Large and exorbitantly priced color television sets are selling like hot latkes throughtout Israel - even though Israeli television broadcasts only in black and white.
The reason is that Israel's nominal enemy to the east, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon, has one of the most modern television broadcasting systems in the Arab world, and all of it in living, royal color.
Israelis cannot get enough of it. Enormously high television antennae rise above the skyline in order to insure good reception from Amman.
"Let's look over Jordan and see what we see," says a Jerusalem viewer as she turned in boredom from a complex political discussion to the Wonderful World of Disney on Jordanian TV.
Jordanian television schedules are listed in Israeli newspapers and, for their part, the Jordanians broadcast a half hour of news in Hebrew for the benefit of their eavesdroppers.
"Nobody pays much attention to the propaganda aspect of it." Jerusalem Post television critic, Philip Gillon, says "But there have been times, such as the early days of the 1973 war when everyone watched Jordan because they were telling the truth while our fellows were lying." The first news of the early Israeli reversals and television footage of Israeli [WORD ILLEGIBLE] news made a great impact in Israel.
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] unofficial television link is only [WORD ILLEGIBLE] many contracts that make Jordon and Israel the odd couple of the Middle East.Although Jordan is no less enemy of Isral than any other Arab country - officially a state of war still exists - there is more intercourse between the two than Israel has with any other neighbor.
When Israel captured the territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River from Jordan in the 1967 war, then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was credited with the "open bridges" policy under which West Bank farmers could continue to sell their products and travel back and forth to Amman, the Jordanian capital.
In the 10 years since the 1967 war there have been 6 million such crossings - not only by residents of the West Bank but by Arabs from elsewhere in the Arab world and by just plain tourists.
Last year, for example, 1,199,894 people crossed the bridges over the Jordan River that divide Jordan from the West Bank and Gaza to the markets of Amman. From there they are sold throughout the Arab world.
It is possible for an American or European tourist, to visit Jordan and receive a pass to visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth or Tel Aviv and then return to Amman. Both Jordan and Israel benefit from this tourist trade and last year 34,000 non-Arab tourists crossed over the Jordan. It is however, extremely difficult to cross from Israel into Jordan, and Jordan will allow the round trip to be made only from its side.
In a sense, the West Bank is run joinlty by Israel and Jordan. The Israelis are in charge of security - the West Bank is administered under military occupation - and Jordan pays most of the salaries of civil servants and teachers. Jordanian dinars are legal tender not only on the West Bank but in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.
Most West Bank residents hold Jordanian passports and, although most would rather have a Palestinian state of their own one day, at least they are not stateless persons as are many Palestinian state of their own one day, at least they are not stateless persons as are many Palestinians in other countries.
Jordan, with half its population made up of people who originally came from the West Bank, is the only Arab country to have made a serious attempt at integrating the Palestinians who fled or were driven from what is now Israel in the 1948 war.
Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba is less than five miles from Israel's port of Eilat and the citizens of both towns can watch each other's ships being unloaded. Even during the fierce fighting near Eilat and Aqaba. Pleasure boats from both ports dot the bay and one Israeli officer on frontier duty remembers watching King Hussein water skiing.
One senses when talking to Jordanian officials in Amman that they understand the Israelis better than do officials in Cairo or Damascus and King Hussein himself has had several face-to-face meetings with Israeli leaders over the years. They long preceded Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic encounter but were clandestine and hence without impact.
Jordan's information minister, Adnan Abu Odeh, wrote as early as 1975 that Israel's desire for security was "both genuine and understandable." He wrote that the Palestinians could not merely say, "you have no reason to fear" and stick to their present position. While the Israelis, on the other hand cannot say 'We don't trust you, so we have a historic right to assimilate your territories.'"
Israel and Jordan, like Isaac and Ishmael, were born of the same father - the territory of the British Palestine Mandate carved from the ruins of the Turkish empire after World War I. In 1922 "Trans-Jordan," as the area east of the Jordan River was then called was given to Abdullah of the Hashemites who had helped Lawerence of Arabia raise the Arab revolt in the desert.
In the late 1940s the rest of British Palestine west of the Jordan was supposed to have been divided between Arabs and Jews, according to a U.N. decision. But the Arabs attacked and the Jordanian Arab Legion captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, only to lose them to the Israelis in 1967.
Of all the Arab rulers, however, it was Abdullah who thought some compromise could be made with the Jews in Palestine and he advocated such a policy in the 1930s. A fanatical Palestinian nationalist killed him in Jerusalem in 1951.
When King Abdullah's grandson, Hussein, took over the throne, there was a period in the late 1950s, when he stood alone as a moderate, pro-Western ruler in an Arab sea awash with radical hostility.
In 1958, an oil embargo was placed upon Jordan and none of its Arab neighbors including Saudi Arabia, would let American planes fly over their territory to relieve Amman's fuel shortage. King Hussein, in his autobiography, wrote that in the end "every gallon had to be flown over the skies of Israel, the mortal enemy of all Arab states. Where an Arab nation refused an enemy agreed."
In 1970, when Hussein was locked in a life-and-death battle with the armed Palestine Liberation Organization, the threat of intervention by the Israeli air force was generally credited with having prevented an intervention from Syria on behalf of the PLO to topple Hussein.
In recent years, the "Middle East has witnessed . . . the rise to power of a new generation of moderate leaders in whose company King Hussein of Jordan is no longer odd man out," Abu Odeh wrote.
Today, even the PLO speaks of an eventual link with Jordan should the Palestinians ever be allowed to control the occupied West Bank. If there is to be a compromise leading to peace in the Middle East, a compromise between Israel and Jordan is the easiest to envision.
"We probably know each other better even if we don't particularly like each other," an Israeli official said recently, "and there is a certain respect between us, I think."