Book Review: Leap of Faith, by Queen Noor

Queen Noor  (the former Lisa Halaby) is my ‘agemate’.  I remember seeing photos of her  and King Hussein in the newspaper when their  engagement was announced.  I was fascinated that such a young girl ( she was 26 at the time) was choosing to marry such an ‘old’ man  (he was in his 40’s), even if he was a king.  I  also wondered if her father married her off.

Several years ago, I became interested in T. E. Lawrence.  He is  pretty much responsible for the modern Middle East.  So, when I got the opportunity to  read what  the queen had to say, and had the time, I decided to read her memoir.

She is a fascinating woman.  It was not merely chance that she met the king.  Her father was an aviation executive, and of Jordanian descent.  He was friendly with the King.    Lisa had gotten a degree in urban planning and architecture, and was working around the world consulting on airport design.  The king was an avid aviator, it so happened.  She was working for her father  and as a consultant in Amman when the king started pursuing her, but it was a love match.

Although Queen Noor grew up in the United States,  she was a global citizen.  She  took to her new role as wife and stepmother easily, or so she writes.  She  did much to  improve the welfare  of women and children in Jordan, but she was still a royal, and she writes easily of having homes in  England and the USA, as well as multiple residences in Jordan.  So, although she professes concern for the citizenry, she apparently had no problem  jetting around.

The important message from this book—and there is a message, is that  the king wanted peace, but he was saddled with Palestinian refugees and  a difficult Yassir Aarafat.  Also, A neighbor to the west, Israel, that kept encroaching on disputed land.

For those who did not know,  there were no countries here  until after World War I.  It was ‘Palestine’ with no geographic boundaries, because it was Ottoman Empire.  It was T.E. Lawrence, who had  worked on archeological digs  in the years before the war, who learned Arabic, who  worked with  King Hussein’s great grandfather so the
Arabs could rule themselves. One of the  compromises the  old King (or Sheikh) had made was to give a live of land along the Mediterranean to the Jews as long as  the Arabs had a port, thinking this would be Syria and Lebanon.  When Lawrence worked this out, with the  approval of higher ups in the British government (they wanted the cooperation of the Arabs to  get control of the Ottoman lands), he did not know the British had  already agreed to Sykes-Pikot, and were also selling him and the Arabs out to the French.

Were that not bad enough, because the Palestinians were not  the same ‘tribe’ (I hesitate to use the word–ethnic group would  be better) as the Jordanians, they wanted  control  of the land ‘deeded’ to them  between World Wars I  and II.  Many do not know this, but  in some cases, ‘Israelis’ bought land from the  Palestinians, , and in some cases they terrorized the Palestinians off their land.  It is hard for me —as a Jew—to say this—but it is fact.  And, after the 1967 war, they took  control of the disputed  land that was under Palestinian Control.

Ideally, Jerusalem should be a city/state, like the  Vatican, Republic of Srbska in Bosnia, or Lichtenstein, under control of neither Israel, Palestinians, or Jordanians, but  the King of Jordan, as the head of Hashemites, has historical  stewardship of the Mosque in Jerusalem.

Due to  ultra orthodox Jews and right wing hardliners having so much influence in  Israel, and their lobby in the USA, there is  slim chance of this happening, or  of dismantling settlements on the occupied lands—so there will be no peace. And, while many of the old Palestinians are now dead, they instilled in their children remembrance of what they lost.  It would also be ideal to allow the Palestinians to govern themselves. While there are many  educated Palestinians, they  got their educations  as exiles, & the  local population is not educated enough to manage without the help of the  rest of the Arab/Moslem world (that said, when many Palestinians are Orthodox Christians). However,  Israel would be in a terrible way, much less developed, were it not for the very active Jewish lobby in the USA, who are also philanthropists.

This tension was a constant  throughout Queen Noor’s life.  She really concentrates a lot on  her devotion to her husband, and  working for  women’s rights and economic development in Jordan, but says very little about her children.  The book is well-edited and  explains a lot about a  country most of us know little about.    It’s a good, captivating read, and I recommend it.


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