Abdullah el Tell

Abdullah el Tell

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Abdullah el-Tell, served in the Transjordan
Transjordan
The Emirate of Transjordan was a former Ottoman territory in the Southern Levant that was part of the British Mandate of Palestine...

ian Arab Legion
Arab Legion
The Arab Legion was the regular army of Transjordan and then Jordan in the early part of the 20th century.-Creation:...

 during the 1948 war in Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 rising from the rank of company commander to become Military Governor of the Old City of Jerusalem. He was later accused of being involved in the assassination of King Abdullah I
Abdullah I of Jordan
Abdullah I bin al-Hussein, King of Jordan [‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Husayn] عبد الله الأول بن الحسين born in Mecca, Second Saudi State, was the second of three sons of Sherif Hussein bin Ali, Sharif and Emir of Mecca and his first wife Abdiyya bint Abdullah...

 and spent many years in Egypt before returning to Jordan
Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

 in 1967.

El-Tell was born into a wealthy family in Irbid
Irbid
Irbid , known in ancient times as Arabella or Arbela , is the capital and largest city of the Irbid Governorate. It also has the second largest metropolitan population in Jordan after Amman, with a population of around 660,000, and is located about 70 km north of Amman on the northern ridge of...

 just as the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 army were retreating from the town. His mother held him up to the window to witness the soldiers leaving. His secondary education was in Egypt. When he was 18 years old he was jailed for demonstrating against the British. In 1941 he joined the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 and in 1942 completed an officer training course in the Suez Canal
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

 area.

1948


In March 1948, el-Tell was promoted to the rank of Major commanding the 6th Regiment of the Arab Legion, stationed in Jericho
Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

. In early May his regiment was involved in an attack on the three Jewish colonies at Kfar Etzion
Kfar Etzion
Kfar Etzion is a religious Israeli settlement and kibbutz located in the Judean Hills between Jerusalem and Hebron in the southern West Bank. It has a population of 400 and falls under the jurisdiction of Gush Etzion Regional Council...

 which dominated the road between Hebron
Hebron
Hebron , is located in the southern West Bank, south of Jerusalem. Nestled in the Judean Mountains, it lies 930 meters above sea level. It is the largest city in the West Bank and home to around 165,000 Palestinians, and over 500 Jewish settlers concentrated in and around the old quarter...

 and Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

. His commander in-chief, Glubb Pasha, ordered him to withdraw his troops. On 12 May, however, el-Tell told one of his officers in Hebron, Captain Hikmet Muhair, to radio Glubb's headquarters saying that his convoy was under fire from the colony. This resulted in the 6th Regiment receiving orders to attack Kfar Etzion. The Jewish positions had been holding off attacks from local irregulars but could not resist el-Tell's troops who were backed with armoured cars. A large number of prisoners were killed after they had surrendered while 320 were taken to the prisoner of war camp at Mafrak as el-Tell withdrew his troops back to Jericho.

Glubb was reported to have informed the Haganah
Haganah
Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948, which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.- Origins :...

 in early May that when the Mandate ended his forces would enter the area allocated by the partition plan to the Arab state with "limited objectives". He appears to have had no wish to send troops into Jerusalem. On 17 May, el-Tell received a personal phone call from King Abdullah ordering him to move his troops into the Old City of Jerusalem where the defenders were coming under increasing pressure from Haganah forces attacking from West Jerusalem. They arrived just in time to prevent a breakthrough at the Zion Gate where Palmach
Palmach
The Palmach was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv during the period of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palmach was established on May 15, 1941...

 troops had briefly broken through to the Jewish Quarter
Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter is one of the four traditional quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem. The 116,000 square meter area lies in the southeastern sector of the walled city, and stretches from the Zion Gate in the south, along the Armenian Quarter on the west, up to the Street of the Chain in the...

. El-Tell took charge of the siege of the quarter, methodically attacking each Haganah stronghold, and demolishing each position once it had been captured. On 25 May, he wrote to Otto Lehner of the Red Cross saying that unless the Haganah abandoned its positions in the Hurva Synagogue
Hurva Synagogue
The Hurva Synagogue, , also known as Hurvat Rabbi Yehudah he-Hasid , is a historic synagogue located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem....

 he would be forced to attack it. The Haganah commander, Moshe Russnak refused, but Russnak was coming under increasing pressure from the civilian population to surrender. On 28 May, el-Tell received a delegation led by Mordechai Weingarten
Mordechai Weingarten
Mordechai Weingarten was a Jewish community leader in Jerusalem during the British Mandate.Mordechai Weingarten, a long-time resident of the Old City of Jerusalem, was the mukhtar of the Jewish Quarter from 1935 to 1948. His family had lived in the courtyard of the Or HaChaim synagogue, on the way...

 which accepted his terms:
1. All arms and ammunition to be surrendered.
2. All men capable of bearing arms to be taken prisoner and transferred to Transjordan.
3. All other inhabitants to be sent to New Jerusalem.
4. El-Tell personally guaranteed, on behalf of King Abdullah, the safety of all those surrendering.
5. The Jewish Quarter would be occupied by Arab Legion troops.


El-Tell refused calls to take women combatants prisoners and is reported to have commented to Russnak "If I had know you were so few we would have come after you with sticks, not guns." The quarter was subjected to extensive looting after his troops withdrew.
After the capture of the Jewish Quarter el Tell wanted to push on into New Jerusalem but this was blocked by Glubb, and el Tell instead launched an artillery bombardment which lasted for two weeks. He had 12 25-pounder field guns
Ordnance QF 25 pounder
The Ordnance QF 25 pounder, or more simply, 25-pounder or 25-pdr, was introduced into service just before World War II, during which it served as the major British field gun/howitzer. It was considered by many to be the best field artillery piece of the war, combining high rates of fire with a...

 and 2 Iraqi six-inch howitzers available, but they were rationed to ten shells per gun per day.

On 11 June, King Abdullah ordered a hudna (ceasefire) and on a visit to Jerusalem on the same day promoted el-Tell to Lieutenant Colonel giving him command of three infantry companies forming an improvised Battalion based inside the Old City.

There followed a series of meetings in the presence of UN observers between el-Tell and Colonel David Shaltiel
David Shaltiel
David Shaltiel was an Israeli military and intelligence officer, later also diplomat, and was most well known for being the district commander of the Haganah in Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.He was born in Berlin into a Portuguese orthodox Jewish family settled in Hamburg.At 16,...

 the commander of Israeli forces in West Jerusalem.
The first dealt with demarcation lines in the Arab district of Musrara
Musrara, Jerusalem
Musrara also known by its Hebrew name, Morasha is a neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is bordered by Meah Shearim and Beit Yisrael on the north, the Old City on the south and east, and the Russian Compound and Kikar Safra to the west.-History:...

. On 16 June they discussed Deir Abu Tor
Abu Tor
Abu Tor is a mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood in central Jerusalem, Israel, south of the Old City. Abu Tor is bounded by the Valley of Hinnom on the north, Hebron Road and the old Jerusalem Railway Station to the west, and the Sherover Promenade, Armon HaNetziv and Peace Forest to the south...

, civilian access to retrieve personal belongings, "examination by Arabs of municipal records in the Jewish area", recovery of Torah scrolls from the Old City and the closing of the New Gate
New Gate
The New Gate is the newest gate in the walls that surround the Old City of Jerusalem. It was built in 1889 to provide direct access between the Christian Quarter and the new neighborhoods then going up outside the walls. The arched gate is decorated with crenelated stonework...

. On 7 July Shaltiel signed the "Mount Scopus
Mount Scopus
Mount Scopus , جبل المشهد , جبل الصوانة) is a mountain in northeast Jerusalem. In the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Mount Scopus became a UN protected Jewish exclave within Jordanian-occupied territory until the Six-Day War in 1967...

 Agreement" by which the Israelis agreed that Mount Scopus would be demilitarized and come under United Nations supervision. Two weeks later both men signed a formal cease-fire establishing "the status quo in no-man's land between the lines of the two parties." During this time the Israelis launched several attacks on the Old City. On 9 July it was subjected to an all night bombardment with 6" mortars. In the last major attack, on the night of 15 July, 500 shells were fired into the walled city over a period of three hours, causing many civilian casualties. It was followed by attacks on the New Gate
New Gate
The New Gate is the newest gate in the walls that surround the Old City of Jerusalem. It was built in 1889 to provide direct access between the Christian Quarter and the new neighborhoods then going up outside the walls. The arched gate is decorated with crenelated stonework...

, the Jaffa Gate and the Zion Gate. Men from the Irgun briefly forced their way through the New Gate but as the other attacks failed they retreated. At one of the cease-fire meetings el-Tell advised the Israelis to stop wasting their 6-inch mortars on the Rawdah school beside the Haram al-Sharif since he was no longer using it as his headquarters.

Governor of (Arab) Jerusalem


As el-Tell became more involved with the internal politics of the Old City and Glubb, his commander in chief, wanted to move the 6th Battalion out of Jerusalem it was agreed that el-Tell should become Military Governor.
On 28 November, el-Tell began a series of meetings with Israeli colonel Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan was an Israeli military leader and politician. The fourth Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces , he became a fighting symbol to the world of the new State of Israel...

, the new military commander of Israeli-controlled Jerusalem, with the objective of establishing a "real cease-fire." On 30 November, an agreement was signed which included provision for a fortnightly convoy to Mount Scopus. The two commanders got on well together and on Dayan's suggestion agreed to establish a direct phone link. On 10 December 1948, Dayan gave a sealed letter to el Tel to be delivered to King Abdullah. Before delivering the letter el Tel discretely lifted the seal and made a photostatic copy of its contents, which was an invitation from Elias Sasson
Eliyahu Sasson
Eliyahu Sasson was an Israeli politician and minister.-Biography:Born in Damascus in Syria, Sasson studied at an Alliance School in his hometown and the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. He became a member of the Arab National Movement and edited a Jewish-Arab newspaper named Al-Hayat...

 to King Abdullah to restart the negotiations which had been led by Golda Meir
Golda Meir
Golda Meir ; May 3, 1898 – December 8, 1978) was a teacher, kibbutznik and politician who became the fourth Prime Minister of the State of Israel....

 before the outbreak of war. On 11 December Sasson met el-Tell and King Abdullah's confidant and personal physician, Shawkat al-Sati. At a meeting on 14 December, Sasson recorded el-Tell saying "strike the Egyptians as much as you like. Our attitude will be totally neutral." There followed a number of secret meetings between Dayan and King Abdullah when el-Tell personally took Dayan wearing a red kefieh
Keffiyeh
The keffiyeh/kufiya , also known as a ghutrah , ' , mashadah , shemagh or in Persian chafiye , Kurdish cemedanî and Turkish puşi, is a traditional Arab headdress fashioned from a square, usually cotton, scarf. It is typically worn by Arab men, as well as some Kurds...

 to the King's winter palace at Shuneh.

An early proposal put forward by el-Tell was that Jews would have control over the Jewish Quarter in exchange for Jordanian control over the Katamon Quarter and that the road at Latrun
Latrun
Latrun is a strategic hilltop in the Ayalon Valley in Israel overlooking the road to Jerusalem. It is located 25 kilometers west of Jerusalem and 14 kilometers southeast of Ramla.-Etymology:...

 would be opened to both parties. This was rejected by Ben Gurion. A second proposal was that there should be joint control of the road at Latrun in exchange for allowing a number of refugees to return to Ramle and Lydda
Lydda
Lydda can refer to:*Lod, also named Lydda*Exodus from Lydda and Ramla, the Palestinian exodus from the city in July 1948...

 and that the railway to Jerusalem be reopened in exchange for the opening of the road from Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

 to the Jaffa Gate. But Ben Gurion was opposed to partial agreements rather than a complete peace treaty. He instructed his negotiators to refuse the return of refugees to Ramle and Jaffa
Jaffa
Jaffa is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Jaffa was incorporated with Tel Aviv creating the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical story of the prophet Jonah.-Etymology:...

, but to leave open the question of Arabs returning to Lydda and to mention the possibility of an access corridor to Gaza
Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

. King Abdullah's demands were a Jordan/Egypt corridor, control of the Old City except the Jewish Quarter; also control of Katamon, the German Colony
German Colony
The term German Colony can refer to:* German colonial empire, the former colonies of Germany* German Colony, Jerusalem a Templer settlement* German Colony, Haifa a Templer settlement...

, Talipot and Ramat Rahel in exchange for Israel having Lifta
Lifta
Lifta was an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Its population fled during the Arab-Jewish hostilities of 1947/48 and the efforts to relieve the Siege of Jerusalem . The village and spring for which it is named are now a park on the hillside between the western entrance to Jerusalem and...

 and Romema
Romema
Romema is a neighborhood in the city of Haifa, Israel. Romema is located east of Ahuza, on the northern slope of Mount Carmel...

, all of which the Israelis had conquered. By the autumn of 1949 King Abdullah was willing to abandon claims to Ramle and Lydda but was holding out for an access corridor to Gaza which he did not want under Egyptian control. One of the outcomes of the early meeting was the release of all Jewish prisoners a month before the armistice talks began in Rhodes.

Nine years later el-Tell wrote an account of his reactions during the first meeting between Sasson and the King, on 16 January 1949:

"I had expected His Majesty to be clever and cautious, taking without giving, terrorizing without coveting. I almost melted with shame when His Majesty began to reveal his cards in a frightening way and speak in servile and fatuous manner."

Dayan, el-Tell and King Abdullah were involved in a series of meetings between 18–23 March 1949 at which the "Israel-Transjordanian Armistice Agreement" was finalised. In June 1949 el-Tell resigned. According to Dayan it was because of the King's cooperation with the British. Other suggestions are it was because Glubb refused to promote him to Brigadier, that he feared the uncovering of a conspiracy against the king which he was involved with or that he was dismissed due to his popularity with the Palestinians. He left Jerusalem and returned to Irbid.

Exile


From Irbid, el-Tell moved to Syria where he met Husni al-Za'im
Husni al-Za'im
Husni al-Za'im was a Syrian military man and politician. Husni al-Za'im, whose family is of Kurdish ancestry, had been an officer in the Ottoman Army. After France instituted its colonial mandate over Syria after the First World War, he became an officer in the French Army...

 who had become Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Army
Syrian Army
The Syrian Army, officially called the Syrian Arab Army, is the land force branch of the Syrian Armed Forces. It is the dominant military service of the four uniformed services, controlling the senior most posts in the armed forces, and has the greatest manpower, approximately 80 percent of the...

 in May 1948, and had seized power on 30 March 1949 in a bloodless coup. This was the first of many interventions by the military in Syrian politics. Dayan states that el-Tell "was impressed by al-Za'im and the idea of [doing] something similar." Al-Za'im was executed on 14 August 1949 in a second military coup. At the end of January 1950, el-Tell moved to Cairo where according to Glubb the Egyptian Government offered him a salary. Dayan says that he became commander of a guerrilla battalion "harassing British troops station in the Canal area." On his arrival in Cairo el-Tell presented the Egyptian press with copies of letters from King Abdullah, claiming that British officers in the Arab Legion had prevented their units from fighting, that King Abdullah was a traitor and responsible for the loss of Palestine. He called for the Arab League to set up an inquiry.

On 20 July 1951 King Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem. His assassin was killed on the spot, and in the following trial four Palestinians were sentenced to death and el-Tell was found guilty of having been "an accessory before the fact" and sentenced to death in absentia. In particular it was claimed that at a secret meeting in Cairo he gave Dr. Musa al Husseini £70 towards paying the assassin. Whilst admitting that he had been involved in a conspiracy to replace Abdullah with his son Talal
Talal of Jordan
Talal I bin Abdullah 26 February 1909 – 7 July 1972) was the second King of Jordan from 20 July 1951 until forced to abdicate in favour of his son Hussein due to health reasons on 11 August 1952....

 he always maintained he had no part in the killing. At a Cairo press conference he is quoted as saying "If Glubb Pasha had been assassinated I should have been the murderer, but King Abdullah - No!"

In 1958 el-Tell published his account of events under the title "The catastrophe of Palestine".

In 1967 he received a full pardon from King Hussein and returned to Jordan where he took a civil service post in Amman
Amman
Amman is the capital of Jordan. It is the country's political, cultural and commercial centre and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The Greater Amman area has a population of 2,842,629 as of 2010. The population of Amman is expected to jump from 2.8 million to almost...

.

Character


Glubb describes el-Tell as "well educated" but adds bitterly "it is remarkable the duplicity these young men can show."
Dayan is more positive: "A tall young man, sinewy, handsome, light skinned, with a directness about him—he looked you straight in the eye—and an open and friendly smile." " El Tell impressed me as being far superior to the other Arab officers and political functionaries I encountered in that period, he hated the British officials who were the real rulers in Amman, and was contemptuous of his friends who toadied to them."
Collins and Lapierre quote Pablo de Azcarate
Pablo de Azcárate
Pablo de Azcárate y Flórez was a Spanish diplomat. He was born in Madrid. During the 1920s he worked in Minorities Section of the League of Nations Secretariat. During the Spanish Civil War,...

 who witnessed the surrender of the Jewish Quarter as observing that he behaved "without a single word or gesture which could have humiliated or offended the defeated leader in any way." Also that el Tell moved amongst the civilians "seeking to reassure them." They describe him as being "an avid student of history." It should also be noted that in their acknowledgements they state that "el Tell was a source of enormous help."
Joseph is less generous: "A typical urban Arab of the upper class named Abdullah el Tell. Between thirty and thirty-five, somewhat foppish and lithe in his movements, a little effeminate ... no strong personality of his own and was known to us to be completely under British influence."
Walter Eytan
Walter Eytan
Walter Eytan , born 1910, Munich. Died ?. Israeli diplomat. Settled in Palestine in 1946. Director General of Foreign Ministry 1948-1959. Ambassador to France 1959-1970....

, head of Israel's Foreign Affairs Ministry, was involved in many of the meetings with King Abdullah. He describes el-Tell as being the King's long-time favourite and that he "stood out from the rest of the King's advisers, maintaining an attitude of utter cynicism." Eytan continues: "He seemed to be wholly without illusions about the Arabs, the British and everyone else. He spoke about the King, even in the King's presence, in a way which could only be described as contemptuous, and yet seemed to feel affection for him and to be genuinely anxious to safeguard his interests."