For the Love of Jordan
Particularly Kerak, Specifically Majali
In the Stability of Jordan
Certainly, King Hussein found him indispensable. He ruthlessly tracked down the Hashemite ruler's Nasserite enemies during the uprising of 1958. In 1960, he
restored order after pro-Syrian agents had murdered his cousin, the Jordanian prime minister, Hazaa'. Forced to relinquish overall command to Cairo on the eve of
the six-day war in June 1967, and bemused by conflicting orders, he lost the West Bank to Israel. He resigned, but served as defence minister for another year.
There were more setbacks in store. Majali backed Prince Na'if as successor to the Jordanian throne, though, in the event, his elder brother, Prince Talal, won the
crown. Matters only improved after King Hussein replaced his father, Talal, in 1953. Three years later, Glubb was dismissed, and, in 1957, Majali became chief-of-staff
of the Jordanian armed forces, a post he held until June 1967.
Majali's return to active duty was sudden and dramatic. Jordanian-based Palestinian fedayeen (guerrillas) were growing more autonomous and audacious. After
terrorists destroyed four international aircraft near army headquarters at al-Zarqa, in September 1970, Hussein declared martial law, re-appointed Majali as
commander-in-chief, and ordered him to crush the revolt.
Habis did so with relish. Over 10 days, his troops routed the fedayeen; some 3,500 fighters died on both sides. He also repulsed a pro-PLO Syrian invasion -
destroying half the enemy's armour in the process, and inadvertently setting off the coup that brought President al-Assad to power in Damascus. In July 1971, the
remaining PLO units in Jordan were expelled to Lebanon.
Despite these victories, the old warhorse found it hard to forgive old enemies; in 1994, for instance, he boycotted the official ceremonies marking Jordan's peace
deal with Israel. Seen as atavistic by many, he represented a somehow nobler, if not gentler, past. He is survived by seven children and 27 grandchildren; his wife
Bazaa' predeceased him.
A famous Dehia (traditional bedouin folk song that rhymes the first part of a verse to the second both are usually made of 8-syallabuls) which is sung in most
traditional occasions, especially in his hometown Kerak features Habis as the hero of it
Saria Gayidha Habis Tehesh Al-Akhdhar Wa Al Yabis
Sa-Ri-ya Ga-yid-ha Ha-bis Te-hesh Al-Akh-dar waal-ya-bis
A platoon lead by Habis eradicates Green and Hard
Meaning: When Habis leads in the army, everything in the way will be removed, shown be the removal of all plants, whether green or hard (dried).
Field Marshal Habis Al-Majali
المشير الركن حابس المجالي
Habis joined the Arab Legion in 1932, and soon impressed Glubb Pasha. Despite acquiring modern
skills, he never lost his Bedouin elan. King Hussein's biographer, James Lunt, dubbed him the grand
seigneur of Karak and beau sabreur of the army.
Habis Pasha was the only Arab commander to win military victories against Israelis, Palestinians and
Syrians alike. His baptism of fire came during the first Arab-Israeli war, when he successfully
defended the town of Latrun, 17 miles west of Jerusalem, against the Israelis.
The Jewish state had declared independence on May 14, 1948. The next day, the armies of five Arab
nations invaded, among them the Bedouin of Transjordan's crack Arab Legion, under the supreme
command of Glubb Pasha. They immediately secured the West Bank, then rushed to fill the vacuum
created by British troops leaving Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Jewish forces were desperate to keep open their lines of communication with the
85,000 besieged Jews of Latrun, the epicentre of the only route linking Tel Aviv with Jerusalem.
Lieutenant Colonel Majali, the first Arab to head a legion regiment, occupied a strategic hill straddling
the nearby Bab al Wad (Gate to the Valley). His spies fanned the countryside, while he held a
deserted British police fort, built near a Trappist monastery in 1936.
When the Haganah attacked on May 25, Majali's Fourth Regiment was ready. Their camouflaged
mortars, machine-guns and cannon caught the mainly immigrant recruits on open ground, and cut
them to shreds over 15 hours. Up to 400 died and, two months before his death, Habis revealed how
he had caught a young Lieutenant Ariel Sharon in the battle. The new Israeli prime minister denied
the claim, but Habis was adamant. "Sharon is like a grizzly bear," he grumbled. "I captured him, I
healed his wounds."
On June 9, an Israeli Palmach strike-force attempted a second raid on Latrun. This, too, faltered for
want of reinforcements, only yards from Majali's command post. In mid-July, he repulsed a final
assault - and returned to Amman a thrice-conquering hero. He restored a modicum of pride to
Arabs, for whom 1948 spelt nakba (disaster).
Nonetheless, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Despite their losses at Latrun, the Haganah pinned down
Jordanian troops who might have been fighting in Jerusalem. The Israelis also managed to build a
makeshift bypass round Latrun and siphoned through vital arms, water and supplies. Majali's brigade
commander, Colonel Ashton, forbade him from shelling their bulldozers. Ultimately, Jordanian troops,
assisted by local Arabs, did capture the Old City and East Jerusalem, but lost West Jerusalem to Israel.
It was in the Old City, three years later, that Habis Al-Majali experienced tragedy at first-hand. For
two years, he had been the private escort to King Abdullah of Jordan. Then, on July 20, 1951, as he
was ushering the king to prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque, Abdullah was shot dead by an
Men of Honour