Under US pressure, Jordan hit by furore over Palestinian ex-prisoner's deportation
The Jordanian government and a popular radio station have come under pressure over the deportation of a Palestinian who spent 20 years in Israeli prison, and the alleged muzzling of his wife, who was convicted for a deadly attack on Israelis in Jerusalem.
Nizar Tamimi, 46, arrived in Qatar earlier this week after the Jordanian government refused to renew his rolling three-month residency. Quickly the move was perceived as an attempt to relieve pressure from Washington, which has placed his wife on its most-wanted terrorist list.
Nizar and his wife Ahlam were both freed from Israeli prison in a 2011 prisoner exchange with Hamas. Nizar had been convicted for the 1993 murder of Chaim Mizrahi, an Israeli student living in the Beit El settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Ahlam, meanwhile, was imprisoned for her role in the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 15 people, including seven children. She was sentenced to 16 life terms, though after her release has lived in Jordan, where she has regularly made media appearances.
Ahlam Tamimi remains, however, wanted by the United States, which in June said that the billions of dollars it provides in aid to Jordan could be leveraged to extradite her. But in 2017 a Jordanian court ruled she could not be extradited as she has Jordanian citizenship and a 1995 extradition treaty with the US was not ratified by parliament.
Nizar Tamimi was given 48 hours to leave Jordan. “The security officials asked me to leave Jordan immediately and that their decision is final and nonnegotiable no matter what,” he told the Palestinian Media Center.
“This happened so quickly, not leaving a chance for any intervention to get the order changed. All efforts in this regard failed, all I could do was ask for a couple of days to organise my life before leaving,” he added.
“I was told of the decision without any explanation of why it was taken. I had to leave on 1 October against my will. I had to go to Qatar because I have residency in that country.”
Appeal to the king
Following Nizar Tamimi’s deportation, Ahlam appeared on Jordan Melody FM radio station to appeal to King Abdullah II to review the decision.
As she spoke, however, her line was cut off, leading many Jordanians and Palestinians in the kingdom to complain she was being censored. The radio station insists the interruption was not intentional.
In response, Ahlam Tamimi’s supporters have launched a widespread social media campaign calling for her and her husband to be protected from extradition and deportation. Meanwhile, much anger has been directed at Jordan Melody FM, which has faced calls to be boycotted and since apologised.
Ahlam Tamimi told Middle East Eye she does not accept the radio station’s explanation.
'We are the ones who initiated the call with her, why would we want to cut off the conversation?'
- Jessy Abu Faisal, Jordan Melody FM
“The issue doesn’t need explaining and the message behind cutting off my call was clear. I wanted to plead the case of my husband Nizar Samir Tamimi, a Palestinian citizen who was released after 20 years in Israeli jails,” she said.
“I am a Jordanian citizen, born in Zarqa, I have a constitutional right of family reunification. The officials who asked my husband to leave didn’t explain the reason but only said that he is no longer desired to stay in Jordan.”
Jessy Abu Faisal, director of Melody FM, insisted to MEE the problem was a technical one.
“We are the ones who initiated the call with her, why would we want to cut off the conversation?” she said.
“The technical problem has to do with a sound unit that is not connected to the main mixer board. That is why Ahlam’s voice was very clear to the radio listeners, but the anchorperson was unable to hear properly and the call was cut off.”
Ahlam Tamimi was cut off after the anchor, Jihad Abu Baidar, signalled to the sound engineer to sever the line. Abu Faisal said Abu Baidar only did this because he was struggling to hear her.
“We cut off the call and tried to reconnect with her, but she refused to get on. Later we were surprised to hear about this all over social media. It was simply a technical issue no more,” Abu Faisal said.
Nizar Tamimi’s deportation is likely an attempt by Jordan to encourage Ahlam to leave the kingdom, and alleviate it from US pressure. It is not clear if she will join her husband.
Qatar does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, so attempts to imprison her there would not necessarily be made easier with her departure.
Two US citizens were killed in the Sbarro pizzeria bombing, one of the deadliest attacks during the Second Intifada. Ahlam Tamimi, a member of Hamas, was allegedly the mastermind for the attack and chose the target.
The FBI has placed a $5m bounty on her head.
Seven US Congressmen sent a letter in May to Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar calling on Jordan to hand her over, and warning of punishment if it fails to do so.
When asked if Nizar Tamimi’s deportation was linked to US pressure, an official source told MEE it was related to the conditions of his residency and it is up to the authorities to do what they feel is appropriate.
The source said the Jordanian government has no plans to “hand over Ahlam Tamimi to the Americans, in accordance with Jordanian law that bars handing over a citizen to a country unless there is an agreement in this regard with that country.”
The source added that there is no such agreement between Jordan and the US, and therefore “we are bound by law not to hand her over to the Americans”.