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On Nov. 24, Jordanians rallied in downtown Amman in support of Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza

Gaza War Fallout: Hamas Enjoys “Unprecedented” Rise in Popularity in Jordan

Influential Jordanian tribes have joined protests against the war in Gaza as anger against the US spikes.

Words: Hanna Davis
Pictures: Hanna Davis

Before the Friday noon prayer on Nov. 24, the streets of downtown Amman filled up with Palestinian flags. For the seventh Friday in a row, thousands poured into the city center to rally in support of the political party and armed group Hamas and protest Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip. 

With atrocities mounting in Gaza, the demonstrators pointed the finger at the United States. “America is the head of the snake,” they chanted in Arabic. A large poster rose out of the sea of Palestinian flags: on it was a shoe plastered to US President Joe Biden’s face. “Biden is a war criminal and child killer,” the poster read.

In the weeks since a deadly Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, Israel’s war in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people — the deadliest violence since 1948, when fighting before, during and after Israel’s establishment forced more than 750,000 Palestinians to flee their homes. 

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has requested $14.3 billion for additional air and missile defense for Israel on top of the $3.8 billion Washington already provides Israel’s military each year.

In the crowd, 36-year-old Karen al-Khaldi held a poster she had drawn, depicting a muscular man running as he carries a weapon and reads in Arabic: “We are on the way to free Palestine.” Karen, who lives in Amman, said she is originally from Jenin, a city in the northern part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. She is among the estimated 60% of Jordanians who are of Palestinian origin. 

“We condemn the war crimes Israel has been committing,” Karen said. “America is unequal and inhumane, the source of all the money and weapons… Hamas is not a war criminal, as they say, but the party of resistance. Palestine is our right, from the river to the sea, and all people have the full right to defend their land.”

Throughout the war, the popularity of Hamas and its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, has risen “significantly” and at an unprecedented clip in Jordan, according to Abdullah Jbour, an analyst of Jordanian affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

The most vocal support for Hamas had formally come mostly from those Jordanians of Palestinian origin and Jordan’s Hamas-supportive political parties, such as the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. But as casualties soar in Gaza, Jordanians, notably those from the country’s largest tribes originating east of the Jordan River, are also raising their voices in support of armed resistance to Israel over political negotiations, Jbour explained. 

Embedded in the country’s security and political apparatuses, Jordan’s tribes have long served as the backbone of the state — and their vocal support for Hamas’ military wing carries heavy weight.  

In Amman in November 2023, children join a protest in support of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups fighting Israeli forces in Gaza. (Hanna Davis)
In Amman in November 2023, children join a protest in support of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups fighting Israeli forces in Gaza. (Hanna Davis)

In a video circulated on social media on Thursday, al-Qassam Brigades spokesperson Abu Obaida called on Jordanians “to escalate all forms of popular and mass resistance.” The post read: “There is no excuse to sit back and relax. The squares must be filled with anger.” For their part, Jordanians rallying in Friday demonstrations have heeded the call to back Abu Obaida and Mohammed Deif, the leader of al-Qassam Brigades. 

All together, they hold up the index fingers of their right hands, a gesture that symbolizes pointing toward God and one that Abu Obaida frequently performs during his speeches, shaking the finger along with the chanting crowd. 

“An Entire Ideology”

Down a country road lined with olive groves in the Jordanian governorate of Madaba is the estate of 78-year-old Jordanian tribal judge Trad Muhammad Muslat al-Fayez. He is a leader of the Bani Sakhr tribe, a powerful tribe with close ties to the country’s monarchy, Jbour said. 

Sheikh Trad Muhammad Muslat al-Fayez at his home in Madaba, Jordan on Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Hanna Davis
Tribal leader Sheikh Trad Muhammad Muslat al-Fayez says Hamas should be allowed to reopen its offices in Jordan. He is pictured here at his home in Madaba, Jordan on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (Hanna Davis)

From his living room framed by dozens of gold-tasseled couches, al-Fayez throws his support behind Hamas and the Palestinian armed groups fighting Israel: “Hamas are the fighters, not the terrorists. The terrorists are Biden and Netanyahu.”

But al-Fayez isn’t the only tribal leader backing Hamas and other armed groups fighting Israeli forces in Gaza. A growing number of press statements and video interviews with tribal leaders who express support for Hamas have gained traction on social media in recent weeks, Jbour explained. Meanwhile, tribal members have also joined and planned protests throughout Jordan, marching alongside Jordanian political parties that have historically supported Hamas.

On Nov. 3, al-Fayez called on the government to reopen Hamas’s long-shuttered offices in Jordan. “There should be a Hamas office in every country in the Arab world,” he said.

In the 1990s, Hamas was active in Jordan and operated offices in the country. During the group’s formative years, Jordan offered a sanctuary for Hamas, where it could operate closely with Muslim Brotherhood-linked parties, Jbour noted. But the office was closed in 1999, after King Abdullah II came under pressure from the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to restrain the Islamic militant group.

Office or not, the popularity of Hamas and its military wing is on the rise, Jbour argued, pointing to the recent string of protests in Jordan. Hamas is “no longer seen as just a movement, but an entire ideology” among Jordanians, Jabour wrote in a piece published at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

After decades of continuous failure to reach a solution for Israel and Palestine, Jewish settlements have expanded throughout the occupied territory, violence by settlers and Israeli forces against Palestinians has spiked and living conditions have deteriorated. To many Jordanians, Hamas’ military agenda is the only viable path for achieving any justice for Palestinians, Jbour said.

“Americans should wake up and rethink what they are doing.”

– Trad Muhammad Muslat al-Fayez

Additionally, the Palestinian Authority’s flailing support and the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations  have created a political vacuum in which a growing number of onetime supporters have left the PA’s ruling party, Fatah, to join Hamas.

“Hamas is a mindset. And a mindset, it will never end,” al-Fayez said. When Israel killed Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin in a 2004 missile attack, al-Fayez added, they “thought they would end Hamas. But the Hamas mindset came back triple the size.” 

The way al-Fayez sees it, “Americans should wake up and rethink what they are doing.”

“Lack of Respect

Down the halls of the Jordanian senate in Amman is Sheikh Talal al-Madi’s office. A longtime senator, al-Madi also serves as the head of the Jordanian tribal council and is a leader in a strong, well-respected tribe in Jordan. 

Sheikh Talal al-Madi poses for photo in his office on Nov. 21, 2023, in Amman, Jordan (Hanna Davis)
Tribal leader and Jordanian senator Talal al-Madi says US support for Israel's war in Gaza will fuel anti-American sentiment in the region. He poses here for a photo in his office on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, in Amman, Jordan. (Hanna Davis)

Peering sternly over his desk, al-Madi insisted that the Israel-Hamas war has “exposed the real face of the Western world, especially America,” adding: “It has shown the lack of respect the US has for the Arab world. It’s a criminal state, which doesn’t believe in humanity; that doesn’t believe in children’s rights, or women’s rights.”

According to al-Madi, Israel is “America’s spoiled little boy.” On the other hand, he argued: “Hamas is an idea of freedom and an idea of liberty. It is in every Jordanian household and in all of the free world.”

As public support for Hamas and armed Palestinian resistance swells — particularly among tribal leaders like al-Madi and al-Fayez — the tone coming out of Jordan’s foreign ministry towards Israel has also taken a sharp turn.

Under the watchful eye of Jordan’s largest donor, the US, Jordan has held a fragile peace agreement with Israel since 1994, and the two neighbors have long worked together to secure their 147-mile shared border. But as the war in Gaza deepens, Jordan has made a series of major diplomatic moves against Israel, including recalling its Israeli ambassador and announcing it would not sign a water-for-energy deal with Israel.

At odds with Hamas and lacking meaningful leverage against Israel, King Abdullah II had largely lost his ability to serve as an effective mediator in the Israel-Palestine conflict. But with the war barreling forward, he has reemerged with calls for a humanitarian ceasefire. In late October, the Jordanian resolution for a ceasefire was adopted by 120 countries in the United Nations General Assembly.

Jordan fears an Israeli offensive in the West Bank, which could force millions of Palestinians to flee to Jordan, or an explosion of the conflict within its own territory, Jbour said. The government has already bolstered its military presence on the Israeli border and prevented protesters from gathering in border areas. 

On Friday, Nov. 17, thousands rally in downtown Amman as public support for Hamas grows in Jordan. (Hanna Davis)
On Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 thousands rally in downtown Amman as public support for Hamas grows in Jordan. (Hanna Davis)

“We are pressuring the government and the leadership to kick out the US and end US relations in the Middle East,” al-Fayez said from his estate in Madaba. “We are like a balloon. The more you kill us, the more it blows up, and it will explode… If they opened the borders, all the Jordanians would be ready to fight.”

For his part, al-Madi was less optimistic about the odds of Jordan severing ties with the US. After all, the Kingdom remains tethered to US interests by its billion-dollar American aid package. Nonetheless, he warned that US support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza will cause the image of the American government and its people to deteriorate further in the region. 

“We used to see the American people through the Statue of Liberty, through liberty and justice,” he added. “Now we see them as people of destruction through tanks [and] airplanes. Americans have no right to speak about freedom.”

Back at the protest in Amman’s downtown, demonstrators shouted in support of Palestinian freedom. Thousands thrusted their hands in the air, shaping their fingers into peace signs — a symbol of victory for Palestinians. 

Holding her poster, Karen said, “Palestinians should be able to live in peace, with their basic rights and without enemies.” 

Cover image: In Amman on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, Jordanians protest and hold a banner that reads “Resistance is our choice.” (Hanna Davis)

Hanna Davis

Hanna Davis is a freelance journalist reporting on politics, foreign policy, and humanitarian affairs.

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