Jordanian justice minister 311.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
It was a consolation of sorts to learn that top Jordanian officials have
reassured Israel that no plan exists to release Ahmed Daqamseh, who on March 13,
1997, cold-bloodedly murdered seven 11-year-old Israeli
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Although the reassurance came privately from unnamed
higher-ups, it is certainly better that it was conveyed at all than to have had
no reaction from Amman to the recently appointed Jordanian justice minister’s
overt and vociferous agitation to set Daqamseh free.
In the wake of the
1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers,
Nahariyim (the word means “two rivers”), was reserved as a tourist site and
named, with hopeful optimism, “the Island of Peace.” It was held under Jordanian
sovereignty but developed and maintained by several Israeli kibbutzim. It was,
terribly, there that a Jordanian corporal opened fire on Israeli children from
Beit Shemesh during their school outing 14 years ago.
For the short haul,
we can now assume that Daqamseh won’t receive a royal reprieve. Yet the fact
that he finds succor so far up Jordan’s legal hierarchy is cause for grave
concern. It was deeply perturbing to hear Jordan’s new Justice Minister Hussein
Mjali publicly portray the cowardly killer of small girls as a veritable hero.
In stark contrast, the soothing messages subsequently relayed to Israel were
This contrast is far from incidental. It attests to
unsettling trends in the monarchy next door, which has obviously come a very
long way away from the contrition so compellingly expressed immediately after
the homicide by the late King Hussein. Israelis haven’t forgotten his gesture of
humane humility when he came here personally and visited each of the bereaved
This legacy of unreserved empathy is evidently dissipating in
today’s Jordan. We have no way of ascertaining whether King Hussein in his day
indeed accurately reflected the mood of his people, but he certainly tried to
change perceptions for the good. This trend appears to be shifting.
was appointed to the justice minister’s post in a shakeup last week geared to
stem protests inspired by Egypt’s turmoil.
The pro forma logic
underpinning the new appointment was to facilitate greater democratic freedoms,
including the rights to assembly and speech. How dismal if Mjali embodies the
climate of new stirrings for civic liberty in Jordan. How bleak if he stands for
what is considered progress in his milieu. To accommodate an invigorated demand
for democratic freedoms and opportunities in his kingdom, must King Abdullah
also acquiesce to an escalating anti-Israeli inflammatory tone? We would hope
THE FACT that Mjali, who served as Daqamseh’s attorney during his
trial, could be appointed minister of justice in the first place raises gave
questions. Surely his predisposition was no unknown quotient. It would have been
no great surprise that he’d be the blusterous chief speaker at a demonstration
for Daqamseh’s release.
What is most troubling is the signal to public
opinion, in Jordan and beyond. The grassroots is being encouraged to revere
Daqamseh as a role model.
Several years ago the killer’s mother told
Al-Jazeera: “I am proud of my son and hold my head high. My son did a heroic
deed and has pleased Allah and his own conscience. My son lifts my head and the
head of the entire Arab and Islamic nation. I am proud of any Muslim who does
what Ahmed did... My son told me he has no regrets... He said: The only thing
that angers me is that the gun didn’t work properly. Otherwise I would have
killed all of the passengers on the bus.”
Minister Mjali apparently
endorses some of these sentiments, and he’s not alone. Jordan’s powerful
Islamist movement and the country’s 14 trade unions, comprising over 200,000
members, relentlessly campaign for Daqamseh’s release.
King Abdullah must
surely be aware that he won’t secure his position by letting the genie of hatred
out of the bottle. Instead of appeasing the voices of those who would legitimize
the cold-blooded murder of civilians, the reforms he is being pressed to
expedite should include a focus on education that rejects senseless
The right role model is close at hand. Abdullah should encourage
his people to embrace his father’s brave heritage, forthrightly and fearlessly.
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