Keys to the Kingdom
National Anthem
The Office


The Tragedy of Palestine

The Balfour Declaration’s commitment to a Jewish national home in the British mandate of Palestine soon came back to haunt Britain and the Arabs. Arabs were outraged by the implication that they were the intruders in Palestine, when in fact at the end of World War II they accounted for about 90% of the population.

While Jewish immigration to Palestine in the 1920’s caused little alarm, the situation escalated markedly with the rise of Nazi persecution in Europe. Large numbers of European Jews flocked to Palestine, inflaming nationalist passions among all Arabs, who feared the creation of a Jewish state in which they would be the losers. Palestinian resistance erupted into a full-scale revolt which lasted from 1936-39. This revolt, which in some respects resembled the intifada of the late 1980s, was the first major outbreak of Palestinian-Zionist hostilities.

Although the strict terms imposed on Transjordan since 1921 prevented Emir Abdullah from establishing official contacts with Palestinian Arabs under the British mandate, he nonetheless gave refuge to Palestinian leaders and political activists. He constantly warned the British against earmarking Arab lands for a Jewish national home and allowing increased Jewish immigration to Palestine. He also intervened at various levels on behalf of the Palestinians, while warning of impending disaster should a diplomatic solution to the problem not be found. His predictions fell on deaf ears, but came true nonetheless.

As the Jewish population in Palestine increased sharply during the 1930s, fighting between Jews and Arabs increased also. Both sides blamed the British, who failed miserably in their attempts to reach a settlement acceptable to all. The conflict was muted by the onset of World War II, during which both sides cooperated with the British. Transjordan’s Arab Legion also joined the side of the Allies, helping the British and the Free French drive the Vichy forces from Syria.

The crisis of Palestine reached a boiling point in the years immediately after the war. With international sympathy firmly behind the Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, Zionist leaders pressured the British to admit thousands of displaced Jews. At the same time, underground Jewish groups such as the Irgun and the renegade Stern Gang initiated a campaign of terrorism against the British. Washing its hands of the whole imbroglio, Britain declared in February 1947 that its mandate over Palestine would end on May 14, 1948. The matter was then addressed by the United Nations, which, after rejecting various plans, voted for the partition of Palestine in November 1947. The plan called for the partition of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with al-Quds (Jerusalem) to be placed under UN trusteeship. More than half the territory, including the valuable coastal strip, had been allotted to the Jews, who only owned about 6% of the land. The Arabs were shocked, and conflict was inevitable.

On May 14, 1948, the British terminated their mandate over Palestine, and the Jews immediately proclaimed the independence of the state of Israel. The Soviet Union was the first country to recognize Israel, followed promptly by the United States. The tragedy of Palestine was born.

jo_line.gif (183 bytes)


The 1948 Arab-Israeli War

Prior to the UN General Assembly’s November 1947 decision to partition Palestine, King Abdullah had proposed sending the Arab Legion to defend the Arabs of Palestine. Reacting to the passing of the partition plan, he announced Jordan’s readiness to deploy the full force of the Arab Legion in Palestine. An Arab League meeting held in Amman two days before the expiration of the British mandate concluded that Arab countries would send troops to Palestine to join forces with Jordan’s army.

Immediately after the proclamation of the state of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iraq sent troops to join with Jordanian forces in order to defend their brethren, the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. However, the attacks were uncoordinated and each army took orders from its own commanders. The Jewish forces were therefore able to exploit the political and military differences among the Arab armies. Contrary to the popular misconception, Israel also held a distinct manpower advantage over its adversaries. By the end of May 1948, Israel fielded a mobile army of 25,000 front-line troops, a number that would grow to nearly 80,000 by the end of that year. In addition, many Israeli soldiers had seen combat action during World War II. The Jewish militias exploited their military advantage to consolidate control over their allotted areas, as well as to entrench themselves in some strategic areas allocated to the Arabs of Palestine.

The violent establishment of the state of Israel led more than 500,000 Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes, with many settling in what became known as the “West Bank” (the west bank of the Jordan River). It is a well-documented fact that a systematic massacre of around 245 Palestinians occurred on April 9, 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. The Irgun and the Stern Gang systematically conducted this and other massacres, such as that at Kafr Qassem, in order to create a general climate of terror that encouraged the unarmed and defenseless Palestinians to flee.

Of all the Arab armies engaged in the defense of Palestine, the one which defended Arab land most successfully was Jordan’s Arab Legion. With some help from Hashemite Iraq, the Legion succeeded in preserving for the Arabs a major part of their land—the territory subsequently known as the West Bank—along with the Old City of Jerusalem, which the Jews were unable to seize. From the beginning, Jordan’s army faced an uphill battle against Jewish forces which were far superior in number and armament. In addition, the Jordanians had no reserve forces and were hampered by a UN arms embargo which left them perpetually short of ammunition. The relative success enjoyed by the Jordanian forces in the face of overwhelming odds is a tribute to the heroism, discipline and leadership of the Arab Legion.

Two refugees, an old man and his wife,
sit reminiscing about the old days.
"Nakba in Pictures"

jo_line.gif (183 bytes)


The Arab Legion and the Defense of Jerusalem

The heroism and comparative effectiveness displayed by Jordan’s army during its defense of Palestine are widely acknowledged. In particular, the Battle of Jerusalem exemplified the high professional standards of Jordan’s Arab Legion. Known in Arabic as al-Quds al-Sharif, Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims, as it is considered to be the third holiest city in Islam. Along with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem holds a special place in the heart of the Islamic world. The Dome of the Rock was built on the spot from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on his famous night journey, and Muslims originally faced Jerusalem in prayer (today they turn to Mecca). Christians also hold Jerusalem sacred as the crucifixion site of Jesus Christ. Arab Christians and Muslims fought together in the defense of Jerusalem against the Zionist invasion.

The Battle of Jerusalem can be broken into four distinct phases. The first stage was one of street skirmishes between Arabs and Jews. It started in December 1947 and ended with the commencement of war in May 1948. The UN partition resolution prompted this phase of hostilities, which was characterized by frequent rioting and local skirmishes. The second phase began when Jewish militias invaded the Old City in April 1948 and lasted until the entry of the Arab Legion into Jerusalem on May 18. A cease-fire took effect between Arabs and Jews on May 2, and was supposed to remain in force until the evacuation of the British. On May 7, the same truce was elaborated on to include the removal of Jewish troops, who by then occupied the Arab sector of the city. The Jewish militias did not adhere to the truce, and consequently controlled much of Jerusalem when the British mandate expired on May 15. This was a blatant violation of the partition plan, which designated Jerusalem as the center of a special United Nations zone.

Despite the enormous military challenge such an operation presented, King Abdullah insisted on sending the Arab Legion to defend Jerusalem. When the Arab Legion entered the Old City on May 18, 1948, commencing the third phase of the Battle of Jerusalem, the Israelis were already firmly entrenched. Indeed, in previous days they had been attacking pockets of Arab resistance in an attempt to complete their seizure of Jerusalem. Fierce fighting ensued when the Hashemite forces entered the city, yet the well-trained Arab Legion managed to gain the upper hand quickly. After ten days of heavy fighting, the Jordanians routed Jewish forces from the Old City.

Jordanian forces also took a strong position at Latrun, cutting the primary road which connected Jerusalem with Jaffa and Tel Aviv. During the Battle of Latrun, an Israeli force of 6500 men was unable to break through a Jordanian force of only 1200 defending western access to the city. The Israelis, however, managed to build and defend a secondary road (the Burma Road) to the city, thereby securing West Jerusalem. On June 11, a truce was agreed, and hostilities ceased for almost a month. A stalemate had been reached, with the Jews controlling West Jerusalem and the Arab Legion defending the Old City and the adjacent Arab quarters in East Jerusalem.

In early July, the Israelis launched a determined offensive to capture East Jerusalem, yet they were unable to penetrate the stubborn defenses of the Arab Legion. The United Nations imposed a second cease-fire on July 19, 1948. The Hashemite forces had successfully defended the holy sites from the Israelis. While fighting fierce battles to safeguard the city, the Jordanian army made every effort to prevent damage to the holy places, thereby preserving them for future generations. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War came to an end in mid-1949, as a series of armistice agreements were signed between the Arab parties and Israel at Rhodes. Jordan did not participate in the Rhodes Conference, but concluded its armistice with Israel directly on the ground.


Unification of the Two Banks

As a result of the war, many Palestinian Arabs from the Jordanian-controlled areas found that union with Jordan was of vital importance to the preservation of Arab control over the “West Bank” territories which had not fallen to the Israelis. Consequently, in December 1948, a group of Palestinian leaders and notables from the West Bank convened a historic conference in Jericho, where they called for King Abdullah to take immediate steps to unite the two banks of the Jordan into a single state under his leadership.

On April 11, 1950, elections were held for a new Jordanian parliament in which the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank were equally represented. Thirteen days later, Parliament unanimously approved a motion to unite the two banks of the Jordan River, constitutionally expanding the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in order to safeguard what was left of the Arab territory of Palestine from further Zionist expansion.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan now included nearly one and a half million people, more than half a million of whom were refugees evicted from Jewish-occupied Palestine. All automatically became citizens of Jordan, a right that had first been offered in December 1949 to all Palestinians who wished to claim it. Although the Arab League opposed this plan, and no other Arab government followed Jordan’s lead, the Hashemite Kingdom offered the possibility of normal life for many people who would have otherwise remained stateless refugees.