Israelis Bid Farewell to an Island of Peace

November 11, 2019

by: Israel Moskowitz

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The memorial for the seven students killed in the 1997 massacre in the land Israel leased from Jordan

Monday, 11 November 2019 | On Saturday, at 16:25 [4:25 p.m.], Ben and Lotan, two soldiers in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] Armored corps, closed the yellow gate leading to the “Island of Peace” in Naharayim, ending 25 years of Israeli visits to the site.

Thousands came over the last few days to seize the opportunity and visit the location for the last time before its closure.

In October of last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah notified Israel that his country would not renew the deal over Naharayim, a spot of land where the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers meet, and another location deep in the Negev Desert, south of the Dead Sea, where Israeli farmers have large plantations, known in Hebrew as Tzofar.

Under the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, the two areas were recognized as under Jordanian sovereignty but gave Israel special provision to use the land and allow Israelis free access. Furthermore, at Naharayim, Israeli private property rights were respected.

The Naharayim enclave has become over the years a tourist attraction, holding within it the Island of Peace and the abandoned Rutenberg hydroelectric power plant—the first electricity plant in Israel that was built in 1932.

The Island of Peace has come to include a memorial to a deadly 1997 terror attack at the site that killed seven Israeli schoolgirls.

On March 13, 1997, the AMIT Fuerst Zionist religious junior high school from Beit Shemesh was on a class trip to the Jordan Valley and the Island of Peace. A Jordanian soldier named Ahmed Daqamseh opened fire at the children, killing seven girls aged 13 and 14 and badly wounding six others.

Daqamseh was apprehended by Israeli authorities and served a 20-year prison sentence, eventually being released in 2017.

Yisrael Fatihi, whose daughter Sivan died in the terror attack, said that although he will no longer be able to visit the memorial at the site, he will visit the area to look at it from afar.

“The area (Naharayim) is not holy to me, the memorial site on its grounds is,” he said. “Every Tu BiShvat [New Year for Trees], families would go up there, plant trees and take hikes.

“It saddens me I won’t be able to visit it again. I’ll still come and look at it, from 300 meters [984 feet] away,” he said.

Avner Ron, a resident from nearby Kibbutz [collective community] Ashdot Ya’akov Ihud and a tour guide at the site for many years, looked glumly at the last visitors and across the Jordan Valley.

“I don’t know what I am going to do now. I don’t know if I’ve lost my job. Thankfully I live on a kibbutz or else I would be unemployed,” he said.

After the many visitors to the island left, the Jordanian government on Saturday told the residents of Ashdot Ya’akov Ihud to say farewell to the area. Their visit was the last entry by Israelis to the site.

Smadar Perry also contributed to this article

Posted on November 11, 2019

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Ynetnews on November 10, 2019. Time related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See the original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Yoavd/wikimedia.org

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