Shaken by daily mass protests on Gaza, Jordan accuses ‘infiltrators’ of stoking unrest

The Hashemite kingdom has been one of Israel’s most vocal critics, but the Jordanian public is dissatisfied with the government’s rhetoric and many demand an end to the peace treaty

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Jordanians chant slogans during a demonstration near the Embassy of Israel in Amman on March 28, 2024, in support of Palestinians amid the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)
Jordanians chant slogans during a demonstration near the Embassy of Israel in Amman on March 28, 2024, in support of Palestinians amid the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

For the 11th night in a row, thousands of Jordanians took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against the war in Gaza and call on the Hashemite kingdom to break ties with Israel.

The protest movement began on March 24, when a large crowd marched toward the Israeli embassy in Amman — which was evacuated months ago — following calls on social media to “lay siege” to it, demanding an end to the peace treaty that Jordan signed with Israel in 1994.

The protests have gained momentum in recent days, and Jordanian security forces have stepped up their response, carrying out multiple arrests and charging demonstrators with resisting arrest or assaulting security officers — claims that civil society activists have said were trumped up, according to the Qatari-owned New Arab daily.

While large anti-Israel rallies have been a frequent occurrence in the Arab world and the West since October 7, the ongoing wave of protests in Israel’s eastern neighbor has shown unprecedented persistence, and has prompted some Jordanian officials to accuse foreign agents of fomenting unrest.

The Jordanian Parliament’s Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a statement on Monday rejecting “any attempts carried out by a small, infiltrated group that seeks to sabotage and undermine national unity in Jordan.”

MP Khaldoun Hina, head of the committee, shared a video on X denouncing the “incitement” by foreigners against the Jordanian regime, stressing the Hashemite kingdom’s efforts in support of Gaza and its repeated condemnation of the Israeli military operations.

Former Jordanian information minister Samih Al-Maaytah was more explicit in his accusations, alleging in an interview with the Saudi Al-Hadath news channel that Hamas leaders in Qatar have been stirring unrest in Jordan.

The hidden hand of Hamas

Evidence suggests that Hamas may indeed be fomenting tension in the kingdom, at a time when the intensity of the fighting in Gaza has been winding down but with no clear end in sight to the conflict.

“The timing of the current protests is mainly related to the intensification of religious sentiments among the Jordanian public opinion during Ramadan and the strengthening of religious-Islamic sentiments,” said Dr. Ofir Winter, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University.

Aaron Magid, a former Amman-based journalist, noted that the outbreak of the rallies, on March 24, coincided with a false report on Al Jazeera that Israeli soldiers had raped Palestinian women inside Gaza’s Shifa hospital, an unfounded allegation that was later retracted.

“Even though the former Al Jazeera director general said that that case was fabricated, for many in Amman it was very convincing. And thousands of Jordanians hit the streets to protest,” said Magid, host of the podcast “On Jordan,” which discusses current affairs in the Hashemite kingdom. (Full disclosure: He is also the brother of The Times of Israel’s US bureau chief Jacob Magid.)

“Jordan is more vulnerable than other countries in the region for such protests,” Winter added, “not only because of the high percentage of Palestinians in its population, estimated as at least fifty percent, but also because of the relatively large operational space given to Islamist forces in the country, from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and its political representative, the Islamic Action Front, to the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS),” which is listed as a terror organization in a number of other Arab countries.

The slogan “All of Jordan is Hamas” has been a popular chant at the protests, alongside “Death to America, death to Israel.”

“The Hamas leadership has been deeply involved in efforts to recruit broad Arab and Islamic transnational public support for its struggle against Israel, and sees Jordan specifically as a promising and fertile ground for such recruitment efforts,” said Winter.

Hamas leaders have sought to stir up tensions in Jordan since the early days of the war. Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida addressed citizens of the kingdom in a speech in November, and called on them to escalate all forms of protest, saying: “You, our people in Jordan, are the nightmare of the occupation (Israel) that fears your mobilization and strives tirelessly to neutralize and isolate you from your cause.”

Placards with Abu Obeida’s picture have been a common sight at the latest protests.

More recently, former Hamas politburo head Khaled Mashaal, who survived a Mossad assassination attempt in Amman in 1997, took part remotely in a women’s event in Jordan, urging Muslims around the world to support the struggle so that “their blood will mix with the blood of the people of Palestine,” and calling for financial donations for the people of Gaza.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas’s honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)

Official criticism not enough

The Hashemite kingdom has been a vocal critic of the Jewish state since the early days of the war, which broke out on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping 253 into Gaza.

Jordan was the first country to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv when Israel fought back. It has called incessantly for a ceasefire in Gaza, and has delivered substantial amounts of aid to Gaza, including by airdrops in which King Abdullah II participated in person (in coordination with Israel). Hamas claims 32,000 Gazans have been killed — an unverifiable figure that does not distinguish between gunmen and civilians; Israel says it has killed 13,000 gunmen; over 250 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Queen Rania has gone as far as to claim that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is “deliberate.” And yet, the anti-Israel rhetoric of the leadership and the actions in support of Palestinians are not enough for many in the kingdom, who demand more decisive action.

This handout picture released by the Jordanian army on March 31, 2024, shows humanitarian aid being airdropped from a military aircraft over the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo by Jordanian army / AFP)

“While many in Israel view Jordan as overtly hostile, from the Jordanian public’s view, the government’s position has been overly nuanced. It has upheld the peace treaty with Israel, preserved the multi-billion dollar gas deal, kept the Israeli embassy in Amman, and also maintained a reported land bridge that allows Israel to bypass the Houthi [attacks on shipping],” Magid said.

“The war keeps going on and on, and the Jordanian public see no resolution in sight. There is significant discontent with the government’s position,” he added.

After 11 consecutive days of mass protests, the Hashemite regime has become concerned about the rallies, and has tried to downplay them or depict them as the work of troublemakers.

“When they do cover the protests, the government-aligned Jordanian press focuses on the breakdown of law and order, and quote police sources saying some demonstrators are rioters and vandals,” according to Magid.

The police crackdown, however, is not likely to intensify. “The Jordanian regime in general is more sophisticated than other Arab governments like Syria or even Egypt. They’re probably not going to start shooting at protesters with live fire or use heavy violence,” Magid predicted.

Jordanian security forces deploy during a demonstration near the US embassy in the capital Amman in solidarity with the people of Gaza on December 15, 2023, amid the war between Israel and the terror group Hamas. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

Unfulfillable demands

Given the strong alliance between the Hashemite regime and the US, it is unlikely that any of the demands to break off ties with Israel will be met, experts agree.

“That’s just not a sustainable policy for the government, considering they’re so dependent on annual US aid of around $1.5 billion along with Washington’s security guarantees. From the regime’s perspective, what the protesters are demanding is just impossible to fulfill,” Magid said.

Winter concurred. “The most pressing concerns for the Jordanian rule right now with regards to the war between Israel and Hamas are the smuggling of weapons from Jordan to the West Bank, and continued use of Jordanian airspace by drones targeting Israel coming from places such as Iraq and Yemen.

“The costs of canceling the water or gas deals with Israel would be very high for Jordan, given the lack of decent alternatives, so the regime will try its best to avoid them,” the researcher added. “The same applies to canceling the peace agreement with Israel, which continues to provide the Kingdom with political, financial, and security strategic benefits.”

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