By: Larry Domnitch
On December 9, 1917, British forces accepted the Turkish surrender of Jerusalem. Two days later the British officially entered the walls of Jerusalem.
As the world was engulfed in brutal armed conflict of an unprecedented scope, fighting raged in the Holy land between Allied troops and the Ottoman-Turks (allied with the Central Powers) who had ruled the land for most of the past 400 years. On October 30 the strategic city of Beer Sheva fell to the allies who then drove towards Jerusalem.
A London dispatch on November 24, reported that the Mosque containing the tomb of the prophet Samuel was bombarded. The ancient site of Mitzpeh, 5,000 yards west of Jerusalem-Nablus road has been stormed by the British. (American Jewish Chronicle, November 30, 1917, p. 91)
The major battle for Jerusalem was in full swing. British cavalry fought their way into Jerusalem. In the words of a commander,
“When ‘charge’ sounded I think every man went stark mad. Guns were belching their shells at us in one sheet of flame and bullets by thousands swept past, but no man seemed to get hit as on we went, with drawn swords flashing in the sun, in a long straight line, horses going like mad and everyone shouting like fury. Now, we could see some of our pals falling, yet straight at the guns we charged.” (American Jewish Chronicle, February 15 1918 p. 408)
In the battles for Jerusalem, twenty thousand Turkish soldiers, and three thousand six hundred British and allied troops lost their lives. On December 11, the second day of Chanukah, British troops marched into Jerusalem. British commander and chief, General Edmund Allenby respectfully entered its walls by foot through the Jaffa gate as the city’s thirty-fourth conqueror.
Excited crowds lined Jerusalem’s streets to welcome the city’s liberators. Their very presence signified an end to the terrible suffering the people of Jerusalem had endured during the war.
One British officer described his entry into Jerusalem and the reception by its residents, “People of all ages and apparently of all nationalities, thronged the roadway, crowded at their doors and windows, and squeezed themselves on the roofs of their houses. Swarms of children, Arab, Jew, and Christian, ran with us as we marched along, and the populace clamored to any point of vantage, waving and clapping their hands, cheering and singing. Jews clad in European dress came running up, singled out any one of us, wrung him by the hand, and –talking excitedly in broken English-said that they, the people of Jerusalem, had been waiting for that two and a half years. (Bernard Blaser, Kilts Across the Jordan, H.F.& B. Witherby, London, 1926, p. 120)
A Jewish periodical, The London Jewish Chronicle, headlined the event as ‘The Rising of Jerusalem,” describing the allied conquest as an “Epochal event.” Rabbi Hertz, chief Rabbi of the British Empire issued a statement linking the British entry into Jerusalem to the holiday of Chanukah, “Jerusalem which for ages has been the majestic pole of love and reverence of the world is now in British hands. And this soul thrilling news reaches us on the day that the Jews are celebrating the Maccabean festival. On this day 2,080 years ago the Maccabees freed the Holy City from the heathen oppressor and thereby changed the spiritual future of humanity. Who knows but that today’s victory may form as glorious a landmark in the history of mankind.” (London Jewish Chronicle, December 14, 1917, p.24)
Zionist leader Chaim Weitzman who played a significant role in the negotiations leading to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration just six weeks earlier, which called for a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel, phoned the London Jewish Chronicle and stated, “The news of the British victory will raise the hopes of Jews all over the world. It opens the prospects of the realization of hopes which have existed in their kinds for centuries.”(Ibid.)
On the day of the taking of Jerusalem, the citizens of the city woke up early and went out to the streets; first with hesitation just to see if indeed the Turkish front had indeed fallen. Then as if in a dream, to see the crowds, emerging from their “holes” and all marching west (to the Jaffa Gate) to witness the ceremony in which the city is passed to the British conqueror. And then the city was joyful and rejoiced. (David Benveniste, HaGedud HaIvri: Bimei Milchemet HaOlam HaRishona: Yoman, B’iton HaTzibur HaSephardi Va’Edot HaMizrach, Jerusalem, 1977, p. 5)
It would take time for the city to recover.
In the first month after the surrender, not much had changed. The residents have not yet recovered from the famine which had devastated the city during the war and were not healed from their sicknesses. Young school students were still distant from their parents in the fighting countries. Everybody was waiting for additional aid that would hopefully come from afar. In the meantime, the communication with the Tel-Aviv Jaffa residents was renewed. They were liberated a few weeks before Jerusalem was freed.
However, the city began to be revitalized. New infrastructures and facilities were constructed. Significant quantities of wheat were imported from Egypt every month by the recently appointed military governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs. Pipes were installed to allow water to be brought into the Old City of Jerusalem.
A noticeable sign of revitalization and growth was when the cornerstone to the future Hebrew University was laid upon its future site on Mount Scopus on April 10, 1918.
Jerusalem had yet again endured.
Seventy-five years later, on December 10, 1992, Jerusalem resident Anna-Grace Lind again watched Allenby stride into Jerusalem. This time, Viscount Allenby, the general’s great nephew, entered the city with Jerusalem’s Mayor Teddy Kollek. Events commemorated the 75th anniversary of Ottoman surrender to the British. Kollek stated, “The British were welcomed equally by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all of whom suffered under 400 years of Turkish rule.” (JTA, December 10, 1992)
Today, the Jaffa Gate is a reminder of the scene of the triumphant march into Jerusalem.
Life was restored but the terms of the Balfour Declaration granting Jewish Statehood would not be honored necessitating a difficult struggle for the Jewish homeland.
Larry Domnitch and his family lives in Efrat