Island of Peace massacre
|Island of Peace massacre|
|Location||Island of Peace on the Israeli-Jordanian border|
|Date||March 13, 1997|
|Deaths||7 Israeli schoolgirls|
|5 Israeli schoolgirls
1 Israeli teacher
|Perpetrator||Jordanian Army Corporal Ahmed Daqamseh|
The Island of Peace massacre was a mass murder attack that occurred at the Island of Peace site in Naharayim on March 13, 1997 in which a Jordanian soldier opened fire at a large group of Israeli schoolgirls from the AMIT Fuerst School in Beit Shemesh who were on a class field trip, killing seven of them and injuring six others.
The shooter, who expressed pride for his actions, was imprisoned by Jordanian authorities, but was later called a "hero" by the Jordanian Justice Minister, Hussein Mjalli, and Parliament, who called for his release.
On Thursday, March 13, 1997, 80 seventh and eighth grade schoolgirls from the Feurst School in Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, were on a field trip to the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. Part of the trip was to Naharayim, visiting the "Island of Peace", a joint Israeli-Jordanian tourist resort under Jordanian rule.
During the afternoon, the class reached the "Island of Peace" site, the girls got off the bus. As the girls were heading towards the observatory a Jordanian soldier stationed at the site, opened fire on the group with an M-16 rifle after they reportedly whistled and clapped while he was praying. The perpetrator killed seven schoolgirls and wounded five others and a teacher before his rifle jammed and the Jordanian soldiers seized him.
Speaking on Al Jazeera in May 2001, Daqamseh's mother said, "I am proud of my son, and I hold my head high. My son did a heroic deed and has pleased Allah and his own conscience. My son lifts my head and the head of the entire Arab and Islamic nation. I am proud of any Muslim who does what Ahmad did. I hope that I am not saying something wrong. When my son went to prison, they asked him: 'Ahmad, do you regret it?' He answered: 'I have no regrets.' He treated everyone to coffee, honored all the other prisoners, and said: The only thing that I am angry about is the gun, which did not work properly. Otherwise I would have killed all of the passengers on the bus."
On March 16, 1997, a few days after the attack, King Hussein of Jordan personally apologized for the incident, travelling to Israel to visit and pay respects to the grieving families of the seven murdered girls during the traditional Jewish mourning ceremony known as shiva. King Hussein's visit to the parents of the victims was broadcast live in Israel and Jordan. During the visit, in which King Hussein stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he expressed an apology on behalf of the Kingdom of Jordan telling the parents, "Your daughter is like my daughter. Your loss is my loss." He added that they were all "members of one family" and that the shooting was "a crime that is a shame for all of us... I feel as if I have lost a child of my own. If there is any purpose in life it will be to make sure that all the children no longer suffer the way our generation did."
Afterwards King Hussein also visited the wounded schoolgirls in the hospital, and offered to provide financial compensation to the families affected by the attack.
King Hussein's sincere act was an unusual act in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict which deeply moved the mourning Israeli public and helped improve the relationship between the two countries after the attack. Nevertheless, various Jordanian individuals and groups criticized King Hussein's act for prostrating himself before Israel.
Trial and conviction
While the majority of Jordanians disapproved of the attacks and expressed sympathy for the victims, Daqamseh became a hero to some Jordanians who opposed normalization with Israel. Police prevented a pilgrimage to his house, and 200 Jordanian lawyers led by the Jordanian Bar Association competed to represent him.
In July 1997, a five-member Jordanian military tribunal found Daqamseh guilty of killing the Israeli schoolgirls, sentencing him to life imprisonment with hard labor. Under Jordanian law, a life sentence is equivalent to 25 years in prison. He could have faced the death penalty but the tribunal spared him because he was determined to be mentally unstable.
Jordan’s justice minister's call for Daqamseh's release
On February 14, 2011, Jordan’s new justice minister Hussein Mjalli joined dozens of protesters in demanding the early release of Daqamseh. Mjalli, a long-time oppositionist, was appointed to the position as a result of the 2011 Jordanian protests, part of the larger Arab Spring against the region's established regimes.
Mjalli previously served as the defense lawyer of Daqamseh in his 1997 trial. As an Arab nationalist opposed to the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty, Mjalli views Daqamseh as a hero who should not be in prison. The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Mjalli’s comments were received in Israel with "revulsion and shock." Israeli Embassy spokeswoman Merav Horsandi said it "is difficult for us to comprehend how there are people who support the release of a cold-blooded murderer of young children."
To allay Israeli concerns and anger regarding a possible early release, Jordan's foreign ministry issued a statement reassuring that Daqamseh would serve out his life sentence and that Mjalli had just expressed his personal opinion.
Jordanian parliament calls for Daqamseh's release
In April 2013, 110 of 120 Jordanian Members of Parliament signed a petition calling for the release of Daqamseh. The petition called for a special pardon to release him. The cause of the petition is that Daqamseh allegedly finished his sentence.
The families of the seven murdered schoolgirls expressed outrage over the petition and vowed to do everything in their power to thwart Daqamseh's release. Nurit Fatihi, mother of Sivan Fatihi, said: "I expected [Daqamseh] to rot in jail, but I see I can’t count on the Jordanian court and authorities to promote justice. We’ve addressed government officials in the past, but it didn’t really help... Just like I will never see my daughter again, so too he does not deserve to see his family. Every one of the girls would have a family and children by now." On April 15, 2013, during Yom Hazikaron, the families of the victims held a memorial service in front of the Jordanian embassy in Ramat Gan. At the end of the ceremony, the Jordanian ambassador, Walid Khalid Obeidat, invited the parents into the embassy, and assured them that Daqamesh would not be released.
- Okbi, Yasser (12 April 2013). "Jordan MPs: Free man who killed 7 Israeli girls". Jerusalem Post.
- House majority call for release of ex-Jordanian soldier, Ammon News 04-04-2013
- Serge Schmemann (13 March 1997). "Jordanian Soldier Kills 7 Israeli Schoolgirls". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
- "Jordan minister: Release soldier who shot Israelis". The Jerusalem Post. Associated Press. 15 February 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
- Sivan Fathi (Hebrew)
- Karen Cohen (Hebrew)
- Ya'ala Me'iri (Hebrew)
- Shiri Badayev (Hebrew)
- Natali Alkalai (Hebrew)
- Adi Malka (Hebrew)
- Nirit Cohen (Hebrew)
- Karsh, Efraim; Kumaraswamy, P. R., eds. (2003). Israel, the Hashemites, and the Palestinians: the fateful triangle. Psychology Press. p. 157. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
- "The Intifada and the Fate of Arab Regimes". Al Jazeera. MEMRI. 24 July 2001. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- Archives : The Rocky Mountain News
- Serge Schmemann (16 March 1997). "A Time to Mourn: King Hussein Comforts Israelis". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
- Jerrold Kessel (16 March 1997). "With condolence visit to Israel, King Hussein spurs talks". CNN. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
- "Jordan Soldier Convicted In Killings of Israeli Girls". The New York Times. 20 July 1997. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- David E. Miller (17 February 2011). "'Jordanian-Israeli ties solid despite inflammatory words'". The Jerusalem Post. The Media Line. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
- "Jordan: Israelis' killer will serve life sentence". Associated Press. 17 February 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
- Outraged Naharayim families to fight call for Jordanian murderer’s release, Times of Israel 13-04-2013
- Peres Prime Minister Netanyahu on Shooting in Naharayim - published at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Jordanian Soldier Kills 7 Israeli Schoolgirls - published on the New York Times on March 14, 1997
- Hussein, on His Knees, Begs Forgiveness for Massacre; Jordanian King Visits Families of Slain Israeli Girls - published on the Washington Post on March 17, 1997