Opinion: For some Arabs, preventing peace with Israel is more important than combating coronavirus

These leaders and media have filled the Arab people with so much hate against Israel that participating in a positive, productive endeavor becomes a major crime.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

Hatred for Israel (and Jews) in many Arab countries continues to take priority over economic, health and political problems. Some Arabs prefer to dedicate more time and energy to combating peace with Israel than to dealing with the deadly fallout of COVID-19 in their own backyards.

Jordan, an Arab country that signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, is no exception.

On March 31, Jordan reported 111 COVID-related deaths, the highest daily toll since the outbreak of the pandemic. The report came as some Jordanians took to the streets to protest the government’s failed policies, especially in healthcare and the economy.

Instead of focusing their efforts on trying to find solutions to the severe medical crisis in the country, many Jordanians are busy condemning a meeting between Jordanian and Israeli women. These aggrieved Jordanians are dubbing the meeting an act of treason and calling for a commission of inquiry into the encounter.

The Jordanian women have been forced to go on the defensive and issue all kinds of justifications and semi-apologies for committing the “crime” of meeting with Israeli women. Worse, the charges of treason turn these Jordanian women into easy targets for violence.

Some Jordanians actually called for punishing the women who met with the “Zionist enemy.” They accused the women of agreeing to serve as “tools to promote the Zionist enemy” and said that economic hardship was not an excuse for engaging in normalization activities with Israelis.

“A free woman is one who prefers to starve rather than engage in treacherous activities with the Zionist enemy,” stated an anti-normalization group.

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The uproar began after a video and photos of the meeting appeared on social media platforms.

The gathering was organized by a group called “Bless Your Hands,” a women’s entrepreneurship project to support the socio-economic and environmental well-being of Israeli and Jordanian women from both sides of the Wadi Arava, an area south of the Dead Sea Basin that forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan.

According to the group, its business model is that of a sustainable community economy, divided into Israeli and Jordanian joint mandates: product development, marketing and branding, tourism and content team. “Our goal is to provide an economic alternative for income for the Israeli and Jordanian artists, and to improve the diversity of employment available in the Wadi Arava area,” the group wrote.

The project sounds like the type of assistance that Jordanian women need, especially during this difficult period of the economic and health crises in their country.

This hope for improvement in their lives is undoubtedly why some of the Jordanian women agreed to participate in the “Bless Your Hands” initiative — particularly as its goals are apolitical and solely related to boosting the economy and creating job opportunities for many families on both sides of the border.

The Israel-haters and enemies of peace nevertheless seem to care nothing about the welfare of the women in Jordan and other Arab countries. They would rather see these women remaining unemployed and restricted to their homes, in poverty and misery, than cooperate with Israeli women to improve their living conditions.

What particularly irritated the anti-normalization activists and groups in Jordan was that some of the Jordanian women appeared in a video praising the project and talking about how happy they were to join forces with their Israeli neighbors on the other side of the border.

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“Every second in the video, every hug and smile on both sides was a knife stabbing my heart,” commented Jordanian activist Tayeb Awwad.

His sentiment reflected the feeling among many Jordanians upon watching the video of the Israeli and Jordanian women during the warm encounter.

“It is true that the video shows Jordanian women happy with this kind of normalization of cooperation,” admitted Jordanian writer Mohammed Sweidan, an opponent of peace and normalization with Israel. Sweidan claimed, however, that Jordanian women are “totally opposed” to any form of normalization with Israelis and “hate” Israel.

This Jordanian writer has taken it upon himself to be the spokesman for all of the women in his country. He claims to have some special knowledge of their actual intentions. Notably, he did not even bother to contact the Jordanian women to ask them about their attitude toward the joint project with the Israeli women.

“The normalization project,” according to a report in the Arab news website Raseef22.net, “sparked widespread anger in the popular Jordanian circles, as activists expressed their categorical rejection of any attempt to normalize relations with Israel.”

Instead of thanking the Israeli women for their effort to help poverty-stricken families in Jordan, the report quotes several “activists” who accuse Israel of exploiting the difficult economic situation in Jordan to promote normalization between the two countries, even though the “Bless Your Hands” initiative is an independent project with no links to the Israeli authorities.

The aim of this project, another anti-normalization group in Jordan claimed in a statement, is “to use Jordanian women as tools to promote the Israeli narrative.”

Mohammed Marwan, an Islamist member of the Committee for Resisting Normalization (with Israel), said that he was surprised that the Jordanian government had “facilitated the normalization” meeting between the Jordanian and Israeli women.

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“Everyone should expose and denounce these activities rather than be dragged into participating in them,” Marwan said. He pointed out that this was not the first time that Israel had tried to “penetrate this region through suspicious associations and sometimes school trips.”

Another anti-Israel Jordanian activist, Hisham al-Bustani, cautioned that the encounter between Israeli and Jordanian women aimed to “send a message that normalization [with Israel] has become acceptable.”

Some of the beleaguered Jordanian women, out of fear for their lives, are now trying to distance themselves from the “Bless Your Hands” plan.

Nayfa al-Nawasrah, chairwoman of a Jordanian women’s circle, whose members participated in the meeting, said that her group had nothing to do with the program. She claimed that the visit of the Israeli women to Jordan took place without her knowledge. “The participation of one or two members of our group does not mean that we have anything to do with the project,” Nawasrah emphasized.

The vicious attacks on the Jordanian women were predictable. They are the natural result of the decades-old campaign of anti-Israel incitement in the Jordanian and Arab media.

What else happens when the Arab media and leaders demonize Israel and Jews, day in and day out? These leaders and media have filled the Arab people with so much hate against Israel that participating in a positive, productive endeavor becomes a major crime.

As long as such incitement against Israel in the Arab world continues, any talk about peace will be a pipe dream with hopes going up in smoke.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.