Photo Credit: Basel Awidat/Flash90
Israeli soldiers close the gate leading to the Island of Peace in Naharayim, November 9, 2019.

Less than a day after returning the Island of Peace in Naharayim to Jordan, on Sunday morning, the IDF declared the Tsofar enclave area at the entrance to the Arava desert a closed military zone, ahead of its return to Jordanian possession.

But at the same time, according to Ynet, the security officer of Tamar Regional Council said the gate to the Tsofar enclave remains open for Israeli farmers.

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Naharayim is a historic site in the Jordan Valley, at the border between Israel and Jordan, near the settlement of Menahemia in north-eastern Israel. On November 9, 2019, the area was handed over to the Kingdom of Jordan, having been under Israeli control for more than 70 years.

The site includes the now inactive power plant belonging to the Israel Electric Company, on the banks of the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers (Nahar means river in Hebrew, two rivers – Naharayim).

A Thai worker picks red peppers in the fields of Tsofar, on Israel’s border with Jordan. / Flash90

Israel and Jordan have agreed in principle that Tsofar farmers may continue to cultivate their lands in the enclave until May 2020. But they didn’t put it in writing – mostly because Jordan’s King Abdullah II is under constant threats to his life from about 80% of his loyal subjects who would rather see him dead than let Jews hold on to lands which otherwise are expected to undergo desertification.

31 Jewish farmers cultivate 370 acres in the enclave. This is their source of livelihood and their future is invested there. It has been part of their home since Israel’s War of Independence. Ashdot Yaakov farmers have been cultivating close to 200 acres in the area. They, too, were hoping for a last-minute change, but none happened.

Meanwhile, things are tense but everything continues along according to the unofficial deal. Saturday night, IDF soldiers closed off the bridge leading from Route 90 to the Island of Peace in Naharayim.

The old power plant in Naharayim, March 31, 2017. / Yaakov Lederman/Flash90

In July of 1932, the old man of Naharayim, Pinhas Rutenberg, a Russian Jewish engineer, businessman and political activist, inaugurated the first of what he had hoped would be 13 hydroelectric power plants in the Land of Israel. Renewable energy, no coal or gasoline required. Three turbines were installed at the Naharayim plant, and room was made for a fourth turbine which was never installed. The power output was about 18 megawatts. The commonly accepted math is that one megawatt can power one thousand homes.

Avner Ron, a farmer who owns land in Naharayim, told Army Radio: “How can we leave behind land that is ours and hand it over to Jordanians who are unable to cultivate it?”

“The feeling is of sadness and disappointment,” Jordan Valley Regional Council Chairman Idan Greenbaum said on Saturday. “We have no complaints against the Jordanians, but against our own government. We are citizens of Israel, not citizens of Jordan. We expected our government to make some kind of statement, that some official come down here and say to the farmers here, Thank you for 70 years of continuing to cultivate the land, in time of war and a time of peace, guarding our country’s territory. Nobody came, it didn’t matter to anyone, as if we weren’t counted.”

The peace agreement between Israel and Jordan stipulated that the international border would be determined in accordance with the 1948 mandatory border, so that Israel recognized Jordan’s ownership of the area while Jordan recognized Israel’s possession for 25 years, a period to be extended automatically unless one of the sides objected and gave notice one year ahead of the conclusion of those 25 years.

On October 21, 2018, Abdullah II of Jordan announced that he was opposed to the renewal of the special agreement in the Naharayim area as well as the Tsofar enclave. And that was that.

About two weeks ago, the peace deal between Jordan and Israel reached its 25th anniversary. Under this deal Jordan gets its portion of lake Kinneret water, no matter if the year before had been rainy or dry – resulting in a faster drop of the lake’s water level which has been under the red line since the historic peace began. Jordan also receives Israeli natural gas at rock bottom prices. Jordan is also home to Israeli industry, which relishes the low pay of Jordanian workers, at the expense of Jewish ones back home.

Israel receives daily vilification by Jordan’s parliament, the occasional anti-Israel riot, and—how can we forget—the Jordanian Waqf’s rule over the Temple Mount.

So, we’re about even…

Incidentally, no representative from either government celebrated the historic peace on its 25th anniversary. Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the embassies in Tel Aviv and Amman decided not to hold an event to mark the date.

Who can blame them?

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