As the al-Aqsa intifada continues in Palestine, Muslims all over the world are taking to the streets to express their support. ABBAS FADL MURTADA reports on the repression of pro-intifada activities in Jordan.
Jordan’s security services have launched a wave of repression since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada to counter a rising popular demand that the government sever ties with the zionist state, expel the Israeli ambassador and annul the Wadi ‘Arabah “peace” treaty signed between Jordan and Israel in 1994. Trying to quell solidarity and anti-Israeli protests, Jordanian authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association, introduced measures that violate the country’s constitution, and arrested scores of activists.
Jordan has witnessed dozens of pro-intifada rallies and demonstrations since the outbreak of the intifada. Pro-Palestinian sentiment has been running high in reaction to Israel’s brutal violence against Palestinian civilians. More than half of Jordan’s five million people are of Palestinian origin, and more than 1.5 million of them live in dilapidated and over-crowded refugee camps. Close family and social ties between Jordanians and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Ghazzah Strip make Israel’s repression felt intensely throughout the kingdom.
The tone for Jordan’s response to the popular protests was set in the earliest weeks of the uprising. On the Fridays of October 6 and 13, police used tear gas, water cannons and truncheons to prevent protestors, who marched after Friday prayers, from reaching the Israeli embassy, in the al-Rabyeh district of Amman. On October 24, police used excessive force to disperse about 10,000 protestors trying to reach the King Hussein Bridge on the Jordan River, which crosses to the occupied West Bank; the “Return March” (Masirat al-’Awdah) was called by Jordanian trade unions to demand the right of Palestinians to return to their lands. On the same day, Jordanian police fired live bullets at demonstrators in the Palestinian camp of al-Baqa’a, killing one person and injuring several. In all these confrontations, anti-riot police beat up demonstrators, including women and children.
On October 17, eighty-three people were referred to the State Security Court on charges of “sabotage,” “vandalism,” “instigating riots,” and violating a law that bans criticism of the king (which is punishable by between six months and three years in prison, in addition to fines).
Although the authorities have since banned protests, pro-intifada activities continue unabated, especially on Fridays; on December 15 a march took place after juma’ prayers in Amman, without incident. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood and many trade unions and grassroots organizations have continued to organize lectures and talks, in defiance of state restrictions, in which the realities of the confrontation with Israel and the futility of ‘peace’ are highlighted. In some cases, the authorities had given protestors permission to march despite the ban, a manoeuvre intended as a safety valve for public outrage. But protestors were not placated by such moves. Some have even urged the government to open a war-front along the Jordanian border with occupied Palestine. They have also called for the return of the exiled leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), who were expelled from the country shortly after king Abdullah’s accession to the throne.
In protest at the arrests, the Prisoners’ Committee, a part of the Popular Committees for the Support of the al-Aqsa Intifada and the Protection of Jordan, called for a sit-in in front of the prime minister’s office in Amman. The sit-in was prevented by force. Police cordoned the area off and stopped cars and buses to prevent people from reaching the area. The few dozen who managed to make it through the blockade were brutal treated and arrested. Among them were Dr Riyad Nawayseh, a former member of parliament, Muwaffaq Mahadeen, a writer and columnist, Kinda Hattar, a student activist, Dr Ibrahim ‘Alloush, a university professor and left-wing activist, Dr Hisham Bustani, a dental surgeon, Khalid ‘Udwan, an engineer, and Dr ‘Aida Dabbas, an activist and businesswoman. Dr Dabbas was arrested again on December 12 and charged with “jeopardizing public security” for giving an interview to the Lebanese satellite TV channel Al-Mustaqbal.
Khalid ‘Udwan was arrested again on December 4, one day after he received a phone call from the General Intelligence Services (al-Mukhabarat al-’Ammah) instructing him to come to the intelligence headquarters for a “chat.” He never returned. Soldiers searched his home on December 5, confiscating books and papers. ‘Udwan, along with scores of others, is believed to be held in solitary confinement at General Intelligence headquarters. Neither lawyers nor relatives have been allowed to visit the detainees, and security officials refuse to give any information about them.
Protestors taking part in a sit-in in the southern city of Ma’an accused the authorities on December 17 of arresting at least five of their supporters in Amman. Another six protestors were arrested at gunpoint as they set out from Amman to Ma’an to take part in the sit-in; they were later released. Hundreds of protestors began a sit-in under two tents near the Ma’an courthouse a week earlier to protest the detention of a number of their town’s people after rallies in early October. Four of the detainees, all civil servants, were dismissed from their jobs for taking part in pro-intifada activities. Another, Kamal ‘Abd Rabbo Abu Hilaleh, was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for belonging to the outlawed Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami).
A statement from the Popular and Islamic Forces in Ma’an, delivered to local authorities, said that the protest would continue until all the group’s demands were met. It listed three key demands: 1) the immediate release of the detained Ma’an residents; 2) severance of ties with the zionist state; and 3) an end of corruption in Jordan. It also stressed the “right to freedom of expression” and vowed “to continue our struggle until justice is achieved.”
Dozens of people have also been arrested in the northern city of Irbid, the second largest city in Jordan. One of the Irbid detainees is ‘Imad Isma’il Nashshash, a student at Yarmouk University, who was arrested for having a Palestinian flag and political publications in his home.
The government also combined heavy-handed smokescreen measures, such as postponing the departure of its designated ambassador to Israel, Abdullah al-Kurdi. The government said that Kurdi will not take his post until the end of the Israeli “aggression” against the Palestinian people. Yet this gesture has had little impact on Jordanian public opinion, especially as the Israeli ambassador in Amman remains in place. It is feeble even in comparison to such pathetic moves as Egypt’s recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv for “consultations.”
Even some officials have expressed scepticism that such gestures will meet the expectations of the enraged public. One official told the Jordan Times (December 14, 2000) on the condition of anonymity: “The government has banned demonstrations, but you can’t control everything all the time. The shooting [of the two Israeli diplomats] is perhaps a manifestation of the ban.”
Two Israeli diplomats were shot and wounded in Amman by unidentified gunmen in two separate incidents in November and December. A little-known underground Islamic group, the Jordanian Islamic Resistance Movement for Jihad, claimed responsibility from Beirut for both, and warned of more attacks. Jordan denounced the shootings and said that it will continue to provide appropriate security for all diplomats and foreigners on its territory. Nevertheless, Israel evacuated the families of its embassy staff after the attack.
Meanwhile, 14 members of parliament submitted a motion to parliament on December 13 calling for the abrogation of the 1994 Wadi ‘Araba peace treaty. In a statement addressed to the speaker of the 80-member Lower House, the legislators requested that the parliament hold a public session to abrogate the treaty. While praising the government’s decision to postpone sending its new ambassador to Israel, the statement said the move was not enough. It added: “That is why we ask that the Jordan-Israel peace treaty be put on the agenda of parliament, during its current session, so that parliament can review it.” MP Hamadeh Fara’aneh, a one-time advocate of peace with Israel, is spearheading the motion.
In a similar vein, Jordan’s powerful professional associations released a “blacklist” of 22 Jordanian journalists, academics, artists, companies and schools that have been dealing with Israel. Some unions have also warned members that contact with Israel will result in the loss of their guild membership, and with it the ability to practise their professions. The government has threatened the associations with penalties for “infringing the civil liberties” of fellow citizens.
Obviously, the ripples of the Palestinian intifada have put the Jordanian government in an uneasy position. Popular anger at Israel’s atrocities bodes ill for all the defeatist Arab regimes. Much like the al-Aqsa intifada which is an uprising against both the zionist occupation and the Palestine National Authority of Yasser Arafat, the rage in Arab streets has tapped a huge reservoir of pent-up anger at the status quo. It was triggered by Israel’s criminal and barbaric actions, but it could turn inwards, against the regimes of the Arab countries, as Arabs elsewhere are inspired by the example set by the youth of occupied Palestine in their fearless defiance. What is happening in Jordan could be just a harbinger of things to come.