Anyone who regularly follows the translations of the Palestinian media available on Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) or www.Memri.org understands that the blithe talk about the possibility of Middle East peace that is heard on the left is utterly unrealistic. But keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a Palestinian culture that continues to foment hatred of Jews and Israel isn’t the only indicator of just how deep this animus runs in Arab culture. Just as informative is a look at the cultures of the two Arab countries that have already made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. The potent anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the prejudice that runs throughout the culture of the largest Arab nation is well documented. But the situation in Jordan is less well known.
Jordan’s reputation as a moderate Arab nation stems mostly from the attitude of former King Hussein and his successor King Abdullah. Like his father, the Jordanian monarch is well spoken in English, charming and, despite the criticisms he lobs across the border at Israel in order to maintain his standing as an Arab leader, very much uninterested in conflict with the Jewish state. But his people and even those in his government are a very different manner.
As the Jerusalem Post reports, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian parliament have endorsed a petition calling for the release of the former soldier who murdered seven Jewish children in 1997. The shocking incident at the Island of Peace along the border between Israel and Jordan prompted King Hussein to personally apologize to the families of the victims for what he considered a blot on the honor of both his country and its armed services. But to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians, he appears to be a hero. If that doesn’t tell you something about how difficult it is to imagine the end of the Middle East conflict, you aren’t paying attention.
The details of the Island of Peace shooting were horrific. Ahmed Daqamseh, one of the Jordanian soldiers on duty at the site that day, turned his gun on a group of visiting Israeli schoolgirls, killing seven and injuring five. The death toll was limited only by the fact that his gun jammed. He was spared a death sentence because a tribunal ruled that he was mentally unstable. But the elevation of his former defense attorney, Hussein Mjali, to the post of minister of justice in 2011 gave new life to the campaign to spring the killer.
Unlike other such causes to free long-imprisoned figures, this effort isn’t based on any ideas about a miscarriage of justice or an overly harsh sentence. It is, instead, based on the abhorrence with which Israel and Jews in general are viewed in Jordanian society. Daqamseh is unrepentant about his crime and that appears to make him popular. Part of this can be traced to the fact that the majority of Jordanians are Palestinians who are generally marginalized in a government run by and for the Hashemite ruling family. But it must also be traced to a general current of Jew-hatred that grips the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is only that feeling that can explain the desire of so many in Jordan to treat a madman who went on a rampage killing little girls as a hero or imprisoned martyr.
The problem between Israel and its neighbors has never really been the location of borders, settlements or the severity of its measures of self-defense. It’s about the unwillingness of a critical mass of Palestinians and Arabs in general to tolerate Jewish sovereignty over any portion, no matter how small, over part of the Middle East. The hate that leads serious people to demand freedom for a mass killer of children is the same factor that makes true peace unlikely in the foreseeable future. This is regrettable, but those who wish to claim any insight into the politics that drive the Middle East conflict cannot ignore it.