Under the Jordanian rule, the most important concern for the Jordanian authorities was loyalty to the King and his Hashemite family. The King was nearly ‘God on earth’ and the entire country, including the media, the security forces and the people orbited around his figure. Hence, the claim often made that Jordan was a king with a country, rather than a country with a king.
Connections to the King and the Mukhabarat (or the intelligence apparatus) would automatically put one in a preferential position. Shouting “Ya'ish Jalalat al Malik” (Long Live the King), would give one an automatic certificate of good conduct. No wonder, by today’s standards, it was a despotic regime based on sycophancy, favouritism and nepotism.
The Jordanian regime never really made genuine efforts to push back recurrent Israeli incursions, forays and raids on Palestinian population centres in the West Bank, let alone liberate occupied Palestine. Indeed, the Commander-in-Chief of the Jordanian army in the late 1940s, when Israel was created, and up until March 1, 1956, was a British officer by the name of John Baggot Glubb who came to be known among Palestinians and East Bank Jordanians as Glubb Pasha, an honorary title. So, who in his right mind would have expected a British officer to fight the Jews on behalf of the Arabs?
This is not to say though that the Jordanian army didn’t perform well during the 1948-war. It did. For example, Field Marshall Habes al Majali decimated Jewish forces at Bab el Wad west of Jerusalem, prompting his British superiors to warn him to “stop it or else.”
Jordanians and Palestinians took pride in having an Arab officer who would finally teach Jews a lesson and restore a modicum of Arab dignity lost in earlier battles. In Karak, the Jordanian city from which al Majali hailed, Bedouins would sing in their traditional Dehyyeh (traditional folk song chanted in rhythems) “Sariyeh Qayedha Habes, Teheshel Akhdar welyabes” a platoon led by Habes, would ravage the green and hard, meaning an army led by Habes would defeat all adversaries.
None the less, the main Jordanian strategy was as it has always been to secure the survival and continuity of the regime.
As far as Palestinians were concerned, the most immediate priority for the regime was to make sure that they and other Jordanians didn’t pose a threat to the survival, security and stability of the Hashemite monarchy. A Palestinian would get a six-month prison term if a bullet cartridge was found in his possession.
And as the Israelis would do later, the Jordanians enlisted the ‘Makhatir’ (clan chiefs) to inform on every gesture of opposition to or dissatisfaction with the Hashemite rule within their respective clans and areas. This in turn created a kind of police-state atmosphere all over the country.
Those free-minded Palestinians who insisted on voicing their conscience were persecuted and dumped into the notorious El-Jafr prison in eastern Jordan where they were often tortured savagely, even to death. I know of some people in my town who was tortured to death for their affiliation with the Communist Party.
Torture is still practiced in Jordan with the knowledge, blessing and encouragement of the United States and Britain. Some of the so-called ‘terror suspects’ held by the CIA were secretly flown to Jordan in order to be ‘softened up’ by Jordanian interrogators.
In the mid 1950s, the Jordanian security forces on several occasions shot and killed demonstrators who were protesting the pro-Western policies of the government and the regime’s failure and inability to stop recurrent Israeli attacks. Some of these demonstrators were affiliated with or instigated by the Ba’ath party and the Communists who openly called for overthrowing the monarchy.
As a counterbalance to the leftists, who were quite active especially in the West Bank, King Hussein allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to operate relatively freely. It was a kind of divide-and-rule policy. The leftists would accuse the Brotherhood of being British agents and the Brotherhood would retort by accentuating the atheism of the Communists and Ba’athists. Hussein’s relations with the Brotherhood remained relatively stable until the final years of his life when he introduced the one-man-one-vote law, aimed primarily at reducing to the minimum the number of parliament seats the well-organized Islamists could win. Notwithstanding, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Islamic Action Front, remains Jordan’s largest opposition party, despite repeated government harassment.
The Muslim Brothers were not British agents or agents of any power. They wanted to create an Islamic state in accordance with the Sharia, or Islamic Law. In other words, their strategy and goals were diametrically incompatible with those of the Communists and the Ba’athists. Hence, the mutual sullen hostility.
However, to be honest, the Jordanian regime, especially with regard to how the state treated its citizens, was not as bad as other Arab regimes. In non-political and non-security matters, the rule of law was generally observed and applied. In general, an individual’s dignity was upheld as long as he or she didn’t criticize the regime or undermine the ‘security of the kingdom.’
More to the point, King Hussein was truly an astute leader. Far from behaving with vindictiveness and vengefulness toward his political opponents, even those who sought to assassinate him and overthrow his regime, The King nearly always pardoned them, showing magnanimity and gallantry unmatched in modern Arab history.
Despite its authoritarianism and despotism, the Jordanian regime never persecuted us in any way even remotely comparable to what the Nazi-like Israelis have been doing since 1967. The Jordanians never demolished our homes or bulldozed our farms or arrested our people for years without charge or trial as Israel has been doing to us. Yes, ‘wrongdoers’ were arrested and tried and often tortured, but their families wouldn’t be detained, their homes wouldn’t be bulldozed and their farms, orchards and olive groves wouldn’t be decimated as the Israelis routinely do. Jordan actually granted us full citizenship until the late King Hussein severed legal and administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988.
An outstanding exception occurred in 1970, during the so-called Black September events, when the Jordanian army battled PLO guerrillas who the King claimed were planning to take over Jordan and end the monarchy. Some atrocities were committed during these confrontations and many people, Palestinians and Jordanians, were killed. Nonetheless, the ‘September events’ should be considered as a kind of painful anomaly or sad chapter in The King’s relations with the Palestinians.
In general, one can safely contend that there is no comparison between the Nazi-like Israeli occupation rule and the Jordanian era. The Jordanians were not really occupiers, they never behaved as occupiers. In many ways, The King was our king and the Kingdom was our kingdom. Yes, the regime was authoritarian and generally repressive, but, in all honesty, it cannot be compared with the Israelis whose barbarianism and savagery transcend reality.
Nonetheless, Jordan was (and still is) a weak kingdom, economically, politically and especially militarily. The Israeli army routinely carried out cross-border forays into the West Bank prior to 1967, murdering innocent Palestinian villagers, and the Jordanian army was too weak and two unequipped to drive back the Israeli incursions.
King Hussein must have calculated that maintaining a peaceable or even friendly modus vivendi with Israel, especially in secret, was the best insurance policy for retaining his kingdom and the rule of his Hashemite dynasty. I think he was wrong in thinking this way. His non-hostility towards Israel didn’t prevent the Jewish state from pursuing its aggressive policies, which culminated in the occupation of the West Bank in 1967.
King Hussein did make a lot of contacts with Israel even before 1967. For example, on September 24, 1963 the director-general of the Israeli prime minister’s office, Yaacov Herzog, met The King in the London clinic of the King’s Jewish physician, Dr. Emmanuel Herbert.
Another meeting took place in Paris in 1965 and Israel was represented by Golda Meir, who was accompanied by Chaim Herzog.
It is also believed that Hussein had lots of contacts with the Israeli state through the alumni offices of Boston University.
Even before 1967, the Israeli army had been carrying out routine incursions into the West Bank, destroying poor people’s homes and killing innocent civilians, very much like what Israel has been doing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon in recent years.
I still vividly remember how the Israeli army, including tanks and warplanes, attacked the small nearby town of Sammou ’, 25 kilometres south-west of Dura, in November 1966, destroying the town, virtually completely and killing many civilians.
In June 1967, I was ten years old. I remember how we were told to raise the white flag when the Israeli army surrounded our small village, Khorsa, 15 kilometres south-west of Hebron. We were told we would be shot and killed if we didn't raise a white flag aloft. The Jordanian soldiers left in disgrace and headed eastward, a few donned traditional women’s clothing in order to disguise themselves, while King Hussein urged us via Amman Radio to fight the Israelis “with our fingernails, with our teeth.” Well, how could we possibly fend off the mighty Israeli army with our teeth and fingernails?
Frankly, the Arab armies didn’t really put up any real fight against the Israelis. These armies reflected the utter political, moral and ideological decadence and bankruptcy of most contemporary Arab regimes. Indeed, maintaining the regime’s survival was the most paramount priority and strategy for the ruling elites and juntas of that time. Fighting Israel and liberating Palestine were not a real priority for these regimes, despite all the rhetoric.
Interestingly, this state of affairs remains unchanged even today, 40 years after the greatest Arab defeat in modern times.
For many years, Israel and its allies claimed that it was Israel that was attacked by the Arabs in 1967 and that all that Israel did was fight back for its very survival, which was at stake.
This is, of course, a big lie, as Israeli leaders themselves came to admit many years later.
The former Israeli President Ezer Weizmann (who was also a former commander of the Israeli air force) admitted in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 1972 that “there was no threat of destruction…but that the attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria was nevertheless justified so that Israel could exist according to the scale, spirit and quality she now embodies.”
Similarly, the former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a notorious hawk, was quoted in Noam Chomsky’s book ‘The Fateful Triangle’ as saying that “in 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army’s concentrations in the Sinai desert didn’t prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
Yitzhak Rabin, another former Israeli Premier, had this to say about the so-called Egyptian threat to Israel.
“I don’t think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai wouldn’t have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”
This is not to say though that the Arabs, particularly the Egyptian and Syrian regimes didn’t do a lot of sabre rattling, threatening to destroy Israel. However, the Israeli leadership of that time and the Johnson Administration, as well as the British and Soviet (Russian) intelligence knew quite well that Nasser was only indulging in bellicose rhetoric and nothing more than that.
But, Israel, nevertheless, decided to attack with the central purpose being territorial expansion.
Needless to say, territorial expansion had always been a central goal of the Israeli strategy.
For example, Chomsky quoted the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as saying the following:
“The acceptance of partition (by Israel ) doesn’t commit us to renounce Transjordan; one doesn’t demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today. But the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.”