The Procession Was All Afoot

General Allenby enters Jerusalem, December 11, 1917

Credit:Library of Congress/U. & U.

So much of the history we bring you has to do with World War II, and rightfully so. Not only did that era see the Holocaust, the darkest chapter in Jewish history, but it directly led to the creation of the modern state of Israel. However, the Holy Land plays a part in the First World War, as well, as we will see in today’s history lesson.

For exactly 400 years, from 1517 until 1917, the Ottomans held Jerusalem. But as the Ottomans were allied with Germany during World War I, their hold on the Holy City was threatened by the approaching British Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

Led by General Edmund Allenby, the British began in Egypt and worked their way through what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Unlike his predecessors in the Middle East campaign who commanded from the safety of Cairo, Allenby stayed close to the front lines, moving from Gaza toward Jerusalem.

During the Third Battle of Gaza (the British had lost the first two, under previous military leadership) in November of 1917, Allenby utilized trickery against the Turks. Sending out false radio messages and allowing fake battle plans to be found by his enemies — all of which pointed to the British trying to take Gaza — Allenby instead captured the city of Beersheba and sent the Turks retreating in a panic. From there, the capture of Jerusalem was assured.

And so on this day, 102 years ago, General Allenby entered the Holy City of Jerusalem, which was no longer under Muslim rule for the first time in four centuries. In a sign of respect (and in contrast to the pompous German Kaiser Wilhelm who entered the city on his horse in 1898, angering Jerusalemites), Allenby climbed down from his horse and humbly entered Jerusalem on foot, reporting:

“I entered the city officially at noon, 11 December…the procession was all afoot…the population received me well…”

The people of Jerusalem were right in how they received General Allenby, as they would learn in his official proclamation upon taking the Holy City:

“To the Inhabitants of Jerusalem the Blessed and the People Dwelling in Its Vicinity…

“I hereby inform you that it is my desire that every person pursue his lawful business without fear of interruption.

“Furthermore, since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it know to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.”

While the British gave up their mandate after World War II, allowing the modern state of Israel to be formed and giving the Jewish people back their God-appointed land, the Jewish state is still the one place in the entire troubled Middle East where such protections and equality are allowed all of its citizens, something that began exactly 102 years ago today.

Tags: General Edmund Allenby History Israel Jerusalem World War I

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