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Remembering The Real King Hussein


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“Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.” (King Hussein, Radio Amman, June 6, 1967)

● Nasser: Will his majesty make an announcement on the participation of the Americans and the British?…. Will we say the U.S. and England or just the U.S.?

King Hussein: The U.S. and England.

Nasser: Good. King Hussein will make an announcement and I will make an announcement.

King Hussein: Thank You. (Conversation picked up by Israeli intelligence, June 1967, as Nasser and Hussein plotted to lie about U.S. and British participation in Israel’s sweeping military triumph.)

“After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab territories.” (King Hussein, Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973)

“The removal of the Israeli occupation from our occupied land, Palestine, is the first and basic condition for just peace…. The Islamic nation and just believers in any religion or creed will not accept the situation of the…cradle of prophets and divine messages being captive of Zionist occupation.” (King Hussein, Amman Domestic Service, July 11, 1988)

There was just something so false in the universal acclaim for King Hussein on the occasion of his death eight years ago this week – false because most media accounts failed to offer a full reckoning of the Jordanian monarch’s life, with journalists whitewashing or ignoring its many inconvenient chapters and plentiful examples of ugly rhetoric.

With the exception of Sid Zion, who in his Daily News column noted Hussein’s bloodthirsty instructions to his troops during the Six-Day War, the tone almost universally adopted by the media in covering Hussein’s demise was reflected in the sugary prose of columnist Richard Chesnoff, whose tribute to Hussein, which appeared in the Daily News on the same day as Zion’s much more realistic appraisal, ended like this (diabetics are duly cautioned):

“Now this great son of the desert is gone, and all the children of Abraham weep. We will sorely miss this brave brother of ours.”

Rarely in recent memory had the passing of a public figure elicited the hyperbole that began spreading across the land once it became clear that Hussein was hours away from death. Typical of the distortions by a media intent on canonizing the king was the statement by the pompous New York Times foreign-affairs sage Thomas Friedman that Hussein “talked himself out of the 1973 war.”

The idea that Hussein sat on the sidelines in 1973 was parroted in many a news story in the days following the king’s death. While it’s true that Hussein was considerably less enthusiastic about going to war in 1973 than he’d been in 1967, when he lost a large chunk of his kingdom after ignoring Israel’s pleas that he stay out of the fighting, he nevertheless was far from a passive bystander.

As Mitchell G. Bard points out in his indispensable Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Hussein sent “two of his best units – the 40th and 60th armored brigades – to Syria. This force took positions in the southern sector, defending the main Amman-Damascus route and attacking Israeli positions along the Kuneitra-Sassa road on October 16. Three Jordanian artillery batteries also participated in the assault, carried out by nearly 100 tanks.”

Virtually forgotten in the rush to sanctify Hussein in death was the scorn that had come his way over the years for such behavior as his constant double-dealing in his relations with Israel, the U.S. and his fellow Arabs; his allowing the desecration of Jewish holy places when Jordan had possession of East Jerusalem (gravestones of Jews were used as latrines in army camps, and dozens of synagogues were demolished or turned into stables and chicken coops); his tight-fisted rule over the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria for nearly two decades after 1948; his brutal slaughter of thousands of Palestinians in the infamous “Black September” of 1970; and his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War coupled with his circumvention of the U.S.-led blockade of Iraq.

To be fair, the new, more statesmanlike persona he adopted in the final years of his life was, by all appearances, genuine. And the argument can certainly be made that even before then he was the lesser of evils when compared with other Arab leaders.

But to trumpet someone like King Hussein as a prophet, a giant, or a visionary (three of the more popular terms used by journalists in the wake of his passing) was to drain those words of any real meaning.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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