chapter  3
The First Round
Pages 15

At a few minutes before the hour of midnight on May 14-15th, 1948, King Abdullah and members of his per­sonal staff stood at the eastern end of the Allenby Bridge across the river Jordan waiting for the mandate to expire officially. They need not have waited because the British personnel had already gone. At twelve o’clock precisely the King drew his revolver, fired a symbolical shot into the air and shouted the word, ‘forward’. The long column of Jordanian troops which stretched down the road behind the bridge, already had the engines of their cars ticking over and, as they moved off at the word of com­mand, the hum of their motors rose to a roar. They passed through Jericho and went up the ridgeway which had been prepared for them and, when daylight came, the first regiment was in position on the Ramallah ridge which was their objective in the Judean highlands. Other units moved up the Wadi Fara into the heart of the Samaria district.The number of front line troops of the Arab Legion then amounted to about four thousand five hundred men who made up four bedouin mechanised regiments, seven infantry companies recruited from townsmen and two four-gunned batteries o f twenty-five pounder artillery. The infantry companies were later reorganised on a regimental

basis. There were no combatant aircraft in the Legion but the Iraqi Air Force at Mafrak had two flights of obsolete Gladiator fighters and a flight of Anson light bombers which were supposed to be available for co­operation with the Jordanian forces. In practice, however the latter fought virtually without air cover.Many of the recruits newly enlisted in the bedouin regi­ments were nationals of Saudi Arabia and came from the warlike tribes of the Nejd whose men had enabled King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud to conquer the best part of the Arabian Peninsula. These men might fairly be de­scribed as professional soldiers in the sense that they regarded fighting as the most honourable means by which to earn a living. Their forefathers would have fought and raided their neighbours but, now that the invention of the internal combustion engine had brought law and order to the desert, they had joined in the nearest war available. As a rule, they had no clear political views about what was happening in Palestine when they presented them­selves for engagement but many of them, doubtlessly, acquired some ideas on the subject afterwards.The realisation of the inadequacy of their army’s man­power was largely responsible for the decision of the Jordanian command to avoid, as long as it was possible to . do so, becoming involved in the fighting in Jerusalem where a rabbit warren of narrow lanes and bazaars would have made the operations too costly in casualties. The lesser consideration that the city had not been allotted to the Arabs under the partition scheme but had been ear­marked for internationalisation, no doubt carried some weight in their counsels. In principle, therefore, the defence of the Arab quarters of Jerusalem was left to the irregular formations at the outset.In the north of the country, the Iraqi detachment moved across the Jordan river at Jisr al-Majami and took up positions in the mountains round Nablus. Shortly after their advance, the Iraqi commander issued a communiqué proudly announcing to the world that his troops had cap-

tured an important Jewish power station on the river Jordan. In point of fact, all that they had done was to take over from the Jordanian police the Palestine Electricity Corporation’s hydro-electric generating plant which had been voluntarily evacuated by its Jewish staff before the 15th of the month. Some weeks before that date, I had been instructed by the Foreign Office to make represent­ations to the Jordanian authorities about the wisdom of preserving this valuable economic asset intact. I had pointed out that the Jordanians were not likely to accept my intervention on behalf o f the property of a local Jewish firm which was registered in Palestine. The people in London thereupon dropped the question.Further to the north, the Lebanese and Syrian armies made what were hardly more than demonstrations in force along their frontiers with Palestine. The Syrians managed to get as far as the abandoned camp of the Transjordan Frontier Force near to Semakh, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and also declared it to be captured.Elsewhere, the Army of Deliverance took up position in Samaria, between the zones held by the Iraqi Army and the Arab Legion. The Egyptians who put the largest Arab contingent into the field, marched up from Sinai occupying the town of Gaza and stretching their occupa­tion as far to the north as Bethlehem by May 22nd.All these moves were part o f an overall plan of campaign drawn up by the Arab allies in Cairo, but, unfortunately for them, they were almost the only matters on which there was real co-operation among the invaders. It was typical of this lamentable lack of co-operation that rival Jordanian and Egyptian military governors should be appointed to the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem. The two competing governments also opened post offices in which their postage stamps overprinted ‘Palestine’ were sold. This competition gave the local inhabitants wonder­ful opportunities to indulge in the game of playing one side against the other.On the next day after the initial Arab move over the

frontier, the first diplomatic reaction came in the form of a visit to Amman of the Belgian Consul General in Jerusalem, who delivered a formal protest on behalf of the Security Council o f the United Nations Organisation against the invasion of Palestine territory by the Arab Legion. Similar futile gestures were made simultaneously in the capitals of the other Arab states which had sent troops into the battle. The Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs gave the visitor a cup of coffee and a cigarette and sent him on his way without a formal answer.The first phase of the war in Palestine developed into a desperate struggle between the Israeli forces and the defenders of the central front for the possession of the city of Jerusalem. It soon became evident that the latter, whose inexperienced ranks had, by this time, been stiffened by discharged personnel of the Transjordan Frontier Force and a group of deserters from the disbanded British section of the Palestine Police, were no match for their opponents. The Arabs did not lack courage or devotion to their cause but they suffered from the evils o f a divided command and they were not trained to fight as organised units. Had it not been for the physical obstacle afforded by the sixteenth-century stone ramparts which enclosed the Old City, the Arab positions would probably have been overrun in the first twenty-four hours. I doubt whether their builder, the Turkish Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent, ever imagined that the defensive value of his wall would endure for as long as four hundred years.Frantic appeals for help from the inhabitants of the city deluged the King and his Ministers and, in the end, Glubb, who had stood out for the agreed policy of non­involvement as long as he could, received orders to go to the rescue in such peremptory terms that they could only be disobeyed at the cost of causing a breach of irre­parable gravity between him and the King. The Arab Legion moved one company of about a hundred men into Jerusalem on May 18th and that token force, which was soon followed by further reinforcements, just tipped

the scales enough to prevent an Arab collapse there and then.Although events moved too rapidly for any official representations to be made on instructions from the For­eign Office (if any were ever intended) I spoke privately to the Prime Minister about the probable repercussions of a departure from the original plan to confine the Jordanian occupation to the Arab area of partition. The force of public opinion, however on the subject o f Jerusa­lem, the third most holy shrine of Islam, was too intense for help against the Israeli offensive to be withheld, what­ever the consequences of intervention. One must also remember the important consideration to King Abdullah personally of the presence of the tomb of his father King Hussein ibn Ali o f the Hejaz, at one of the gates of the Haram es Sherif in Jerusalem. When the old King had been lying on his death bed in the palace at Amman, he had said that because he had once been the guardian of the most holy places of Islam, he wanted his body to rest in another such place.The front line in Jerusalem was, eventually, more or less stabilised with the Old City and the eastern and north­ern quarters left in the hands of the Arabs. The buildinghousing the British Consulate General remained in the Arab sector, but only just; the firing line ran along the opposite side of the road from where the office stood and the place was, therefore, exposed entirely to the fire of the Israeli troops whose positions in the French hospice of Notre Dame de France overlooked the locality. One of the British consular guards was killed by a stray bullet and had to be buried temporarily in the garden. The occupants of the building were in a most unpleasant predicament; they were virtually prisoners, short of sup­plies, unable to sleep through the din of the battle at their gates and they had nothing to do. It was not surpris­ing that at one stage they asked the local commander of the Arab Legion to take his war elsewhere.The Jewish quarter in the Old City fell during the

fighting prior to the first truce and some fifteen hundred Jewish prisoners were taken by the Arabs. They were well treated by the Arab Legion and only fighting men and others of military age were sent to the internment camp which was set up for them at Mafraq on the edge of the desert. The rest of the captives were delivered across the lines into Israeli territory.One of the few pleasing developments during this un­fortunate time was the respect which the Jordanian and Israeli soldiers showed for each other; a feeling which seemed to be entirely absent in the relationship between the Israelis and the other Arab forces. In one instance, when some lorry loads of prisoners were being driven through the streets o f Amman on their way to Mafraq, the Legionary guards, on their own initiative, gave Arab headdresses to those in their charge to protect them from insult, or worse, at the hands of the Palestinian refugees who already thronged the town. One or two of the inter­nees were British subjects and by sending my First Secre­tary, Christopher Pirie-Gordon, to see to their welfare, I was able to satisfy myself that all of them were being treated humanely. It should be recorded that the treatment meted out to the members of the Arab Legion who fell into the hands of the Israelis was equally satisfactory, although the same cannot be said about the Arab civilians who were taken into custody by the enemy.The Consulate General of France in Jerusalem was in a similarily exposed position to that o f Beaumont’s quarters, with the difference that it was just behind the Israeli lines and exposed to fire from the Arab positions. After a French army liaison officer had been wounded by another stray bullet, the Foreign Office apparently forgot about their earlier orders to the effect that events in Palestine were no concern of mine and they directed me to get the Jordanian Government to stop the firing on the French Consulate. They must have intended in the first place, that events west of the river were not, my business unless the Foreign Office made them so. In the

case in question, the answer was that the Arabs whose missiles worried the French were firing at Israeli troops positioned near to the Consulate and were, in any case, men of the Fighters and, as such, not under the control of the Jordanian authorities. I forebore making the obvious suggestion that the best way to ensure the immunity of the Frenchmen was for the Israelis to move away from their vicinity.As I had feared, the intervention of the Arab Legion in Jerusalem brought trouble from His Majesty’s Govern­ment, who, in response to the terms of a resolution adopted by the United Nations Organisation, suspended the issue to Jordan of all financial aid and military supplies. This action placed the country in a parlous situa­tion because, as I have said already, it had no resources of money and ammunition and depended for current sup­plies of both on aid from Great Britain. We got a verybad press and the King and his Ministers were both furious and alarmed. The former remarked to me that, ‘allies who let one become involved in a war and then cut off our essential supplies are not very desirable friends’.My explanation that the British Government was acting under directions from the United Nations and that, in any case, the proposal which Mr Bevin had not objected to had been to occupy the Arab part of Palestine under the partition scheme, which did not include Jerusalem-failed to appease the Jordanians. What seemed to rankle most was the fact that no word or warning about possible consequences had been given when they had declared their intentions to the Secretary of State.The penal embargo on money and supplies was bad enough but, worse was to follow. The staff work of the Arab Legion and the command of the mechanised regi­ments depended on British officers and I received orders that all such officers who were seconded to the Legion by the War Office, were to cease playing active roles in the military operations in Palestine and were to be with­drawn to the east of of the River Jordan within a specified

35 period of time. This was a severe blow but the terms of the instruction appeared to indicate that there was no use appealing against the ruling, which imposed a heavy administrative handicap on the Legion. The most serious aspect o f the matter was the harm done to the morale of the men who would see their officers being taken away from their units in the middle of a battle and the effect of the ban on the Jordanian Ministers. I took steps which enabled me to report that all the personnel concerned were back in Jordan before the deadline set by the Foreign Office, but I was not sure that they stayed there for long.The British Officers attached to the Arab Legion were of two categories, those seconded from the British armed services, who were in the majority, and the so-called contract officers, who were technically employees of the Jordanian Government. In the sense that he was retired from the British army, Glubb belonged to the second category, but his position was special. When he had been appointed by the Jordanian Government in 1930, as second in command of the Legion, his candidature for the post had been put forward by His Majesty’s Govern­ment and, when he had taken over the command of the force in 1939, his promotion had been given the official blessing of the British Government. Moreover, in order to give him a pensionable status, he had been appointed to a permanent post on the cadre of the Palestine Police, on the understanding, in fact, that his services would not be used in Palestine.With two exceptions, the other contract officers were appointed by the local government on recommendations by Glubb and without reference to the British. The two exceptions were Broadhurst, the officer i/c Administration, who served with the Palestine Police before going to Jordan, and Lash, the divisional commander, who was not pensionable in Palestine but whose engagement had been agreed by the Residency.A subsequent order from London was even more pre­

posterous than those already mentioned. I was told to warn Glubb and those under his command who were serving on contracts, that they might be liable to prosecu­tion in the English Courts under the terms of the Foreign Enlistment Act for being in the service of a foreign power engaged in war, without the cognizance of His Majesty’s Government. Glubb, who was livid with anger, wrote back to me to say, that after selecting him in 1939 to command the Arab Legion, His Majesty’s Government must be suffering from a grievous loss of memory, to write as they did. The Foreign Office did not take the matter any further at that time but more was to be heard later.In a way, the position was mitigated by the existence of a secret stock of ammunition for artillery and small arms which were held in the stores of the Royal Air Force camp at Amman. Authority for the issue of that material to the Arab Legion could only be given by the Air Ministry and, as far as I could understand the matter, such permis­sion would only be given if and when the Israeli forces invaded Jordanian territory and so brought into play the protective clauses of the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty. I did not tell the Jordanians about the presence of these stores so as to avoid the incessant pleas for their release with which I would otherwise have been pestered.At this time, I found myself to be suffering from divided loyalties. As was only natural, my main sympathies were with the Jordanians but I had many friends on the other side. My uneasiness was enhanced because, for the first time in my long period of public service, in Jordan and elsewhere, I felt it difficult to defend the policies o f my chiefs in London. In fact, by this time, I was so irritated by the lunacy which seemed to prevail everywhere that I sought mental refuge with Lewis Carroll and fitted it all into Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. My physical fitness was preserved by the usual week-end shoots which I kept up regularly, war or no war. It was not callousness on my part but sheer self defence. I had lived through two world wars and a great deal of civil

disturbance in the period between them, but conditions were now more trying than they had ever been before.I was unhappy because after the imposition of the embargoes, I found that I was no longer taken into the complete confidence of the King and the Prime Minister. They appeared to be as friendly as ever but I could no longer depend on being consulted by them before they acted on important issues. It was notable that the King, who had frequently sought consolation from me during the times of the Second World War, did not often discuss developments in Palestine with me of his own volition.My difficult situation was not eased by the belief, which was commonly held, that, although I was technically noth­ing more than the head of a foreign diplomatic mission, I somehow still possessed the power as British Resident in the Colonial Service, to compel the Jordanian govern­ment to do what I wanted. As a result, I was regardedas being responsible for what the Jordanians did or omit­ted to do, although, in point of fact, my erstwhile power had slumped to its lowest level ever. Nevertheless, consular officers and officials of the United Nations Organisation continued to call on me to further whatever particular ends they had in view. I could not refuse to receive people of these categories but, for obvious reasons, evaded inter­views with representatives of the press as far as was politic.Although I had a wide acquaintanceship amongst the leaders of the Palestine Arabs, few of them came to see me during the period of the hostilities, and I did not seek them out. During the days of the mandate most of them had expressed confidence in their ability to over­come their opponents if only the interfering British would get out of the ring. One of them had told me that he would dance with joy if we left Palestine. Now that we had gone and left them to face the realities of the situation, they were furious at being left in the lurch. Not only had they decided that the British Government could no longer do them any good, but many of them disapproved

of the plans which King Abdullah had for the future of Arab Palestine. In their minds, I was too closely asso­ciated with the King to be cultivated separately.I had no contact of any description with Israeli quarters once hostilities commenced. The British connection was so unpopular with the Arabs at that time that the discovery of any such link would have had disastrous results; so disastrous that I did not consider the risk worth taking.One of my most important diplomatic callers during this period was Count Folke Bernadotte who had been appointed Mediator by the Secretary General of the United Nations Organisation. Unfortunately, my cook was taken ill just before lunch on the day of the first visit to my house and the tête-à-tête meal was not worthy of the occasion. We talked at length but I did not see much more of him afterwards, either because he had remembered the poor food or because he had accepted at their face value my assurances that my influence, which he desired to use, was not all that it had been. However, he got on well with Glubb, which was important.The first task which Bernadotte set himself was to secure a truce and he succeeded in arranging for one of four weeks duration to commence on June 11th 1948. Apart from the Lebanese and the Jordanians, the Arab govern­ments were not keen on halting the hostilities. They still held the initiative and, on the whole, appeared to be winning the war. The exaggerated reports of the favour­able positions of the Arab armies put out by the Arabic press and radio services made the Arab League all the more reluctant to accept the proposed cease-fire. The Lebanese and the Jordanians, on the other hand, had never wanted to start the fight and they were only too ready to stop it : but they could not afford to say so.The Arab Legion was in great need of a breathing space which would give Glubb and his colleagues an opportunity of bringing forward partly trained men to fill the gaps in the ranks due to the heavy losses sustained by the Legion in the fighting in Jerusalem. The proportion of

the casualties had been too high for a force of its size. There was no lack of new recruits for the Legion but the time needed to turn them into soldiers was in a woe­fully short supply, as was the money needed to meet the cost of the army’s increase in manpower.The Mediator did more than secure a pause in the fighting. He produced the outlines of a settlement of the Palestine problem which was, in essence, a variation of King Abdullah’s scheme for a Semitic Kingdom. It seems probable that Bernadotte may have been inspired by what was said during his talks with the King. The basis of the new plan was some form of union or federation between Jordan and Israel. The complete fusion of the two states was not contemplated because each of them would continue to administer its internal affairs indepen­dently of the other, subject to co-operation in foreign policy, defence and economics. It was suggested that the Arabs should take the Negev in exchange for western Galilee, that Jerusalem should be Arab and that there should be free zones at Haifa port and Lydda airport. The proposals concerning the city of Jerusalem and the Negev damned the plan in Jewish eyes prior to any dis­cussion. The Jordanian government would have liked to use the ideas as a basis for negotiation but, once again, they were not free to voice their feelings. The other Arab belligerents were unanimous in their opposition to the scheme because they were committed publicly to the des­truction of Israel and because they were against any solu­tion which would enhance the position of King Abdullah.My own opinion was that the idea would not have worked in practice because, like the earlier partition scheme, it called for a degree of co-operation between the Jews and the Arabs which was neither possible at that time or likely to be so within the foreseeable future. All that the proposals did was to lead to the assassination of Bernadotte by Jewish extremists on September 17th and his suggestions died with him.In the meantime, the next step of the Mediator was

to propose a prolongation of the truce for an indefinite period. It was hardly necessary to use persuasion to induce King Abdullah and the Jordanian Ministers to agree to the extension. Both the King and the Prime Minister were shrewd enough to realise that the Arab armies had just about shot their bolts. Superficially, the Arab posi­tions appeared to be more favourable than they were in reality. It was true that their forces had captured the Jew­ish quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and had driven out the inhabitants of the Jewish settlements in the hills of Judea; that their first advance had carried their forward elements to the outskirts of Tel Aviv, but they had now come up against the hard core of Israeli resistance. On the other hand, the Arabs were running short of ammuni­tion and were overstretching their lines of communication. There was also the psychological effect on the rank and file of the Arab armies of the discovery that the campaign was not to be the triumphant walkover which they were led to expect at the outset. Finally, there was the growing realisation that the Israelis were much more successful in evading the international measures which were taken to prevent military supplies reaching the combatants.It would undoubtedly have been in the best interests of the Arabs had the truce been prolonged and they had then pressed for the implementation of the scheme of partition with amendments in their favour. At the meeting of Arab Prime Ministers convened to consider the matter, Tewfiq abul Huda went to represent Jordan, with every intention of agreeing to the continuation of the ceasefire. He had reason to suppose that Nokrashy Pasha, the Premier of Egypt, would follow the same policy but, in the event, the latter made a strong speech in favour of the resumption of the fighting with the result that the vote in rejecting Bernadotte’s proposal was unanimous. Once again, the Jordanians did not feel able to take an inde­pendent line. Tewfiq felt that Nokrashy was no fool and was perfectly aware of the facts of the situation; he thought that his Egyptian colleague was probably an un-

willing prisoner of the powerful propaganda machinery of his own country which gave the world such glowing accounts of the imaginary glorious victories and prophe­sied the imminent capture of Tel Aviv. Nokrashy simply could not afford to risk his political future by admitting that he wanted a truce.Rather to the general surprise, King Abdullah was in­vited to pay official visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the truce. There must have been some ulterior motive behind the moves but I never discovered what it was. The King was reticent on his return to Amman and would only say that he had had a nice time and that his hosts had not failed in their duties as such. To me this meant that the visit had not been a great success and I suspected that, as was usually the case, the King had voiced too many truths which proved unpalatable to the other leaders.King Abdullah made no secret of his reluctance to recommence active operations and the other Arab national chiefs decided to offer him an incentive to show more zeal, by appointing him Commander-in-Chief of the Arab armies in the field. He accepted the honour gracefully but he was soon to discover how empty it was. His orders were only executed by his own troops and, when he pro­posed that he should make a tour of inspection and encouragement of the front line of the Egyptian Army, he was told bluntly that the time was not convenient for him to do so. After that snub, he took typically clever means of demonstrating that he realised his true position by attending a subsequent meeting of Arab heads of states, held at Deraa on the Syrian frontier with Jordan, dressed in the uniform of a private soldier of the Arab Legion. When a much bemedalled Syrian general had the imper­tinence to remark that he was under the impression that the King was a Field Marshal, the King had said, ‘The most honourable rank which I possess is that of an Arab warrior’. The point was taken and the pretence that he was in charge was dropped.