February 11, 1999
Embracing the King
King Hussein took on an importance to American Jews that went well beyond the details of his 1994 treaty with Israel
There were 20 of us, members of Americans for Peace Now. who had come to meet with the king. We were excited, curious, anxious and interested. It was barely two weeks after the 1996 Israeli election.
We had been escorted from our hotel by Jordanian police, and, after a long wait in a reception building, we were ushered into the rather modest palace. Aides instructed us as to protocol. We were all to line up along the wall of one side of the room so that the king could personally greet each one of us as he entered.
Within a few minutes, the doors opened and the king and his entourage entered. We had been told not to extend our hand to the king, but he immediately put us at our ease, speaking to each of us, making an appropriate comment, shaking our hands and smiling warmly.
The king spoke with great and moving passion of his own commitment to peace, particularly peace for Arab and Israeli children so that there would not be any more bloodshed.
When he finished his remarks, the king asked each of us in turn to ask a question or make a personal comment assessing the new realities in Israel. When it was my turn, I said: "Your Majesty, it is a privilege and a thrill to again be with you and to see you so clearly today. You see, the last time I saw you was through joy-filled, tear-filled eyes as I personally witnessed your signing the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994 with the late Yitzhak Rabin and William Clinton in the desert near Aqaba and Eilat."
By then, more than an hour had passed since the king had joined us, and Hussein thanked us for our candor and input and stood to leave us. Everyone quickly resumed their position on the wall opposite me.
Suddenly, I realized that the king was moving quickly toward me. He again took my hand, smiled and warmly thanked me, saying that my comments had moved him greatly. At that moment, I heard an audible gasp from my colleagues, for, on hearing his most personal remarks, unthinking and unconsciously, I had broken protocol and had embraced the rather short king. This did not appear to trouble the king, and he responded with ease and left the room.
Later, my mind recalled my first visit to Israel, three weeks after the Six-Day War, walking through the Old City and seeing firsthand how the Jordanians had desecrated synagogues and cemeteries there. Indeed, his Majesty had gone through an epiphany.
I will always remember this very human moment and, this week especially, know that his memory will be a blessing. Israel and all of us have lost a great friend. Today, once again, my eyes are full of tears.
Gerald Bubis is professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College.