Despite a 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan signed by the late prime
minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein, this agreement has yet to be put in
effect in the hearts of the people of the neighboring countries.
Jordanian, I was taught in school and at university that Israel is our first and
last enemy. Why is this? People in Jordan (and almost all Arabs in the Middle
East) think that Israel seeks to destroy them. It is common to hear conspiracy
theories asserting that the decisions by governments of the United States,
Russia and Europe that have adversely affected Arab countries can all be traced
back to the Jews. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that if we stop Israel,
or expel them from the Middle East, our situation will be better.
mosque, a prayer from the Imam asks for God to make widows of Jewish wives and
orphans of Jewish children. It is common to hear the Jewish people referred to
as “sons of pigs” and “killers of the prophets.” In the street, to call someone
“Jewish” is a heinous insult and may well end in violence. In the minds of most,
nearly any problem in the Middle East can be traced back to Israel.
absurdity is that Jordanian cabinet members accused and blamed of corruption
were suggested for their positions by Israel. An Israeli can’t even drive a car
into Jordan without having to change the license plates. A sticker on products
that say, “Made in Israel” will always be removed before sale. Any Jordanian
looking for a visa to travel into Israel has to wait months, and approval is
And there are 26 Jordanian prisoners that I don’t know
when Israel will release, as a gesture of goodwill so they can return to their
My question is: How can we make real peace between us? Peace on
paper is not enough, it needs to come from our hearts. I don’t want to lie again
when I introduce Israelis to Arab friends and say that they are American or
Dutch. My heart aches for those on both sides who have lost loved ones, but when
will we forgive and move on so we do not lose more brothers, sisters, sons and
daughters? My visit to Israel showed me how close Jordanians and Israelis
actually are – just a couple of hours – but in our hearts, more than 1,000
years. I truly believe that many of my Arab friends have an open mind, but
traveling on the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I posted on Facebook that I was
pleasantly surprised for the free WiFi. Within minutes, there were nasty
comments below and friends who I’d known for a decade or more blocked me on the
site and deleted my mobile number. They called me to ask whether I was a spy and
how much Israel paid me to say this.
My visit to Israel showed me how
much work needs to be done to make one world between us – not merely a
When I crossed the border, I saw the opposite of what people told
me. No policeman detained me for hours.
Instead, people were welcoming
and one beautiful woman actually said, “Welcome to Israel Habibi.” It was
I took a taxi into Jerusalem and when I told the driver I was
from Jordan, he responded, “Welcome for King Hussein and his people!” I asked
him, “Why not King Abdullah II?” He replied, “Why not?” On the way, he invited
me to drink a Pepsi and have a chocolate. He told me, “This is a gift from
Israel to Jordan.”
I said, “You are smiling and your welcome is a better
We talked with each other about peace between us. He told me that
he did not think there was a genuine peace if there are people who believe that
war is the first and last solution.
I told him that I trust that there
are a lot of people who believe in peace from both sides but keep silent because
they are timid. We are afraid of the religious and traditional people who think
that having a friend from Israel is unpatriotic.
When I arrived in
Jerusalem it was Friday night, I had forgotten that it was Shabbat and was
surprised over how empty the streets were and that all the stores were closed. I
asked one of the few people I saw how I could go about buying a SIM card and
they suggested I go to the Israeli Arab neighborhoods. There, I met Arabs who
love their country, Israel. After I asked one of them his opinion about racism
from Jewish Israelis, he told me, “If I am in an Arab country, I will not have
what I have here. If I go to a hospital, I find all the services I
I have insurance because of my age. I do not experience
The second day, I met Mickey. An Australian Israeli
woman and mother with a sense of humor that never failed to lighten the darkest
We discussed in depth the history and political issues
of the Middle East and she expressed her hope to make peace with Arabs without
violence. She said that this generation or a new generation might be able to
find a peaceful way.
In a garden in Jerusalem, I met a religious Jewish
man. He and his wife have nine children and he described each one as an
expression of his faith and a gift from God. He said he loved having so many
kids and he would always take care of them. I told him he was just like an Arab!
I asked him about the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel and he said it
was good but not enough. He said that when he went to Jordan, the police asked
him, for his own protection, to change the license plates on his car and remove
his hat. He asked them why he had to do these things and they simply replied
that he could not receive a visa otherwise. I opined that the 1994 Peace
Agreement was just between the authorities but that the hearts of the people are
still in 1967.
An Israeli peace activist invited me to his home to meet
and speak with more than 20 people. He opened the door for me so that I could
understand Israeli culture through Israeli eyes and not through religious
Everyone in attendance welcomed me warmly, saying they had wanted
to meet someone from Jordan for a long time and thought that I was their angel.
They explained that a majority of Israelis do not seek enmity with Arabs, nor
are they racist, but complained about a minority of ultrareligious people who
At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem I met with a professor who said
he had a wonderful life growing up in Iraq, but being Jewish in that changing
society became very difficult.
I expressed my frustration in finding a
way to stop this hostility and to accept people as humans.
are a large number of people in Israel who want peace, there are those that are
still angry with Arabs. An older religious man, who was defiant when he spoke
about the grandfathers from Jordan who had fought in Israel, said he will
believe in peace when it comes from the heart, when Arabs stop talking and
encouraging their children to fight Jews.
There are people who have lost
brothers, sisters or children in fighting and still want to make peace with
Arabs. An Israeli named Jonathan said his brother was killed fighting Hamas in
the Gaza Strip. “He pleaded not go to Gaza, to not kill anyone,” Jonathan said.
“But Hamas still fire rockets into Israel. My brother was both religious and
Jonathan’s father said he lost his own father in the Six Day
War of 1967 and is still sad to think of how he was killed, there was no place
his body wasn’t wounded by bullets. Tears welled in his eyes when he said, “I
still pray to God to continue to give me peace in my heart, to forgive, and give
my children [the chance] to change this land for the better.” Before I said
goodbye, he encouraged me to be brave, to not quit, because this land needs
peace more than water and food.
I believe the animosity towards Israel is
over more than just land.
Arabs are generally happy to introduce friends
from the US or England to other Arabs, despite being angry over the actions
taken by these countries in the Middle East, but this would rarely happen with
Jewish friends. Both sides have lost a great deal. Jewish people in the past
could live side by side with Muslims in Iraq, Yemen or Libya, but after 1948,
these Jews were blamed for the situation and life in these countries became more
and more difficult.
Before 1948, Jewish and Arab negotiations took place
between religious or military leaders, which meant that there was inevitably
inflexibility on both sides and an inability to compromise.
But in the
end, it was the general population that was made to suffer, including women and
What can we do in response to this situation? There are many
issues that keep our law makers busy today; water resources, environmental
issues, agriculture, unemployment, terrorism and border security. It would be
better to concentrate our resources on health and science, for example, rather
than weapons. We can attempt to heal this pain between us by exchange programs
for university and high school students from both countries.
to visit, to study, to learn from the other. I would like to encourage my
friends here in Jordan and cousins from my tribe to visit Israel and to meet
real Israelis in everyday life, to break down the stereotypes they hold
I will not be intimidated by organizations which seek to enforce a
boycott on those who visit Israel. I plan to visit and meet my brothers and
sisters in Israel again and to listen to them, to share with them, to learn from
them and to fight with them against evil ideas. Religious and political groups
are stuck in entrenched positions and are enslaved by vested interests. We can
love each other without signatures on agreements. I have hope that our relations
will be normalized in the future because I know many Jordanians, men and women,
who greatly desire the relationship between the countries to be better. When we
are able to visit each other, to listen with open minds and learn from our
history rather than perpetually reliving it, only then can we give our sons and
daughters a better future.
The author is a Jordanian journalist.