On Wednesday, March 30, 2022, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog flew to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II. Officials timed the visit to give Herzog and the Hashemite ruler a chance at smoothing over simmering tensions just ahead of Ramadan.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, although in its essence a time to celebrate peace, charity, and repentance, has recently seen an escalation in the number and intensity of terroristic attacks on Jews in Israel and around the world. This year, Ramadan, Easter, and Passover fall at the same time of year, potentially heightening both religious observance and historic tensions.
Herzog’s visit marked the first time an Israeli president had visited Jordan in an official capacity. It followed a trip to Amman by Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz and a rare visit to Ramallah in the West Bank by King Abdullah.
It also comes after one of the deadliest strings of terror attacks to take place in Israel in years.
Bnei Brak, Hadera, and Beersheba suffer unspeakable tragedy
On March 29, 2022, a Palestinian gunman illegally in Israel from the West Bank used an M-16 assault rifle to slaughter five people in the space of about 10 minutes in the city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv. The victims were random individuals—two Ukrainian nationals at a neighborhood grocery store, a parent trying to protect a baby in a stroller, a man who stopped his car to intervene in the violence, and a police officer—tragically shot as they were going about their everyday lives and work.
These murders came on the heels of two other attacks within a week by Israeli Arabs against Israeli Jews, with the death toll for the three closely spaced but apparently separate assaults standing at 11. In the earlier two cases, in the cities of Beersheba and Hadera, the assailants were allegedly linked to or inspired by the Islamic State terror group (ISIS). In all three deadly events, the terrorists were shot dead by law enforcement or civilians.
At the funeral of one of the Beersheba victims, the victim’s husband said that the attackers had chosen to kill his wife “for no reason,” solely “because she was Jewish.”
Campaigns of viciousness
Although Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took the unusual step of publicly condemning the killing sprees, members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad celebrated in the streets. Survey after survey has shown that numerous everyday Palestinians view such civilian murders as equivalent to the deaths of enemy combatants.
These are life-changing tragedies for the families who have lost their loved ones, but they are also folded into the diplomatic narrative of the Middle East. The militant branch of the Palestinian Fatah movement known as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the killings, declaring that the attacks were a “clear message written in blood” as a reply to a high-profile meeting held that same week in the Negev desert.
Diplomacy amid horror
At that meeting, Israel hosted top-level diplomats from the United States and four Muslim-majority nations (Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates), with which it has concluded normalization agreements. Without concluding official documents, the participants nevertheless pledged greater cooperation with one another in diplomatic and economic efforts. The issue of what to do about Iran and its nuclear program loomed large over the summit, with all the participants to one degree or another coalescing into a de facto “stop Iran” bloc.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he saw the meeting as a means of cementing a growing trend toward normalization between Israel and its neighbors that is becoming the “new normal” in the Mideast. It was at this Negev Summit that Blinken, who is Jewish, made a historic visit to the grave of Israel’s founding prime minister in the company of Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid.
Many foreign analysts heralded the summit as a powerful statement about the strength of the US-Israel relationship and the developing alliances of both nations with more moderate Arab governments amid fragile negotiations with a nuclear Iran and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For yet-undetermined goods or ills, all these developments point to a rapid reconfiguring of the geopolitical order that has not been seen in this generation.
Blinken also met with Palestinian leaders, who have felt increasingly sidelined by the recent cooperative and trade agreements between Israel and its Arab partners. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drawing renewed attention by the tragic spate of killings, also loomed large over the summit.
As the Jerusalem Post has pointed out, most Christians did not participate in the hateful violence directed at European Jews over the centuries during Easter Holy Week, and most Muslims aren’t going to murder Jews in the name of Ramadan. The problem is, it only takes one person poisoned by the worst and most inhumane aspects of religious fervor to end the lives of strangers in a minute.