Decades ago, an author rightly called the Hashemite family's having ruled Mecca for a millennium, almost without interruption, "one of the more remarkable phenomena of history." EI2 3.263 But it did so in obscurity, only to burst onto the world scene with World War I and the Arab Revolt. For ten glorious years, from the Husayn-McMahon correspondence of 1915-16 (in which London supported Hashemite aspirations to found a pan-Arab caliphate) until the Saudi conquest of Mecca in 1924 (which effectively ended those Hashemite aspirations), the family plausibly laid claim to lead the Arabic-speaking world. Then failure set in, as the Hashemites lost Syria, the caliphate, Hijaz, and (much later) Iraq. Only the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, that "modest remnant of a great ambition," 5 survived the general collapse.
In a well-designed and lively volume, Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center has taken the welcome step of assessing the twentieth-century Hashemite experience as a whole. It does so in three parts, one each dealing with the Hijaz kingdom, Iraq, and Jordan. In addition to the more conventional analysis, such as Joseph Nevo's exemplary study of King `Abdallah's memoirs, several of the essays draw on unusual sources or deal with unusual topics. Ami Ayalon interprets the Hijaz kingdom via its postage stamps. Jeffrey A. Rudd (the one non-Israeli essay writer in the volume) finds gold in a protracted British government debate over whether to spell the new country's name Irak or Iraq, seeing in this a metaphor for basic disagreements on larger issues. Martin Kramer recounts the peculiar history of Eugène Jung, the Hashemites' French booster. Michael Winter shows that Jordanian textbooks before 1967 were among the most radical in the Arab world -- not a little surprising given that country's moderate politics.