IDF soldiers close Naharayim gate prior to its return to Jordan Sunday

“This is a very painful day,” Emek HaYarden Regional Council head Idan Grinbaum said Saturday just before the gate clanged shut as the sun set behind it.

Naharayim gate closing (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Naharayim gate closing
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
IDF soldiers closed the metal yellow gate to Naharayim’s Island of Peace for the last time on Saturday – an act that symbolically marked Israel’s loss of that territory, as well as land at Tzofar, to neighboring Jordan.
The Hashemite Kingdom on Sunday plans to terminate a special 25-year annex in the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement which granted Israelis access to the land, even though it was under Jordanian sovereignty.
It’s a move that comes about on the Hebrew anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who signed the 1994 agreement with former Jordanian King Hussein.
“This is a very painful day,” Emek HaYarden Regional Council head Idan Grinbaum said Saturday, just before the gate clanged shut as the sun set behind it.
“That was a symbolic and tough moment,” Grinbaum said as he discussed the gate’s closure with The Jerusalem Post several hours later. Grinbaum is a native of Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov, whose members have farmed land in Naharayim since the 1920s. He has been one of the public faces of the campaign to save Naharayim.
Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser submitted a request for an urgent Knesset debate on the failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sway Jordan to extend the agreement.
Jordan had given Israel a year’s advance notice that it had no plans to continue granting Israelis access to Tzofar and Naharayim. During most of that year, Israel has weathered two election campaigns and has been in the hands of a caretaker government.
“The cancellation of an arrangement that has been in place for 25 consecutive years is detrimental to peace and to its fruits, as well as to the Israeli public’s confidence with regard to future plans to maintain daily neighborly relations based on mutual respect,” Hauser said.
Democratic Union head MK Nitzan Horowitz, who visited Naharayim, charged that Netanyahu had squandered Jordanian goodwill and had failed to advance ties with the Hashemite Kingdom and as a result, Naharayim and Tzofar were lost.
The two tracts of land had been a sticking point in the 1994 agreement. The dispute was resolved when it was agreed that the lands would be under Jordanian sovereignty, but that farmers from Moshav Tzofar could lease the land and continue to farm.
The Naharayim land, also known as the Island of Peace, is privately owned by Israelis and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund. Israelis were allowed to farm the land to tour the site, which has historical Zionist significance.
The area’s first hydro-electric plan was opened at Naharayim by Russian Jewish immigrant Pinhas Rutenberg. Golda Meir secretly met former Jordanian King Abdullah I in Naharayim in 1947. In 1997, seven Israeli girls, ages 13 and 14, were killed by a Jordanian soldier at the site. The memorial to the girls, at the edge of the site, will remain in Israel hands.
Over the weekend, thousands of Israelis flocked to Naharayim to visit the land that borders the two countries and is located a short distance away from the Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), where the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers meet.
Grinbaum said that he and a few other members from Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov went on the last tour of the island Saturday and were among the last few people to walk through the gate before it closed.
“I spoke with the media there [and told them] this is a very sad and emotional moment for all of us, especially for the members of Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov, which ended more than 70 years of work on this land in the Island of Peace,” he said. “Blood was shed to keep this land. What makes it even harder is the fact that no one – no official representative from the Israeli government – found a way, today or earlier, to say to the members of Ashdot Ya’acov, ‘Folks, thank you very much. You did a very good job keeping the land for the State of Israel, but now it is time to say goodbye.’”
“No one found the time to look at them in the eye and tell them simple sentences like this,” Grinbaum added. “It is very sad that this is the way the government of Israel treats its citizens.”
The Jordanians, he said, plan to celebrate the end of agreement on Naharayim and had already begun building tents for a ceremony at the site. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi is expected to give a press conference there on Monday.
Grinbaum said he hoped that in the future, a new government headed by a full-time prime minister would find a way to sway the Jordanian government to restore access to the site.
“We will keep on working with the Jordanian side,” he said, explaining that he plans to put the symbolism of the moment aside so he can remain focused on the positive aspects of Israeli-Jordanian ties.
On Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah is expected to deliver a speech during the opening session of the Jordanian parliament, and it is presumed he will speak of Naharayim and Tzofar.
Jordan plans to invest in the two sites as tourist attractions.
The country’s economy expert, Zian Zawaneh, told Jordanian media that the geographic nature and availability of water will lead to investment in agriculture and tourism in the two areas.
“Jordan could benefit from both the agricultural and tourist areas, whether at the local, Arab or international levels, if we provide the appropriate environment and services in them,” he said. “The agricultural technology currently used in these areas does not belong only to Israel. It’s an international technology any party can use.”
Ghassan Obeidat, former head of the Jordanian Jordan Valley Authority, said that the two areas can be turned into a tourist attraction because of their attractive nature and historical landmarks, such as the first bridge linking Jordan and the West Bank.
Obeidat and other Jordanian officials and economy experts expressed hope that the Jordanian government would invest in the two areas.
Former Jordanian parliament member Amjad al-Maslamani, owner of a tourist agency in Amman, announced on Saturday that his agency will soon conduct tours of Naharayim and Tzofar.