The "Battle of Dignity" took place on March 21, 1968 on Jordanian territory between the Israeli occupation army on the one hand and the Jordanian army and Palestinian factions on the other, and the Arab side won. Less than a year after the "setback" and occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan Heights, it lasted about 15 hours.
The narratives of the battle differ and agree in terms of its causes, course and results, depending on the policies and objectives of its parties, but the increasing strength of the Palestinian factions, and the transformation of Jordan into a starting point for carrying out their operations, is a major reason for fueling the enemy's anger and making it think beyond eliminating those factions to occupying Jordanian lands.
The occupation wanted to teach the Palestinian resistance and its host state a lesson no less than the lesson of June 5, 1967, but the Jordanian army coalesced with Palestinian factions, especially the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah), to turn the equation around.
The battle takes its name from the Jordanian town of Karama, located near the Palestinian border east of the Jordan River, close to the King Hussein Bridge, a crossing point over the river separating Jordan and Palestine.
The battle began with an increase in Palestinian operations, with international messages sent by Israel through intermediaries to Jordan to put an end to the movement of fedayeen on its territory.
On March 20, 1968, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol stated before the Knesset the preparations and justifications for the attack, and this came at a time when Jordan summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France and Russia, put them in the picture of Israeli escalation, and told them that Jordanian forces were on alert.
The beginning of the battle
The battle began with Israeli artillery shelling at about half past five in the morning on the positions of the warning forces and the front lines of the Jordanian army, in conjunction with the storming of 3 crossings towards Jordan, namely "King Hussein Bridge", "Damia Bridge" and "King Abdullah Bridge".
According to the Jordanian version, the warning forces clashed with the attacking forces, and Jordanian artillery began to focus its shells on the crossing areas, destroying the three bridges and some tracked ones, and disrupting the progress of the occupation.
As the Israeli army continued its advance towards the town of Karama, its vehicles were under artillery fire from the Jordanian army and fired at by Palestinian fedayeen.
With the arrival of the occupation in the town, tanks and military vehicles became targets for mines, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and knives in the possession of the factions.
The Jordanian version says that despite Israel's announcement that it carried out the attack to destroy the Arab resistance force in the town of Karama, the goal of the aggression was different, which was to destroy the military capabilities of the Jordanian forces and leadership and shake its self-confidence after the June 1967 war, and to occupy the eastern highlands and approach the capital Amman, to pressure the Jordanian leadership and bargain with it politically in the future.
The Jordanian military says the enemy has failed in its plans, which were known from documents held by Israeli commanders and left on the battlefield: occupying the eastern highlands and inviting journalists to lunch in Amman.
According to the data of the Jordanian Directorate of Moral Guidance, the equipment of the parties was as follows:
Israeli forces: 7th Armored Brigade, 60th Armor Brigade, 80th Infantry Brigade, 35th Paratroopers Brigade, 5 field and heavy artillery battalions, 4 Mirage and Mister fighter jet squadrons and helicopters capable of transporting <> battalions.
Jordanian Forces: First Infantry Division distributed to: Hittin Brigade, Alia Brigade, Qadisiyah Brigade supported by the 60th Armored Brigade. In the field, the forces were divided into a battalion, 3 tank companies, three artillery battalions, and an engineering battalion.
According to the Jordanian Commission, artillery, royal armor and armor snipers played a major role in the battle, along the front, especially in controlling the crossing bridges, which prevented the Israeli army from pushing any new forces to support its attack. "Without a doubt, the battle of dignity was the battle of the Arab army from the first moment," the commission says.
The capabilities of the Palestinian fighters were mines, bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and light weapons.
In a study by researcher Mohsen Saleh, published in 2003 based on British documents and correspondence on that battle, preserved in the National Archives in London, British estimates indicate about 4500,1100 Jordanian soldiers, compared to 2000,<>-<>,<> Israeli soldiers.
These documents state that Israel carried out 450 raids in formations of 2, 4, 6 and 8 aircraft, and the raids continued until the end of the battle.
While the late PFLP Secretary-General Ahmed Jibril put it at around 1500,500, British estimates put them at around <>.
Results of the Battle of Karama
According to the Jordanian version, Israel resorted to requesting a ceasefire at half past eleven o'clock on the day of the battle, while King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan insisted on not ceasing fire as long as one Israeli soldier remained east of the Jordan River.
The withdrawal of Israeli forces began around two o'clock in the afternoon, and British documents say that the Chief of Staff of the Jordanian army, Amer Khamash, surrounded the Israeli forces until half past six in the evening and did not attack them for fear of escalating the situation.
After the battle, the King of Jordan visited Karama and declared, "Arrogance and arrogance lead to defeat, faith in God and determination to persevere, no matter what the sacrifice, are the first way to victory." PLO Executive Committee Chairman Yasser Arafat said the battle "marked a turning point between despair and hope."
Losses of the Battle of Karama
According to Jordanian army publications, the battle losses were as follows:
Jordanian forces: 86 martyrs and 108 wounded, 13 tanks and 39 different vehicles destroyed.
Israeli forces: 250 killed and 450 wounded, destroyed 88 different vehicles, including 47 tanks, 18 tankers, 24 armed vehicles and 19 cargo cars, and shot down 7 fighter jets.
The Palestinian National Information Center states that the number of martyrs on the Palestinian and Jordanian sides reached 185 and 200 wounded.
"Nozha" left the occupation soldiers in shock
In recollections published by the French website Oriane 21 in 2017, former Israeli diplomat Alon Lyall (one of the soldiers of that war) said that the battle was portrayed to the soldiers as a "picnic" and that the Jordanian army would not fight alongside the PLO.
Layal reveals that the goal of the battle "was only to fight the PLO, and that the task of capturing Arafat was the responsibility of the paratroopers."
"We were woken up at around four o'clock in the morning and taken by bus to the King Hussein Bridge, or the so-called Allenby Bridge (a crossing point on the Jordan River) and tank carriers were following us. We left the buses near the bridge to get on the tanks and that's how we crossed the bridge."
"It was clear that PLO fighters controlled most of the buildings on the main road. What happened was completely different from what was expected."
"According to our initial information, Jordanian tanks should not have participated in the fighting, but the outcome of the battle left us all in shock. This operation, presented to us as a picnic, turned into a tragedy."
"In Israel, 50 years later, there is no more talk about this battle, and I don't remember that over the last <> years leaders, friends or fighters have met to remember or celebrate dignity," he said.
Symbols of the Battle of Dignity
Among the most prominent figures whose name has been associated with the battle from both sides:
- King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, born in 1935 and died in 1999.
- Mashhour Haditha al-Jazi, commander of the Battle of Karama in the Jordanian Army, was born in 1928 and died in 2001.
- Amer Khamash, Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Army at the time of the battle, was born in 1924 and died in 2010.
- Yasser Arafat, Fatah's commander-in-chief, was born in 1929 and died in 2004.
- Khalil al-Wazir "Abu Jihad", a member of Fatah's Central Committee and one of the leaders of the battle, was born in 1935 and died in 1988.
- Salah Khalaf "Abu Iyad", a member of Fatah's Central Committee and one of the leaders of the battle, was born in 1933 and died in 1991.
- Ahmad Jibril, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and one of the battle leaders, was born in 1938 and died in 2021.
- Bahjat Abu Gharbieh, a member of the armed struggle command and a witness of the battle, was born in 1916 and died in 2012.
- Levi Eshkol, the prime minister who announced the attack, was born in 1935 and died in 1969.
- Moshe Dayan, Minister of Defense at the time of the battle, was born in 1915 and died in 1981.
- Haim Bar-Lev, chief of staff at the time of the battle, was born in 1924 and died in 1994.