Tag Archives: Palestinians

Jordan and Israel: Awkward Bedfellows

By Samantha Sisskind

AMMAN, JORDAN – Two groups met at the banks of one of the world’s most meandering and politically significant rivers in the world. Standing in a rickety wooden hut framed by thick brush on the east bank of the Jordan River was a group of American students, and directly across on the west bank of the river was an equally sized group of American tourists, waiting upon steps leading to a mammoth stone Israeli military outpost. Not twenty feet separated the two groups, yet each pretended that the other wasn’t there.  The tension between the two groups, viewing the same site from opposite perspectives, was palpable. They wondered, “do we acknowledge each other, or do we just continue to ignore each other, take a picture of the river and go?” Finally, a student on the Jordanian side of the river sighed loudly, threw his hands to his sides, and yelled across the river, “Well, this is awkward!” effectively slicing the taut atmosphere and leaving those on all sides of the river in stitches.

This light-hearted story’s implications echo in political reality.  The relationship between Jordan and Israel, described as a warm peace following the peace treaty in 1994, has since cooled, and now more closely resembles geopolitical awkwardness.  Jordan and Israel are two countries adjacent to one another, yet both are at a loss for how to act toward each other.

After the Second Intifada, relations between Jordan and Israel declined as the violence discouraged Jordan from engaging in cross border cultural and economic ventures, and worsened even more so as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza.  This past spring, King Abdullah II of Jordan said that the relationship between Israel and Jordan is at its worst in years, claiming that Jordan was better off economically before the treaty in 1994.  In addition, Israeli opposition to Jordan’s recent nuclear energy aspirations after uranium was discovered in Jordanian soil has also worn on the ties between the two countries.  The King cites a lack of trust between the two nations and accuses Israel of being less than straightforward in their efforts for peace in the Middle East.

Israel maintains similar frustrations with Jordan regarding items of the cooperative treaty of 1994 that weren’t kept. Earlier this year, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein lamented that Jordan had not followed through with their commitment to foster cultural exchange and interfaith dialogue as stipulated in the 1994 treaty. In addition, the Jordanian government irritated Israel when it reneged on an earlier promise not to open up talks with Hamas, though Jordan says it only initiated the talks to boost coordination between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas for the sake of the peace process.

The negative turn in relations between Jordan and Israel has been complicated further by the halted negotiations over the issue of settlements. Failure to reach a resolution yet again after two months of talks has left Jordan frustrated with the lack of progress and Israel irritated by Jordan’s intervention.  Moreover, Jordan recently seized the opportunity to win European affections after foreign ministers from France and Spain were “snubbed” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Recent events in the peace process have cemented this uncertainty.  For Jordan, Israel’s decisions regarding the Palestinian question affect its population and its infrastructure, which accommodates displaced Palestinians; any negative change in the current state of affairs poses a threat to the security of Jordan’s borders and its internal stability.  For Israel, it is important to recognize that Jordan is the one nation on its borders with which Israel can have a cooperative relationship at the present time.  Israel needs Jordan’s cooperation to advance its own security interests as well. In the end, both Jordan and Israel have much more to lose than to gain by not aiming to restore good cooperative relations with one another.

Unquestionably, the population of Jordan is growing restless with Israel. Jordan’s relationship with Israel is a prominent issue in today’s Jordanian national elections with most candidates espousing platforms critical of Israel. Some express the widespread fear that Israel will expel more Palestinians from the West Bank who will resettle in Jordan and make it a de facto Palestinian state–70 percent of its population is already Palestinian. According to one candidate, “It would mean Jordan’s demise and the obliteration of our national identity,” Though the majority of the population is Palestinian or of Palestinian descent, the nationalist Jordanian identity is strong, and Jordanians support a separate state of Palestine. Though the pro-West King and parliament of Jordan will not sever the peace agreement any time soon, the souring relationship ensures there will be no a swift agreement or cooperation from other Arab states with Israel in the near future, which stunts the peace process.

Back at the river, IDF soldiers and royal security forces abruptly ended the fraternizing between the students and tourists on opposite sides, illustrating the non-confrontational posture both states have taken toward one another on a diplomatic level. Direct interaction and cooperation have been replaced with toleration and separation until either party determines once and for all how it will treat the other.  While the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel set a standard for cross-border cooperation, the integrity of the treaty is compromised by a lack of trust that permeates the relationship. The crucial nature of the Jordanian-Israeli relationship for the security of both states and the stability of the region is worth reiterating. If the two states do not make a point of repairing their relationship, they will hinder the progress of Middle East indefinitely.

Well, this is awkward.

Textbook Tussle

By Symi Rom-Rymer

“No other country in the world, in its official curriculum, would treat the fact of its founding as a catastrophe,” categorically stated Education Minister Gideon Saar in response to a recent controversy over an unapproved Israeli textbook.

The textbook in question is a history textbook used by Shaar Hanegev, a liberal high school in southern Israel.  In this teaching of Israeli history, the authors—a group that includes both Israeli and Palestinian teachers–offer competing versions of the establishment of Israel. On one side of the page is the traditional Israeli narrative and on the other side the traditional Arab one. The middle of the page is left blank so that students can add their own thoughts.   As the Christian Science Monitor reported, this book is so incendiary because “the row drives at the heart of Israeli identity, shaped by tales of Jewish heroism in the War of Independence that gloss over the fate of the Palestinians. The Israeli narrative asserts that Palestinians left their homes in what is now Israel of their own volition. The Palestinians contend that they were driven out, and they refer to the creation of Israel as the nakba, or the catastrophe.”  As it stands now, the principal of school has been called in to meet with the Ministry of Education. Teachers at the school have been ordered to stop using the book because it has not been approved.

The idea that a Palestinian narrative cannot even be broached within the classroom is deeply disturbing.   It is in this very space where children are taught the fundamentals of how to best understand and relate to their world.  What they learn there shapes their worldview for the rest of their lives.  If Israeli teachers are not allowed to offer a nuanced and complex worldview, such as the one put forth by this textbook, how will these students learn to relate to the Israeli Arabs in their midst, let alone finding new ways to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Equally troubling is Saar’s comment that no country would treat the fact of its founding as a catastrophe.  Of course he is correct.  Many countries have presented an idealized founding and historical narrative to their children in a national curriculum.  One would be hard-pressed to find a country–especially one that feels constantly under threat–that has allowed space in the official narrative for alternate and contradictory versions of history.  One need look no further than the American treatment of the Native American experience or the French government’s version of its World War II activities to see the disconnect between whitewashed fantasy and the more tangled reality. But not volunteering such contrary narratives is entirely different than denying their basic right to exist.  And it is important to realize that this is a decision made by a single high school, not a rewriting of the national curriculum.  Allowing counternarratives is not to admit defeat or to call into question the very existence of Israel as some on the Right contend.  Instead, it demonstrates strength and courage to confront what has been until now, according Israeli historian Tom Segev, ignored and distorted.

Dealing openly with the Palestinian nakba with Israeli high school students is not a magic bullet of peace, but it doesn’t have to be yet another obstacle either.

Read Moment’s in-depth account of Arab education in Israel here.

Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe.

Could Israeli Settlers become Palestinians?

By Jeremy Gillick

In an interview published today in Ha’aretz, the 72-year-old former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei suggested to journalist Akiva Eldad that Israelis living in West Bank settlements could become Palestinian citizens rather than abandon their homes.

Do you believe Israel would agree to evacuate Ma’aleh Adumim’s 35,000 residents?

Qureia: “[Former U.S. secretary of state] Condoleezza Rice told me she understood our position about Ariel but that Ma’aleh Adumim was a different matter. I told her, and Livni, that those residents of Ma’aleh Adumim or Ariel who would rather stay in their homes could live under Palestinian rule and law, just like the Israeli Arabs who live among you. They could hold Palestinian and Israeli nationalities. If they want it – welcome. Israeli settlements in the heart of the territories would be a recipe for problems… Continue reading

The Onion Is On Their Game

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

The Onion, that satirical publication out to make fun of any and every thing they can find, has a scandalous but insightful approach to Israel’s recent controversial operation in Gaza. Their “Point, Counterpoint” section has these headlines:

Point: “The Israeli Conflict Is Far Too Nuanced And Complex To Sum Up In One Op-Ed”

Counterpoint: “Not If You Hate Jews!”

Through humor, the Onion expresses an emerging reality after the War in Gaza: despite its popularity within Israel, its disproportionate number of Palestinian deaths aroused considerable media attention, followed by a swath of anti-Israel rhetoric from advocates of the Gazans’ cause. Yet much of that anti-Israel rhetoric has escalated into outright anti-Semitism, and the Anti-Defamation League has released a number of reports documenting the increasingly worrying anti-Semitic acts occurring around the world under the guise of anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian geopolitics.

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Former Senator George Mitchell to be Obama’s Middle East Special Envoy

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Sen. George MitchellPresident Barack Obama (still sounds so new, doesn’t it?) announced that he has chosen former Senator George Mitchell to be his special emissary to the Middle East. Mitchell is a veteran negotiator, most known for an agreement he brokered in Northern Ireland, and the appointment of such a high ranking diplomat points to the Obama administration’s desire to make real progress in the region.

Although Mitchell was born to a Lebanese mother, experts agree that he will bring a neutral perspective to the region. From the New York Times:

“He’s neither pro-Israeli nor pro-Palestinian,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel and an adviser to the Clinton administration. “He’s, in a sense, neutral.”

Stay tuned to ITM for further analysis.

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Shin Bet Justice: Tunnel Vision?

Tunneling under Israel

Tunneling under Israel

Tunnels. The very word connotes ancient secrets, mystic rites and modern adventure. Israel is blessed with tunnels both natural (the country gets whole pages on spelunking websites) and man made: The “Rabbinical” tunnels alongside and beneath the Temple Mount get lots of attention. Their excavation launched Arab riots as well as a new locus for tourism. (Jerusalem’s coolest tunnel is Hezekiah’s ancient passage to the Gihon Spring, seen at right.)

For Israel’s security forces, it’s the tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt that, understandably, generate the most interest. Egypt’s government claims, unconvincingly, that it’s trying to keep the tunnels closed, while evidence at the other end (filmed by France24’s English newscast) shows Gazans’ using the tunnels routinely to smuggle in market goods and even electricity generation. Hamas undoubtedly also uses them for less homey shipments, like weaponry.

Israel’s been unable to police the tunnels since its pullout from Gaza, so the Shin Bet security agency gets its intelligence from Palestinian informants in Rafah, the border town. Unfortunately, according to an article in Haaretz, Shin Bet is willing to abuse its role at Gaza’s border with Israel to coerce possibly innocent Gazans into enlisting as spies.

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