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The Karameh Battle

Mar 19,2018 - Last updated at Mar 19,2018

Half a century ago, on the morning of March 21,1968, Jordanians woke up to heavy gunfire and warplanes filling a quiet space with their thundering sounds. Soon, they realised that the large Israeli army has begun firing heavily across the Jordan River in an attempt to occupy parts of Jordan.

The long one-day battle continued unabated with Jordanians torn between hope and fear; with the bitter memories of the June 1967 Six-Day War still fresh, and the hope that the Jordanian army would end the battle victorious.

By midnight, it became known that the Israelis have accepted a UN-brokered ceasefire and were allowed to withdraw their forces behind the river. They left behind dead soldiers in the battle arena near and inside Karameh, a small border town in the middle of the Jordan Valley.

His Majesty the late King Hussein visited the battle field on the next day and was photographed standing atop Israeli tanks.

That battle had a great positive impact on the morale of Jordanians and the army because they belied the myth of the so-called “invincible Israeli army”. Many Arabs were also relieved by the breaking of the unexpected news.

Throughout history, Arab armies accomplished many historical victories near and around the Jordan Valley. Around 642 AD, the Yarmouk battle was won by the Arab army against a superior, in numbers and equipment, Byzantine army which aimed at quelling what they called an Arab revolt against the southern part of the empire.

Not far from the site of Yarmouk battle is the location of Ain Jalout battle in northern Palestine, which took place in 1258 against the Tatars, who had previously occupied central Asia, Mesopotamia and Syria. Remnants of the Arab and Muslim armies together with the Egyptian Mamluks defeated the Tatars and ended their advance. 

Prior to that in 1187, Arab and Muslim armies, under the leadership of Salahuddin Al Ayyubi (Saladin), defeated European invading armies in Hittin, not far from the Jordan Valley, and led to the liberation of Jerusalem at the heyday of the crusading European victorious era.

Al Karameh, which means dignity in Arabic, ushered in a new phase. With the exception of the Ariel Sharon's invasion of Lebanon to oust Palestinian fighters and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli army did not engage in battles against Arab armies or states. It only fought civil movements' armies, specifically Hamas and Hizbollah. In the three wars, two against Hamas and one against Hizbollah, Israel suffered losses. Its main action was directed against civilian targets, killing and maiming children and women and demolishing homes and infrastructure.

Such bravado actions were in lieu of putting Israeli troops on the ground. This is something which Israel will not do without the participation of regional and superpower armies. It may do such a thing in Syria as a means to limit Hizbollah or in Gaza to weaken Hamas and affiliate organisations. Israel has fought with European powers in 1956 against Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser Nasser, but had to withdraw in response to Russian and American ultimatums. 

The Karameh Battle may not be big in scale when compared to larger and longer battles after 1968. Yet, it is the battle that still reminds us half a century later that Israel can be defeated and forced to recalculate its potential.

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