Jordanians 'Disappointed’ With Response to Killing of Judge at Israeli Border

Incident at Allenby Bridge in March elicited angry threats from politicians, but four months later Israel is still investigating and bilateral ties seem unchanged.

Aaron Magid
Aaron Magid
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Jordanian lawyers and judges burn a representation of the Israeli flag during a strike over the killing of Jordanian judge Raed Zueter, Amman, Jordan, March 11, 2014.
Jordanian lawyers and judges burn a representation of the Israeli flag during a strike over the killing of Jordanian judge Raed Zueter, Amman, Jordan, March 11, 2014.Credit: AP
Aaron Magid
Aaron Magid

AMMAN, Jordan — Immediately following the fatal shooting in March of a Jordanian judge by an Israeli soldier at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, tensions ran high in Jordan. Angry protestors gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman, denouncing the attack. “After the investigations, tough measures should be taken against those responsible for the shooting,” Jordan’s Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications, Mohammad Momani, said. Khalil Atiyeh, a veteran member of the Jordanian parliament, said he and his colleagues would apply “maximum pressure on the government to expel the Israeli ambassador from Amman.”

In the first few days after Raed Zueter’s death, each side stuck to its story. The Israel Defense Forces says Zueter lunged with a metal pole at soldiers guarding the terminal, who opened fire in self-defense, killing the judge. But Jordanian eyewitnesses say the shooting was prompted by a scuffle that began when an Israeli soldier shoved Zueter.

Despite the fiery rhetoric immediately after the incident, nearly four months after the March 10 shooting, ties between Amman and Jerusalem are virtually unchanged, with no concrete action taken against Israel. The Israeli ambassador remains in Amman, Israel has not offered compensation to Zueter’s family and no soldier has been charged over the death. In an interview, the Israeli Ambassador to Jordan, Daniel Nevo, said that the heightened tensions immediately after the shooting soon “faded away,” and ties between Jerusalem and Amman are “back to normal.” He cited strong security contacts and a joint water program as proof of the unimpeded ties.

On the Jordanian side, Mohmani noted in an interview that the investigation is still under way. When asked about his earlier harsh comments, he responded, “We don’t want to do anything before the investigation ends. We thought it was more logical in light of our international credibility to wait to know the whole truth before we do anything else.”

Yet many Jordanians are frustrated with their government’s response. MP Tarek Khoury explained in an interview, “I was disappointed big time with the king and the government” in how they responded to this incident. Commenting on the need for additional concrete steps, Rula Hroob, The House Rights and Freedoms Committee Chairperson declared, “We need to know why [Zueter] was shot and we need his family to get compensation.”

The IDF Military Spokesman’s Office declined to comment for this article, as its investigation is ongoing. Alon Ben David, defense correspondent for Israel Channel 10 news, called the prolonged investigation unusual. “This is mostly an embarrassing incident. it is extended in order to soothe things down on the Jordanian side.”

Jordanians also cite the issue of malfunctioning security cameras at the border crossing, a rare occurrence, adding to their mistrust of the Israeli version. While Nevo backed the soldier’s actions, based on consultation with Israeli security services, with no government investigation released to the public, he admitted in an interview, “I understand that the man from the street is suspicious with too many questions still unanswered.”

Some blame the MPs for the lack of decisive action. Mohammed Hussainy, Director of the Identity Center, a Jordanian think tank focused on regional politics, said the parliament’s response was wrong, with unrealistic demands: Some MPs called for the abrogation of the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan or the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Hussainy said MPs should have demanded more moderate measures, such as pressing for a deadline for the release of the results of the government investigation.

Hroob said the parliament’s conduct — bold calls for harsh sanctions against Israel immediately after the shooting and a minimal response months later — has further undermined the legislature’s legitimacy in the eyes of Jordanians.

The question remains, if the Jordanian media and public were so angry about this incident, why didn’t the Jordanian government take harsher steps against Israel?

“The government thinks that its good relations with Israel keeps its support from the United States, with all of the loans and finances,” Khoury said. “They say why should we make out of this a big problem for one guy and lose many other things?” Hroob pointed to the turbulent regional developments, especially in Syria and Iraq, along with the challenging economic environment that has pushed many Jordanians and King Abdullah’s attention away from the Allenby Bridge shooting. Others say that the tensions between East Bank Jordanians and those of Palestinian origins divide Jordanian society on this sensitive issue and preclude the political unity necessary for decisive action.

Sitting in his parliamentary office in Amman, with maps of Palestine and pictures of Jerusalem hanging on the wall, Khoury admitted that little would change. After contrasting the strong Turkish response to the contested Israeli killings on the Mavi Marmara Gaza-bound ship in 2010, Khoury resigned himself to the unique challenges facing Jordan sighing in response to Zeuter’s death, “I gave up that Jordan can do something.”

Th author, a Harvard graduate student in Middle Eastern Studies, has written on regional politics in The New Republic, Al-Monitor and Lebanon’s Daily Star. He tweets at @AaronMagid.

The Allenby border crossing, where Jordanian judge Raed Zueter was killed by IDF fire earlier in March.Credit: Lior Mizrahi

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