacklist of 68 Jordanian individuals and companies dealing with Israel. The committee had published a list of 20 names in November last year. In naming the individuals and companies that do business with Israel, the committee said that while the “servile normalisers” tend to keep a low profile when faced with the public’s rage, only to resurface at the earliest opportune moment, “this time around the masses will have no mercy on them.”
The lists were issued in defiance of repeated government warnings that it will move against the committee if publication goes ahead. When these failed to dissuade the professional associations to halt their anti-normalisation drive, the authorities delivered more direct threats to their representatives during meetings with a number of high-ranking government officials, including ‘Awad Khlayfat, the minister of the interior, and prime minister ‘Ali Abu al-Raghib. For instance, when he met them on January 24, interior minister Khlayfat gave the representatives a clear warning to refrain from publishing further lists or face a little-used law barring the professional associations and syndicates from overt involvement in politics. But the response of the committee was defiant. In an interview with London-based Pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi (January 26, 2001), committee president Abu Sukkar emphasised that the group “has no intention to comply with the government’s warnings or demands, and will continue performing its national duty by publishing lists of normalisers.” Abu Sukkar also exposed the spuriousness of the government’s charges against the anti-normalizers: “The government says the normalisers are complying with the law, and what we are doing is notifying our general assemblies that so-and-so is engaged in normalisation, which the government says is legal. What’s illegal about that?”
The government argues that the publication of the lists “harms the economy and investments” and is aimed at intimidating citizens who have the right to maintain relations with Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. In a number of statements to the press, government officials insisted that the anti-normalisation lists incite hatred or public reaction against those named. In this context, the Jordan Times (January 28, 2001) quoted an unnamed senior government official as saying, “These lists are a clear incitement; they are offering excuses for groups or individuals to attack other members of society for visiting Israel or dealing with it.”
Government officials claim that two incidents involving at least two people named on the lists have taken place so far. One allegedly escaped gunshots fired at him by an unidentified gunman on a Amman street, while the other found a bullet at the doorstep of his office, presumably intended as a warning.
However, committee members are adamant that the lists are intended to protect the country from Israeli infiltration. According to ‘Azzam al-Hunaydi, the president of the Professional Associations Council and head of the engineers’ syndicate, the main purpose behind the lists, which he described as “informative,” is to make the names available to the council’s general assembly. This is in line with a general assembly decision to ban all forms of normalisation with Israel.
The argument that the lists are damaging to the Jordanian economy, in which 25 percent of the workforce is unemployed, is based on warped economic logic. In fact, economic ties with Israel are pushing Jordan toward economic dependence on it. This is because export markets in the Arab and Muslim worlds are becoming reluctant to deal with Jordanian firms for fear that they might have Israeli connections. Countries like Iraq, with whom Jordan has traditionally maintained strong economic ties, as well as Syria and Libya, now require certification that goods imported from Jordan are free of Israeli components. This creeping distrust causes many companies to lose business, and hence costs large numbers of Jordanians their jobs.
The crackdown had all the hallmarks of a manoeuvre designed to overawe Jordanians, the main message being that the government will brook no opposition whatsoever to any form of dealing with Israel and Israelis. The Professional Associations Council consists of 13 professional syndicates, which jointly sponsor the Anti-Normalisation Committee. It has banned members from making any contacts with Israelis at the risk of losing their guild-membership, and with it the legal right to practise their profession. With a membership of around 130,000, the associations lead the Jordanian people’s opposition to the peace process. That its anti-normalisation campaign has raised the ire of the Jordanian authorities is suggestive. Obviously the government fears that the campaign will by implication extend to the Jordanian elites, many of whose figures have always maintained cordial relations with Israelis and Israel.