Unfortunately, not many Israelis recall that today is the 17th anniversary of the Naharayim massacre in which a Jordanian soldier cold-bloodedly massacred seven Israeli schoolgirls.
Yet that unspeakable crime is bizarrely, almost obsessively, remembered in Jordan and there it has oddly just made the headlines again – but not in the way Israelis would readily imagine.
On Tuesday, Jordanian jurists had taken to the street and raucously protested the killing a day earlier of one of their colleagues, Raed Zeiter, at the Allenby Bridge crossing. Israel had officially expressed regret, shared its initial probe findings with the Jordanians and acceded to Jordanian demands to jointly investigate the matter. So far it all sounds cooperative and well-intentioned enough.
The reaction inside Jordan, however, took none of this into account and, if anything, exploited the incident to fan the flames against Israel and once more agitate for the release of the Naharayim slayer, which has incomprehensibly become a cause célèbre for all too many in Jordan, and, most disconcertingly of all, for its legal community.
Members of Jordan’s Bar Association didn’t rally after Zeiter’s shooting as outraged but hitherto impartial observers. Before having even had the chance to examine and ascertain any of the facts, they demanded the extradition of “the Israeli murderers.” The Jordanian jurists, having a priori formulated their verdict, vowed to mete out their brand of justice. Its nature isn’t difficult to surmise.
They congregated at Amman’s Palace of Justice and burned an Israeli flag there to the sound of hoarse shouts calling for the expulsion of Israeli diplomats and the immediate release of Ahmed Daqamseh, who on March 13, 1997, callously shot to death seven young Israeli girls out on a school excursion.
We may well wonder what the Allenby Bridge incident has to do with the Naharayim bloodshed. Why use it as a means to facilitate Daqamseh’s release?
The truth is that the free-Daqamseh drive by Jordanian lawyers is hardly new and considerably preceded the latest pretext to revive it. The very fact that Daqamseh is accorded succor from Jordan’s legal hierarchy is, in and of itself, cause for grave concern.
Daqamseh was sentenced to seven life terms, which in the Jordanian context means 25 years in prison. Yet he is far from denounced and disowned by his compatriots. The reverse is true. Three years ago then-Justice Minister Hussein Mjali didn’t hesitate to hector blatantly for Daqamseh’s release and to portray the cowardly killer of defenseless children as a laudable role model.
Moreover, Daqamseh is no chastened penitent. He boastfully told a Jordanian weekly that “if I could return to that moment, I would behave exactly the same way. Every day that passes, I grow stronger in the belief that what I did was my duty.”
Worse yet, the Jordanian legal sector isn’t alone in championing Daqamseh. Last year 110 members of Jordan’s parliament (out of a total of 150) had signed a petition for Daqamseh’s release. The country’s 14 trade unions, comprising over 200,000 members, lose no opportunity to agitate on his behalf. This speaks volumes about what parades as coexistence and morality next door to us.
Still we believe, maybe naively, that jurists are a special category that ought to know better – much better. Surely even the minimally fair-minded must agree that the deliberate shooting of schoolgirls is as heinous a crime of hate as imaginable. There should be no equivocation here, much less identification with and glorification of the merciless perpetrator.
Perhaps our inherent trust in the equitable judgment of members of Jordan’s judiciary is misplaced. After all, several years ago, for example, Jordanian lawyers aggressively campaigned for arrest warrants to be issued against then-Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and then-MK Aryeh Eldad. Their crime was describing Jordan as an intrinsic part of original Palestine.
That lawyers should so instantly condemn Israel for Zeiter’s death without even a rudimentary effort to learn what happened is equally unsettling.
Distressingly, King Abdullah keeps mum. The monarchy has obviously come a very long way away from King Hussein’s compellingly articulated contrition seventeen years ago.