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Photo: AFP
Photos: AFP
Photo: AFP

Israelis bid farewell to an Island of Peace

25 years of visits to the Jordan River enclave come to an end as Amman reclaims territory leased to its neighbor as the two countries signed the 1994 peace treaty

On Saturday, at 16:25, Ben and Lotan, two soldiers in the IDF 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.

 

Israeli soldier closing the gate into the Island of Peace (Photos: AFP)
Israeli soldier closing the gate into the Island of Peace (Photos: AFP)

 

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 memorial for the seven dead students of the 1997 massacre at the island (Photos: Wikipedia)
The memorial for the seven dead students of the 1997 massacre at the island (Photos: Wikipedia)

 

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

 

The Island of Peace has come to include and 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.

 

 

King Hussein of Jordan pays a condolence visit to the family of one of the victims of the terror attack at the Island of Peace (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
King Hussein of Jordan pays a condolence visit to the family of one of the victims of the terror attack at the Island of Peace (Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

 

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 teh 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 B'Shvat, 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 away," he said.  

 

Inbal Ravid from Gedara also made her way to the site to make her final farewell.

 

"We came to say goodbye and it's so weird, so superfluous," she says. "Both sides are to blame, the Israeli government should have prepared ahead and not dealt with a third election."

 

 The old hydro-electric dam (Photos: AFP)
The old hydro-electric dam (Photos: AFP)

 

Ffiteen-year-old Naor Chelouche from Acre, on his first visit to the island, emphasized the importance of young Israelis visiting the location.

 

"Personally, I don't think we should give the enclave back. Many Israeli farmers make their living working here and it's a shame for them to be harmed," said Chelouche.

 

Avner Ron, a resident from nearby Kibbutz 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 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  

 

 

 

 


פרסום ראשון: 11.10.19, 22:00
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