From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

The Compassion of a King

There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people . . . we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people.

Albert Einstein, 1939

During the early months of 1997, the Mideast peace process was on the rocks. Violent incidents on both sides had soured the political atmosphere, and there were fears of more violence to come. The fears were justified.

On March 13, 1997, a Jordanian soldier went out of control and shot and killed seven Israeli schoolgirls, aged between thirteen and fifteen, during their field trip to the Jordan River’s “Island of Peace,” near the northern border between Israel and Jordan.

One of the girls, Adi Malka, knew sign language, and her deaf parents relied almost entirely on her as their link to the world.

Thousands of Israelis attended the funerals. Grief and outrage swept the land, and relations between Israel and Jordan seemed about to plunge to a new low.

But the day following the funerals, one man resolved to do what he could to comfort and heal.

An American woman visiting Israel with her family takes up the story.

“Grief was overwhelming. The girls’ pictures covered the front page of the paper. I couldn’t bear to watch TV or read the stories at first. It was just too much. I felt overwhelmed. How do people live here year in and year out with tragedies like this?

“But then, in the midst of our grief, King Hussein came. It was the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. All of Israel was glued to the television. His humility, his sincerity, his ability to say ‘I’m sorry’ was a true gift to this country. To see this king, on his knees, in the homes of these Jewish families—listening, comforting, apologizing on behalf of his people—was absolutely unbelievable. The whole country was in tears watching this. ‘I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,’ Hussein said. ‘If there is any purpose in life it will be to make sure that all the children no longer suffer the way our generation did.’

“And he really did comfort this country in a way that nobody could have imagined possible. He won the hearts of this country. He could have easily remained aloof and discounted this crazy soldier as unstable and unrepresentative of the Jordanian army. He would have had every reason to do that. Instead, he came here and expressed his deep compassion.”

The American visitor was not alone in her feelings. Yehezkel Cohen, whose daughter Nurit was killed in the shootings, said of Hussein, “I really love him. Despite the sorrow, I say this: I hope and believe in King Hussein and a real peace.”

Beth Huppin

[EDITORS’ NOTE: King Hussein died of cancer in February 1999, two years after this incident. Just after his death, two years after their daughter was killed and King Hussein came to visit them, Shimon and Ruhama Cohen had a baby girl on February 6, 1999. They named the baby girl “Jordan,” as a “gesture to the king,” who showed so much warmth and compassion to their family after his subject’s bloody act. The late king maintained contact with the family following the incident in 1997, even during his final illness. The family wanted to honor him, and their new daughter, writes The Jerusalem Report (3-1-99), is “a gift after a tragedy” to maintain their connection with the late king and his kind act.]

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