A Day in July to Remember

It was erev Shabbat, the Friday evening of the approaching Sabbath on 20 July 1951. I was walking out of a class in Havat Halimud in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem, adjacent to the beautiful headquarters of the former British Mandatory government of Palestine.

I noticed that the Israeli blue and white flag hanging from a flagpole at the compound was at half staff. I asked my fellow classmate Moshe Jamchi (later Netanel), an immigrant from Iraq, why the flag was flying so low.

He replied that the King of Jordan had been assassinated that day. I knew nothing about the king of Jordan but I knew that Jordan was our enemy which had captured the Old City of Jerusalem at the cost of many Israeli lives.

Moshe, whose mother-tongue was Arabic, could read the headlines in Arab newspapers in Israel and he began to tell me what had happened.

Abdullah came to the throne of Trans-Jordan in 1921 under agreement with Great Britain and he immediately changed the territory’s name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and he was proclaimed King Abdullah I .

He labored for many years of his reign to modernize his kingdom and to bring it into the full recognition of the nations of the world.

Abdullah was basically a tolerant ruler, an anti-Zionist but not an anti-Jew. He had immense respect for Golda Meier, a leading Zionist and later the first female prime minister of the Jewish state of Israel.

Disguised and dressed in an Arab man’s clothing, Golda was successfully able to cross the frontier and to have personal meetings and consultations with the Jordanian monarch.

On May 14, 1948, the day of our liberation from the British mandatory government and the day when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independence of the new-born State of Israel, two thousand years after its expulsion from its native homeland, the armed forces of the Kingdom of Jordan joined with all other Arab nations in attacking and invading Israel in what became our War of Independence.

While Golda Meier had pleaded with King Abdullah I to remain neutral, he could not. His British-trained troops had already occupied the old city of Jerusalem and had blockaded all roads to and from the holy city. Western Jerusalem lacked food and water but much was needed to the imprisoned Jewish population of the old city now totally in Jordanian hands.

On the morning of Friday, 20 July 1951, King Abdullah I went to Jerusalem’s famed al-Aqsa mosque to pray and there he was assassinated by several rounds of pistol bullets shot by a 21 year old Palestinian Muslim Arab named Mustafa Shukri Ashu, himself shot to death by the king’s guards.

At the age of 69, the first king of Jordan had died at the hands of a fellow Palestinian who had accused the king of being too tolerant toward the new State of Israel and who feared that he might make peace with Israel.

When the new Israeli government learned of the assassination of Abdullah I it ordered all Israeli national flags to be lowered in respect to the Jordanian king.

Shortly after the king’s burial he was succeeded by one of his two sons Talal and Naif, Talal being the elder son. But Talal was declared to be mentally ill and he was succeeded by his son, Prince Hussein, now who came to the Jordanian throne as King Hussein at the age of 17.

He in turn was succeeded after his death by the present ruler, King Abdullah II.

Somehow I have a feeling that his grandfather and namesake, Abdullah I, would have approved.

He is the 40th in line of descent from the prophet of Islam, Mohammed.

Whenever I see the Jordanian flag, whether in photos or on buildings, my mind goes back to that tragic day of 20 July 1951.

It may be a cold peace between our two countries but at least it is peace. No more gun-shots. No more conquests. No more assassinations.

All we have to worry about, in addition to the trial and conviction of prime minister Netanyahu, is how to escape from the clutches of the dreaded coronavirus.

Maybe we should ask the Jordanians. Maybe King Abdullah II might know. Insh’Allah.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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