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Israeli tourists face hostility in Jordan as peace process fades

JARASH, Jordan, Aug. 5 (JTA) — A man with a long, white beard stands in front of his household-goods store in this ancient Roman city in northern Jordan. “Life is quite good here, this is the Holy Land,” he said, “except that one should get rid of all the Zionists and throw them out.” Ali Ahmad Abu-Kishek has probably never seen a Zionist in his life, except on television. He was also unaware that the journalist he was talking to was a proud member of the Zionist entity. Abu-Kishek’s animosity toward Israel is shared by a growing number of Jordanians — despite the fact that nearly three years have elapsed since the two countries signed their historic peace treaty in October 1994. Much of the ill feeling toward Israel has been created by the ongoing crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations. That crisis has intensified in the wake of last week’s double suicide bombing in Jerusalem, which claimed 15 lives, including the two bombers. These adverse feelings expressed toward Israelis, who not so long ago were welcomed here with open arms, further signify the chasm between King Hussein and many Jordanians, who think he went too far too fast in his rapprochement with Israel. The latest developments also have boosted Jordan’s Islamic opposition, which wants to abrogate altogether the peace accord with Israel. The king is currently engaged in a fight with the political opposition over whether it will take part in the country’s elections, which are slated for November, and on what terms. At a recent Middle Eastern cultural festival here, Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis were among those attending. Several Israeli Arabs came as tourists, hungry for a good taste of Arab culture, and they said that they were comfortable introducing themselves as Israelis. But this Israeli Jew was decidedly uncomfortable for the first time after many recent visits to Arab countries. A self-introduction as a Jewish Israeli could prove dangerous, according to an official at the Israeli Embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman. “Do so at the Hashemiya Square in downtown Amman,” the official said, only half-joking, “and next day we shall read about you in the paper.” Nine months ago, interviews at that same site produced criticisms of Israel, but not outright hostility. Hussein often draws a line between his criticism of the present government in Israel and his continued support for the peace process. But his distinction is sometimes lost on the Jordanian public. Leila Sharaf, a member of the Jordanian Senate, brushed quickly past this Israeli, looking as if she had just encountered the devil himself. A massive influx of Israeli tourists to places like Jarash could have worked wonders on the local economy. Jordan, which pinned high hopes on the peace treaty with Israel, is plagued with heavy unemployment. The country, whose annual per capita income is $1,100, was the scene last year of violent demonstrations to protest the doubling of bread prices. There was an Israeli tourism boom in the immediate wake of the 1994 peace treaty. Some 250,000 Israelis visited Jordan in 1995. But that number was reduced by half the following year, and this year even further declines are expected. A series of Hamas terror attacks in Israel last year contributed to the decline. Enthusiasm on the part of Israelis to visit Jordan was further dampened in March of this year, after a Jordanian soldier shot and killed seven Israeli schoolchildren and wounded six others while they were on a field trip to Naharayim, a site on the Israeli-Jordanian border called “The Island of Peace.” “Some of these attacks may have nothing to do with Jordan,” said Avi Amir, manager of Neot Hakikar-Geographic Tours company, one of the largest tour operators in Israel. “But every such event reduces the number of Israelis wishing to visit Arab countries.”

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