From the border to the embassy, Jordanians protest for Palestine

Jordanians marching towards Israel, demanding the government open the border, on 14 May, 2021. [TNA]
6 min read
Jordan - Amman
20 May, 2021
In-depth: For the past week, protesters across Jordan have been marching in support of Palestine while demanding an end to the increasingly unpopular Israel-Jordan peace agreement.

"Wadi Araba is not a peace agreement; Wadi Araba is a surrender!" 

For more than a week Jordanians have been chanting this in daily protests across the country in solidarity with Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, referring to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace agreement,

Despite the strong grip of authorities over social gatherings, grassroots protests have taken shape, with the bulk of participants young Jordanians who have not witnessed the two Palestinian intifadas.

But Jordanians are not just showing solidarity with their Palestinian brothers; they are also demanding swift action from authorities to end Jordan's peace treaty with Israel.

A national protest

Protests in Jordan started long before the most recent airstrikes in Gaza

"Jordanians are not just showing solidarity with their Palestinian brothers; they are also demanding swift action from authorities to end Jordan's peace treaty with Israel"

On 2 May, a group of local pro-Palestinian activists gathered in front of al-Dustour newspaper headquarters and the Jordanian Parliament, demanding government action to halt the expulsion of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

The escalation of the situation in Palestine has bolstered popular support for the protests. People are gathering across Jordan, including around the Israeli Embassy in Amman and in Palestinian refugee camps.

"During the past week, people's consciousness has significantly raised throughout all Jordanian governorates, overcoming the traditional divisions inside the community in support of the Palestinian cause," Omar Emile Awad, a member of the political bureau of the Communist Party of Jordan, told The New Arab.

Jabal al Taj neighbourhood during a protest in solidarity with Palestine, 12 May, 2021. [TNA]
Jabal al Taj neighbourhood during a protest in solidarity with Palestine, 12 May, 2021. [Sherbel Dissi/7iber/TNA]

The protests have been characterised as 'leaderless,' encouraging the attendance of individual citizens, unlimited by political affiliation.

"Most of the people taking part in the protests are youth who have each one their own Palestine, and this is what moves them to go to the streets," Sherbel Dissi, an independent photojournalist from Amman, told TNA.

Dina Bataineh, a young Jordanian, participated in the protests because, in her mind, staying silent in the face of the violence in Israel-Palestine is not an option.

"Palestine is personal, but not only because it is in my blood, but because it also represents a dream worth living and struggling for, a dream of return. For me, protesting is one way of walking towards this dream, and it gives me hope that we will one day wake up from the collective nightmare that we have been stuck in since my grandmothers' generation," Bataineh said.

The diverse protesters hail from wide-ranging Jordanian political movements.

In many places, such as the refugee camps, the protests are self-organised. One example of this was the call to march to the border, which trended on social media in the days before 14 May.

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Chanting 'Oh King Abdullah, open the borders,' thousands of Jordanians marched towards the King Hussein Bridge (known in Israel as the Allenby Bridge) to cross into the occupied West Bank.

"The objective of the mobilisation towards the borders was to 'shake' the security of the Israeli occupation and make them feel that their borders are not secure," explained Awad, adding that this was intended to reduce Israeli pressure on Palestinians.

"The idea was to show that the Jordanian population is against any peace agreement with the Israeli occupiers."

Jordanian government's response

The response to the protests by the Jordanian regime has been mixed.

Contrasting with the prohibition of gatherings and protests earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, Jordanian authorities have allowed these demonstrations.

"The Jordanian authorities have deliberately allowed the protests for several reasons," Saud al Sharafat, Director of Shorufat Center for Globalization and Terrorism Studies, told TNA.

"Palestine represents a dream worth living and struggling for, a dream of return"

The Jordanian government sees the protests as a means to vent Jordanian rage, embarrass and pressure Netanyahu, and recover internal legitimacy in the light of the government’s decline in popularity.

"The situation caused by Covid-19 and the feud within the royal family have given a death blow to political life in Jordan. But the Palestinian issue has a very high social support, so trying to block Jordanians from expressing their feelings towards it will have complicated even more the difficult relationship between the authorities and the people," says Awad.

Despite general tolerance of Jordanian demonstrations, the police countered the Friday march to the Israeli border in the Jordan Valley by firing tear gas and shooting into the air, arresting over 350 people.

"The security services facilitated the freedom of movement of protesters and did not block their way - until they reached a specific point in the border area in the Jordan Valley… they were prevented from crossing the borderline," al-Sharafat said.

On Sunday, protests in the surroundings of the Israeli Embassy were violently dissolved, with many young protesters beaten and arrested, although most were released after a couple of hours.

Police arresting a young man next to the Kalouty Mosque, near the Israeli embassy, 9 May, 2021. [TNA]
Police arrest a young man next to the Kalouty Mosque, near the Israeli embassy. [Sherbel Dissi/7iber/TNA]

"As the Communist Party, we have condemned the actions and asked for an investigation to hold accountable the officers who beat the protesters. But we do not want to bring the arrests to the spotlight, but rather to keep the compass needle pointing towards the Palestinian people," says Awad.

Dissi makes a similar point. "The government underestimated the number of people who were going to the Jordan Valley. Although a lot of arrests happened, they all eventually got released, so you can see that they did not arrest for the sake of arresting but for dissolving the protest."

Policy impact

Jordanian protesters are demanding the Jordanian government do three basic things: end the Wadi Araba peace agreement with Israel, cancel the gas importation agreement, and demand the return of the Jordanian ambassador from Tel Aviv while expelling the Israeli ambassador from Amman.

"We are expressing a political conviction to defend Palestine and that Palestinians have the right to decide their destiny and establish an independent free country. There is a need to defend Jordan and its sovereignty from the Israeli expansionist policies. Our perspective, as the Communist Party of Jordan, is that this is a joint struggle to defend Palestine and Jordan at the same time," says Awad.

"The Jordanian government sees the protests as a means to vent Jordanian rage, embarrass and pressure Netanyahu, and recover internal legitimacy in the light of the government’s decline in popularity"

Beyond the moral support for Palestinians, the protests also help the Jordanian government to empower itself after being relegated to the sidelines on regional issues by the previous US administration and other regional actors.

"The protests allow the Jordanian government to take tougher and stronger positions with Netanyahu, to establish Jordan's role in sponsoring Jerusalem and Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, and that Jordan remains a key player in any future arrangement in the occupied territories," says al-Sharafat.

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Although it is still too early to judge how these protests will affect relations between Jordan and Israel in the short term, measures such as the withdrawal of the respective ambassadors might take place as a show of force from the Jordanian authorities. More serious measures, such as the cancellation of peace and gas agreements, require a deep consideration of the consequences.

Meanwhile, citizens will go to the streets as long as the bombs and the violence continue in the occupied territories.

"Jordanians will never accept… being mere watchers of Palestinian suffering on television. They find themselves true supporters and want to be real doers in supporting their Palestinian brothers and their struggle," says Awad.

Victoria Silva is a freelance journalist based in Jordan, covering Middle East affairs for Spanish media.

Follow her on Twitter: @VickyShishaz