School girls killed by Jordanian soldier remembered at tree-planting ceremony

While they were at the Island of Peace in Naharayim, Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier in an observation tower, opened fire, killing the seven girls and wounding 13 others, including one teacher.

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January 22, 2019 01:41
Planting a tree in Rosh Pina forest

Planting a tree in Rosh Pina forest. (photo credit: KKL-JNF)

 
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If they had not been shot they had not been shot by a hostile Jordanian soldier 22 years ago, seven young girls who were pupils at the Amit Fuerst School in Beit Shemesh might today be young mothers in their mid-30s, possibly pursuing careers in hi-tech or teaching.

But they got no further in life than puberty.

Karen Cohen, 14; Ya’ala Me’iri, 13; Shiri Badayev, 14; Natalie Alkalai, 13; Adi Malka 13; and Nirit Cohen, 13, all of Beit Shemesh; and Sivan Petihi, 13, of Tzelafon, were on a field trip to the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights with several of their teachers and classmates.

While they were at the Island of Peace in Naharayim, Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier in an observation tower, opened fire, killing the seven girls and wounding 13 others, including one teacher.

The number of fatalities could have been much higher, but for the fact that the shooter was apprehended by other Jordanian soldiers and relieved of his weapon.

He was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Every year since, on Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees, the families of the murdered girls go to the Forest of the Daughters in Naharayim to plant trees in their memories.

The memorial site was initiated by Orna Shimoni, from Kibbutz Ashdod Yaakov Ichud, whose son, Eyal, fell in Lebanon in 1997. Shimoni is a peace activist and one of the founders of the Four Mothers Movement, and is active in Women Wage Peace.

This year, President Reuven Rivlin participated in the memorial tree planting ceremony.

On Monday, he joined Keren Kayemet L'Israel Jewish National Fund World Chairman Danny Attar, the families of the girls and a large number of other people for whom the occasion held an emotional pull.

The memorial forest was established a year after the tragedy. At that time, 2,000 trees were planted and as a result of the annual tree planting, the forest has continued to grow.

The memorial ceremony traditionally starts with the March of Seven to the Eyal monument in Kibbutz Ashdod Yaakov and many school children are among the marchers.

The main ceremony is held on the Hill of Flowers on the actual murder site and continues after that in the forest.

Addressing the parents and siblings of the girls, Rivlin said: “Every year, dear families, you come here to the Island of Peace, and we are with you. Every year on Tu Bishvat... we come here to plant life where life was taken. On the island stained by blood, a small forest is growing – a forest of love, of longing, a forest of beauty.

“There is no consolation for children killed cruelly by a despicable murderer. A murderer who is now free and who is proud of what he did. There is no consolation and no one can console, and we can only offer you our arms in embrace every year.

“The horrific murder on the Island of Peace was terrible, but it did not bring an end to peace. This year, we are marking 25 years since the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Whoever was old enough then cannot forget the visits of the late King Hussein to the homes of the bereaved families and his visits to hospital to see those injured, family after family, condolence call after condolence call, expressing his deep sorrow on behalf of the Hashemite Kingdom, asking for forgiveness.”

Attar said that the murder of the girls is part of a long list of massacres and acts of terror to which the people of Israel have been subjected almost since the dawn of history, and such atrocities have not yet abated.  Yet despite horrendous attacks and wars that take a heavy toll, Israel continues to grow and to flourish, he said. "In this place where the earth was soaked in the blood of our children, KKL planted a forest."

Although many Jordanians were opposed to the king’s humanitarian gesture, in Israel, he won many hearts and much admiration.

Rivlin said he appreciated that each year, representatives of the Hashemite Kingdom come to Israel to join with the bereaved families of the seven girls. “I only hope that next year, standing next to the Israeli schoolchildren will be Jordanian schoolchildren, side by side,” he said.

Rivlin lauded Jordan as “a faithful friend which is a strong state that understands the power of tolerance and patience, and the power of moderation that comes from great might. Together, we will continue to fight against terrorism, against those who wish to destabilize our region, as well as work together on projects that are a symbol of the strength of relations between our two peoples. The Island of Peace must stay an island of peace, a symbol of friendship and of the hope shared by both peoples.”

Reports from Jordan indicate that not all Jordanian citizens are in accord with the official policy of the Kingdom. After Daqamseh, was released from prison in March 2017, he was hailed as a hero when he returned to his village. He expressed no remorse and, in fact, spewed hate speech against Israel.

Attar said the girls’ murder was part of a long list of massacres and acts of terror to which the people of Israel have been subjected almost since the dawn of history, and such atrocities have not yet abated. Yet despite horrendous attacks and wars that take a heavy toll, he said, Israel continues to grow and to flourish. “In this place where the earth was soaked in the blood of our children, KKL planted a forest.”

Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch addressed those who came, saying, “In this place which became an island of death, we must think together how to memorialize and perpetuate life.” In the memory of the murdered girls, she asked that residents of Beit Shemesh find a way to live together in peace and mutual respect.

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich told the group, “The Island of Peace shows that we must never give up on the hope for peace. “Our greatest enemy, Jordan, whose people fought bloody battles against us, became – a few years ago – an ally. This shows that even the bloodiest conflict can be resolved, as soon as there are brave leaders who want to do so.”

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