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December 9, 2020 6:37 am

Remembering Hanukkah 1917 and the Liberation of Jerusalem

avatar by Larry Domnitch


The Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On December 9, 1917, British forces accepted the Turkish surrender of Jerusalem. Two days later, British forces officially entered the walls of the city.

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 Be’er 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 the Jerusalem-Nablus road, was stormed by the British. The major battle for Jerusalem was in full swing. British cavalry ferociously fought their way into Jerusalem.

On December 11, the second day of Hanukkah, British troops marched into Jerusalem. British commander General Edmund Allenby respectfully entered its walls by foot through the Jaffa Gate.

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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 this way: “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 … two and a half years.”

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 Hanukkah: “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.”

On the day of the taking of Jerusalem, the citizens of the city woke up early and went out into the streets; first with hesitation, just to see if indeed the Turkish front had fallen. It would take time for the city to recover.

In the first month after the surrender, not much had changed. The residents had 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 and Jaffa residents was renewed. They were liberated a few weeks before Jerusalem was freed.

However, Jerusalem 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.

A noticeable sign of revitalization and growth was when the cornerstone of 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 an 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.”

Today, the Jaffa Gate is a reminder of the scene of the triumphant march into Jerusalem.

Larry Domnitch is an author and instructor of history at Touro College.

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