Habis al-Majali

Field Marshal Habis al-Majali (1914 - April 22,2001). A noted Jordanian soldier from the southern city (then village) of Kerak, Habis served as Chief of Staff, Jordanian Armed Forces 1958-1975, Minister of Defence 1967-1968, and 20-year member of the Jordanian Senate 1981?-2001.

Life and career

Early career

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. {{facts]]

Meanwhile, the Jewish forces were desperate to keep open their lines of communication with the 85,000 besieged Jews of Jerusalem at 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 claimed that 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 for 9 days, I healed his wounds and released him due to his insignificance.", few fellow high ranking jordanian army officers testified in favour of this account, no others.

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, Transjordanian troops, assisted by local Arabs, did capture the Old City and East Jerusalem and demolished the Jewish Quarter.

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 anti-Hashemite Palestinian.

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

roughly translated:

A platoon lead by Habis eradicates Green and Hard

Meaning: An army lead by Habis, will overcome all obstacles regardless.

The Majalis

Majalis have long dominated Karak, an Arabian province that joined the Emirate of Transjordan in 1756. Though they originally hailed from Hebron, on the West Bank, they had integrated comfortably into Bedouin society, and resented Palestinian political agitation after 1948. Earlier, and more crucially, they had welcomed Hashemite rule in Jordan.

Thus, as a reward for unswerving loyalty, Majalis have been prime ministers, police chiefs and speakers of the Jordanian national assembly; Habis himself served some 20 years as a senator, including a period on the foreign affairs committee. Nonetheless, he preferred martial matters to diplomatic niceties, and, as his brother-in-law, Hazza, once told the British ambassador in Amman: "We Majalis are used to killing and being killed."


The Majali

The tribe of the Majali , a tribe that was granted ground around Hebron by the Prophet Mohammad himself. Some of the Temimiye went to live in Karak. They started a revolt against the Turks in the middle of the 16th century. The Turkish government sent the governor of Nablus to suppress it, and the Temimiye had to flee the town. Since then they have been known as the Majali, the people who fled. They went back to Hebron.

The Nablus governor left one of his brothers, el-Agha, in Karak, where his descendants, the Aghawat became in time the most powerful tribe.

In the middle of the 17th century however, one of the Majali, Jelal, went back to Karak, and started a family. The Imamiye were now in power in the town, and outside the town were the Amr. The political success of the Majali begins with the grandson of Jelal, Salim. He managed to play the Amr and the Imamiye against each other, annihilate the Imamiye with the help of the Amr, and take over power in the town (The party of the Majali).

In 1780 (Abujaber) one of his descendants, Hamed, managed to gain much of the land outside the town, that belonged to the Beni Amr, by playing them a trick (The crow). They had, however, not yet beaten the Amr. In order to do that, around 1770(Burckhardt) Salim el-Majali, the brother and successor of Hamed, allied himself with the Hameide, the Hajaja and the Beni Sakhr, and together they sent the Amr fleeing across the Wadi Mujib.

Selim’s gain was small, however. His new allies were powerful tribes, whose support had a high price. Sections of the Beni Sakhr claimed tax rights from the Karaki tribes, while the Hameide installed themselves in the Wadi Hasa. Around 1790(?) Yusuf el-Majali became Sheikh of Karak.

According to Dissard Yusuf must have been an intelligent and generous man, and basically a peace maker. He also had a lot of courage. Even before he became sheikh he led a convoy of food from Jerusalem through the Dead Sea to Ghor Mezra’a, against the will of the then sheikh of Karak, Khalil. It was in the midst of a famine, and Khalil wanted to sell his own grain stores to the people against exhorbitant prices, and so increase his wealth.

In 1804 Yusuf invited the Amr to return to their country, and incited them to fight the Hameide to get their land back. By playing the two tribes against each other he managed to beat them both, and increase his own land possessions considerably. The remainder of the Beni Amr still lived around Karak, under the control of sheikh Yusuf, when in 1812 the famous traveller John Lewis Burckhardt travelled to Karak. He went further south in the company of Yusuf, and his diaries throw an interesting light on Yusuf’s character (Burckhardt and the sheikh).

Yusuf was succeeded by his son Isma’il, who was betrayed by the Howeitat and hanged in Jerusalem by Ibrahim Pasha after the massacre of Karak. He was succeeded by his brother Abd’el Qader, who in his turn was succeeded by his son Muhammad. Mohammed, like his uncle Yusuf, was a man of exceptional abilities, according to Dissard, as well as generous, an able administrator and a valiant general. Travellers who crossed his path were less than enthousiastic, but according to Dissard, this had more to do with their own ignorance regarding Arab customs, and the incompetence of their interpretors (Tristram in Karak).

Mohammed Majali decided to get rid of the Beni Sakhr, who, after the defeat of Ibrahim Pasha were now his sole rivals in the region. To this end the Majali allied themselves to the Beni Atiye.

The Beni Sakhr had stores in fort Katrane on the Hajj road. These were raided by the Karaki, and the store keeper captured. Sometime later the Majali and the Beni Atiyeh launched a joint attack on the Beni Sakhr and beat them. They abandoned their territory around Karak.

Mohammed was succeeded by Salih in 1885. Salih led led the Majali and the Beni Atiye into another war, in which most of the tribes of Moab and Edom were involved, and in which his brother Misleh was killed. In 1896 Musil was shown a stone pile by Batuna, near Petra, commemerating the place of his death.

Now Salih turned on the Beni Sakhr again. He collected 3000 men, a large number of Hameide among them and camped near Dhiban. But on the morning of the fight the Hameide had suddenly disappeared, and without them, the fight could not take place. The Hameide had revenged themselves.

The following year the Beni Sakhr were beaten by another tribe, the Ruala. Salih saw new possibilities and started talks with the Ruala and the majali's are famous between the tribes, When the Beni Sakhr became aware of this, they called in the help of the Turkish government. In 1892 the Turks advanced south, and the Majali saw that they were finally beaten. They sent an envoy to Mezarib, asking the Ottomans to establish a government in Karak. Thus the independence of Karak ended in 1893. Hussein Hilmi Pasha became the first Mutasarrif of Karak. The Majali's is a very will known family in jordan very strong tribe who has strong historical and played a big role in politics they are Famous between arab

pic: fig 26 Militärparade in Karak

Sources: J. Dissard. Les migrations et les vicissitudes de la tribu des 'Amer. Revue Biblique 2:410-425, 1905 F.G. Peake. History and tribes of Jordan. Coral Gables, 1958

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