Jordan's Abdullah needs to stop spreading blood libels against Israel - opinion

Jordan’s king claims Israel is undermining the status quo in Jerusalem as women in the Old City chanting they will liberate al-Aqsa with blood and fire.

 SPREADING A blood libel. King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, last week. (photo credit: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO/GETTY IMAGES)
SPREADING A blood libel. King of Jordan Abdullah II speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, last week.
(photo credit: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO/GETTY IMAGES)

On Tuesday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I experienced a blood libel.

Spending part of the holiday in the Old City of Jerusalem, I went to a prayer service in the Muslim Quarter in a building on El-Wad Street, or what Jews call Rehov Hagay, the Hebrew word for gorge. The street runs from the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall along the ancient ravine that split the Old City. 

The building where the services were held, which functions today as a yeshiva and synagogue, was purchased in the late 1800s. In 1894 it became the home of the illustrious Torat Haim Yeshiva, which trained some of the most famous rabbis of the last century.

It wasn’t an easy decision back then to build a yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter. Located directly opposite the Via Dolorosa, some Christian groups opposed its establishment so close to the place where Jesus is believed to have walked toward his crucifixion. Since the yeshiva’s founder, Rabbi Eliyahu Winograd, was from Belarus, the Russian counsel-general in Jerusalem decided to intervene to help ensure that the institution opened.

While there were the occasional troubles – the yeshiva was periodically bombed, burned and looted – it grew into a prominent place of learning in Jerusalem. All of that came to an end in 1948 when the State of Israel was founded, and the Arab Legion evicted Jews from the Old City.

 Jordan's King Abdullah II addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York City, US, September 20, 2022.  (credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS) Jordan's King Abdullah II addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York City, US, September 20, 2022. (credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)

Jordan went on to ransack and demolish the more famous synagogues in the Old City – Tiferet Yisrael and the Hurva, the two biggest in the Jewish Quarter – but the Torat Haim Yeshiva miraculously remained intact: an Arab neighbor kept everyone out of the building, and hid all of the furniture and 3,000 books behind a fake wall.

When Israel liberated the Old City in the 1967 Six Day War, the survivors from 1948 were astonished to find the place almost exactly as they had left it.

I can’t lie. The reason I went there on Tuesday, and have done so in past years, was not due to some ideological motivation, or a sudden interest in the history of pre-1948 Jerusalem. Rather, it’s because the minyan that gathers there on Shabbat and Jewish holidays is one of the fastest I have ever experienced. Rosh Hashanah morning services, for example, took just a drop over two hours. Hard to beat. :).

After services, a group of us walked out to Rehov Hagay, where we were met by 20 Arab women carrying signs of al-Aqsa Mosque and chanting: “With blood and fire we will liberate al-Aqsa.”

“With blood and fire we will liberate al-Aqsa.”

A group of around 20 Arab women

Christian tour groups stood nearby watching as the woman yelled and snickered in our direction, under the watchful eye of a nearby police contingent. One of the women at the front of the procession muttered something about the Yahuds (Jews in Arabic) standing nearby.

The Jordanian king's blood libel against Israel at the UN

As I watched the women march and chant words of hate and incitement, I immediately thought of the speech given just days before at the UN General Assembly by Jordanian King Abdullah.

Christianity in the holy city is under fire... this cannot continue,” Abdullah told the world. “As custodians of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, we are committed to protecting the historical and legal status quo and to their safety and future. We are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage, and the historic identity of the Christian people of our region.”

He went on.

“The future of Jerusalem is an urgent concern. The city is holy to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world. Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides. The holy city must not be a place for hatred and division.”

“The future of Jerusalem is an urgent concern. The city is holy to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world. Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides. The holy city must not be a place for hatred and division.”

Jordans King Abdullah

And there it was: one day Jordan’s dictator falsely claims that Israel is undermining the status quo in Jerusalem, and one week later there are women in the Old City chanting that they will liberate al-Aqsa with blood and fire.

Similar scenes played out on the first day of Rosh Hashanah when Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount came under attack from young Palestinians who barricaded themselves inside al-Aqsa and shot fireworks at police.

As expected, Amman decided it needed to speak up again. The Foreign Ministry condemned the violent escalations, which it claimed were instigated by “Israeli extremists” who were “storming the blessed al-Aqsa mosque with extensive protection from the Israeli police.”

And why is all this a blood libel?

Because it is a falsehood, not true, a fabrication, made up by the king, by his Foreign Ministry, and by the Palestinians.

If there is one place in our immediate vicinity where people from all religions can pray freely, it is in Israel. If there is one place where there is the freedom to openly practice religion without discrimination or harassment, it is in Israel. And if there is one place where mosques, synagogues and churches are protected in the same way, it is in Israel.

King Abdullah knows this, his Foreign Ministry knows this, and even the Waqf, which manages the Temple Mount, knows this.

Does the truth make a difference? 

Considering the escalation in terrorism that Israel is currently fighting to quell in the West Bank – a clear illustration of which was seen on Wednesday in the raid on Jenin – it is hard not to see the connection between the lies from despots and the outbreak of violence on the streets of Jenin and Nablus.

This is playing with fire, and Abdullah seems not to care.

And that brings us to what is happening in the West Bank, where according to Israeli intelligence, the first signs of the power struggle that will break out after PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s tenure are already being felt. This is not expected to happen tomorrow but different armed factions are getting ready, and are jostling for power.

New groups are already forming. Khaled Abu Toameh revealed this week the name of a new terrorist organization – “Lions’ Den” – that numbers around 100 gunmen, and which is clashing regularly with the IDF.

Abbas has been holding back from ordering PA security forces to arrest these Palestinian gunmen, so as not to be seen as an Israeli agent. And while Israel has tried to convince him to go into Jenin, he is not listening. Abbas does not want to get his hands dirty.

Israel’s options are not great. It can continue entering places like Jenin as needed to stop attacks, while knowing there will be clashes and casualties. Or it can decide to launch a large-scale operation, which might be needed if the attacks continue. As revealed in today’s Jerusalem Post, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi recently approved the use of attack drones in West Bank operations, a move that has not been seen there in nearly 20 years.

There is also a third option: keep the pressure on Abbas and hope that at some point he starts to take things more seriously.

In the meantime, King Abdullah doesn’t care. The ground is burning, and his priority is to spread lies.