Friday, November 7, 2014

WW100: Centenary of World War I --
Historic Pictures of the Armies that Fought in the Holy Land

A memorial erected by the Jews of Rishon LeZion
 in memory of the New Zealand soldiers who died
in the battle of Ayun Kara on November 14, 1917
(Victoria University of Wellington Library)
We have often stressed in these posting the huge dimensions of World War I in Palestine.  The armies, battles and casualties were often on the same scale as those on the "Western Front" in Europe.  The war raged from the Suez Canal to Damascus and Iraq.

The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement that carved up the Middle East after the war is being ripped to shreds in the regional fighting today.

Commemorating the centenary of World War I, we present the picture history of the Palestine battles, the soldiers from Turkey, Austria and German on one side and the British army with its contingents from Australia, New Zealand, and India.  We will also post pictures showing the Jewish soldiers and volunteers from Great Britain, Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Palestine itself.  The Jewish soldiers also provided incredible pictures of the Jewish communities they found in Palestine.

school house in Rishon LeZion with Jewish students and teachers. The picture was taken by
Trooper Charles Thomas Broomfield of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles after the
November 14, 1917 battle of Ayun Kara and the liberation of Rishon LeZion.
Rishon was founded on July 31, 1882 by Russian Jews who purchased 835 acres
 from the Arab village of Ayun Kara. Find more Broomfield pictures here.
More on the New Zealand soldiers, Broomfield, and the Jews of Rishon LeZion can be found here. We provide a fascinating quote from Broomfield's diary:

The people and the settlement [Rishon] was to have a strong influence on the New Zealanders. The Jewish village was the first taste of something closer to the environment of home. Since crossing the arid Sinai Desert and its confrontation with a hostile Turkish enemy and, more often than not, a treacherous contact with Arab Bedu tribesmen - The Auckland Mounted Rifles agreed it was a joy to meet a people who had just been freed from Turkish tyranny. It was a land worked into agriculture and planted with fruit trees and vineyards.

"Mounted rifle troops and horses stopped to the side of a road through the mountains of Palestine." The photo
appears to be at the Sha'ar Haggai/Bab el Wad junction between Jaffa and Jerusalem.
(National Library of New Zealand)
"Mounted New Zealand World War I troops in Palestine, moving towards the Jordan River. Photographs taken
during World War I of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in Jerusalem, and the Auckland Mounted
Rifles in Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. Ref: 1/2-066833-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The U.S. Navy Saved Jews of Eretz Yisrael
Exactly 100 Years Ago (October 6, 1914)

USS North Carolina (Photographic History of
the U.S. Navy)
Versions of this article appear in today's Jerusalem Post Magazine and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website

One hundred years ago the Jews of Palestine suffered terribly from hunger, disease and oppression.  The territory was ruled with an iron fist by the Ottoman (Turkish) army.  The Middle East teetered on the brink of World War I, and in 1914 Turkey abolished the “capitulation” agreements with European powers which granted them elements of sovereignty over their subjects in the Ottoman Empire.  For many Jews of Eretz Yisrael their French, British and Russian protectors were gone. The financial assistance they received from their European Jewish brethren evaporated.  

In late 1914, the war in the Middle East began with Turkey massing troops in Palestine and the Sinai to move against the British along the Suez Canal.  The Turkish army prepared for the attack by forcibly conscripting locals, including Jews, and by looting (so-called “levies”) supplies, food and animals from residents of Palestine.

The forced conscription and looting of  Jerusalem homes. (1914, Ottoman Imperial Archives)

Hassan Bey, the "Tyrant" (Library
of Congress)
In a report on the Jews of Palestine in World War I, the Zionist Organization of London related in 1921, “The harshest and most cruel of all the Turkish officials was the Commandant of the Jaffa district, Hassan Bey.” 

The report described how “it would suddenly come into his head to summon respectable householders … with an order to bring him some object from their homes which had caught his fancy or of which he had heard — an electric clock, a carpet, etc. Groundless arrests, insults, tortures, bastinadoes [clubs] — these were things every householder had to fear.” [In April 1917, on the eve of Passover, the Turks ordered the expulsion of approximately 8,000 Jews from Jaffa.  An unknown number died. The expulsion of all Jews from Palestine was halted by the German commander in Palestine.]
Locust eradication attempt (1915,
Library of Congress)

In March 1915, the situation for the residents of Eretz Yisrael turned more hopeless when a plague of locusts of Biblical proportions ravaged the land for six months.

The United States retained its neutrality in the war until 1917. Its consulate in Jerusalem, headed by Dr. Otis Glazebrook,remained open.  The Americans were the only ones left to help the Jews of Palestine.

On August 31, 1914, the American ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, sent an urgent telegram to the New York Jewish tycoon Jacob Schiff. “Palestinian Jews facing terrible crisis,” he wrote. 

Morgenthau's cable to Schiff, 1914 (JDC Archives)

Amb. Henry Morgenthau
(Library of Congress)
“Belligerent countries stopping their assistance. Serious destruction threatens thriving colonies. Fifty thousand dollars needed by responsible committee. Dr. Ruppin chairman to establish loan institute and support families whose breadwinners have entered army.  Conditions certainly justify American help. Will you undertake matter?”  Signed “Morgenthau.”

Realizing the difficulty in bringing money into Palestine past corrupt Turkish officials, Morgenthau also appealed to Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan for assistance.  It came in the form of U.S. Navy ships.

The U.S. Navy to the Rescue

On October 6, 1914 the U.S. Navy’s USS North Carolina landed in the Jaffa harbor and delivered $50,000 to the U.S. consul general for distribution to the Jewish community. A total of 13 port visits were made by ships such as the USS North Carolina, Vulcan, Des Moines and Tennessee which plied the eastern Mediterranean between Beirut and Cairo. Some of the ships delivered money, food and aid to the Jews of Palestine until the United States entered the war in 1917. 
USS Tennessee crew members carrying
stores onto the ship’s boat deck, probably
 at Alexandria, Egypt, circa 1914/1915.
Ship alongside may be USS Vulcan. (U.S.Naval Historical Center)

The Jews of Eretz Yisrael “would have succumbed had not financial help arrived from America,” the Zionist Organization of London report declared.  “America was at that time the one country which through its political and financial position was able to save [Jewish] Palestine permanently from going under.”

The U.S. ships also left with valuable cargo – the Jews of Palestine who were expelled or had to flee the Turks because of their Zionist activity or draft dodging.  One such Palestinian Jew was Alexander Aaronson whose brother Aaron and sister Sarah were founders of the anti-Turk NILI spy network that helped the British.  Sarah killed herself after prolonged Turkish torture.

In his book With the Turks in Palestine, Alexander Aaronson relates: “One of the American cruisers, by order of Ambassador Morgenthau, was empowered to assist citizens of neutral countries to leave the Ottoman Empire. These cruisers had already done wonderful rescue work for the Russian Jews in Palestine, who, when war was declared, were to have been sent to the Mesopotamian town of Urfa—there to suffer massacre and outrage like the Armenians.”  

Aaronson stealthily traveled to Beirut where he was able to sneak aboard the USS Des Moines. Once under sail, Aaronson wrote, “Friends discovered friends and tales of woe were exchanged, stories of hardship, injustice, oppression, all of which ended with mutual congratulations on escaping from the clutches of the Turks.” [HT: AA]

Lenny Ben-David is the Director of Publications at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the publisher of  He served as a senior diplomat at Israel’s embassy in Washington and an arms control consultant in eastern Europe. He spent 25 years working for AIPAC in Washington and Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yom Kippur at the Western Wall 100 Years Ago
- reposting a feature from last year

Jews at the Kotel on Yom Kippur (circa 1904) See analysis of  the graffiti
on the wall for dating this picture. The graffiti on the Wall are memorial
notices (not as one reader suggested applied to the photo later). (Library of Congress)

On Saturday, Jews around the world will commemorate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  For many centuries, Jews in the Land of Israel prayed at the Western Wall, the remnant of King Herod's retaining wall of the Temple complex destroyed in 70 AD.

Several readers noticed and commented on the intermingling of men and women in these historic pictures.

It was not by choice. 

The Turkish and British rulers of Jerusalem imposed severe restrictions on the Jewish worshipers,  prohibiting chairs, forbidding screens to divide the men and women, and even banning the blowing of the shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur service.  Note that the talit prayer shawls, normally worn by men throughout Yom Kippur, are not visible in the pictures.

The men are wearing their festival/Sabbath finery, including their
fur shtreimel hats. Note the prayer shawls.  (Credit: RCB Library1897)

We found one rare picture in an Irish church's archives, dated 1897, showing men wearing prayer shawls at the Kotel.

View this video, Echoes of a Shofar, to see the story of young men who defied British authorities between 1930 and 1947 and blew the shofar at the Kotel.

Another view of the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. Note the various groups
of worshipers: The Ashkenazic Hassidim wearing the fur shtreimel hats in
 the foreground, the Sephardic Jews wearing  the fezzes in the
center, and the women in the back wearing white shawls. (Circa 1904, Library of Congress)

For the 19 years that Jordan administered the Old City, 1948-1967, no Jews were permitted to pray at the Kotel.

Many of the photo collections we have surveyed contain numerous pictures of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall over the last 150 years.

After the 1967 war, the Western Wall plaza was enlarged and large areas of King Herod's wall have been exposed.  Archaeologists have also uncovered major subterranean tunnels -- hundreds of meters long -- that are now open to visitors to Jerusalem.
Click on the photos to enlarge.  Click on the captions to see the originals. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

World War I in the Middle East

I'd Walk 100 Miles with My Camel

Volunteer Arab Camel Corps led by Turkish officers leaving Jerusalem (circa (1915) 
The scope of the World War I battles in Palestine are simply not understood by most students of the Middle East today.  The Turkish, German, Austrian, British, ANZAC and Indian forces numbered in the hundreds of thousands. 

Mounted troops from the Australian, British, New Zealand and Indian battalions of the Imperial Camel Corps

To provide some perspective, we present pictures of one of the most utilized tools of that war -- the camel.  Tens of thousands were used in the war in Palestine.
Australian camel corps hat pin

The difficult terrain of the Sinai, the Jordan Valley, and the Samarian/Judean hills required extensive use of the sturdy and powerful four-legged "supply truck."

Consider this report by a New Zealand officer in his book With the Cameliers in Palestine:

In the advance up the coastal plain in Palestine, in November, 1917, General Allenby used thirty thousand (30,000) camels for carrying food, water and ammunition to the troops of one portion of the eastern force of his army. 
A Turkish account of the war, and specifically the 1914-1915 campaign against the British on the Suez Canal, describes the forces and the logistical nightmare of crossing the Sinai desert:
Turkish Camel Corps in Be'er Sheva, 1915

The gathering point for the VIII Corps was Beersheba, which was inland, well away from the reach of British naval artillery. From there, 25,000 men would march 300 kilometres across the desert and reach Ismailia. However, this was nothing but a mission impossible. Moreover, every man was allowed one kilogram of food and drink water per day and this meant that they needed 15,000 camels. But what they had was just 2,000 animals. [Commander] Cemil Paşa mentioned this problem in his memoirs as follows: “I think there are many people who are wandering why we couldn't find the required 15,000 camels in a place like Syria and Hejaz.  We had to find 14,000 camels within one month.” Five kilograms of barley and 18 kilograms of water were allowed per horse and three kilograms of barley and five kilograms of water was allowed per camel.
British Imperial Camel Corps outside of Be'er Sheva on November 1,
1917, during the critical battle to capture the Turkish outpost and wells 
The Turkish account continues, describing the Turkish army's strength after difficult battles in Gaza and prior to the British General Allenby's move north into Palestine: As of May 1917, the Ottoman Fourth Army was consisting of 174,908 men, 36,225 animals, 5,351 camels, 145,840 rifles, 187 machine guns and 282 artillery pieces.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Click on captions to view the original pictures.

World War I combat ambulances. Camels carrying wounded Turkish soldiers -- two per camel 
on a litter called a "kankalah" or "cacolet." (1917, Ottoman Imperial Archives) See also here

Wounded Australian cavalrymen on their way to
medical attention (Australian War Memorial)

The following description is from 
"With the Cameliers in Palestine:"

The field ambulance, instead of using wheeled vehicles, transported the sick and wounded in "caco-lets," on the backs of camels. These consisted of two canvas stretchers balanced horizontally, one on each side of a specially constructed saddle. In these the wounded men could either sit or lie at full length, and were shaded from the sun by a small canvas hood. The jolting
Indian army's camel ambulances
motion of the camel frequently was most trying to the badly wounded men, but it was sometimes a case of this kind of carriage, or death, and these camel cacolets, going as they did where wheeled transport was impossible, undoubtedly were the means of saving the lives of many wounded men who otherwise would have had a poor chance of being carried back to safety. 

Only male camels were used in the
German soldiers loading wounded onto an "ambulance," 1918
Camel Brigade. It would have been an unworkable system to have mixed the sexes, as in the East no mutilation of male animals, either horses, donkeys or camels for sterilisation purposes, is ever practised by the Mohammedans. 

British Imperial Camel Corps "ambulances" in action, 1916

Horses generally have a strong dislike for camels, but this dislike can be overcome by daily contact. Some of the officers of higher rank of each battalion used horses during part of the campaign, and these soon grew quite accustomed to the company of their more ungainly associates.

Turkish army camel convoy, 1917. The caption in the Harvard University places the picture near the modern
northern Israeli town of Afula in the Jezreel Valley. The body of water, however, suggests it was taken near the
Hula Valley swamps which was sparsely populated by a Bedouin tribe living in reed huts, likely pictured here.

Turkish officers at David's Citadel in Jerusalem

Turkish camel corps in Jerusalem

Original captionThe Camel Transport of the Australian Light Horse at the railhead dump, on
the Philistine Plain (near Ashkelon). The camels are seen on their way to the forward area, loaded
with Australian frozen mutton for the troops. In the background can be seen the tent camp.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy New Year!
Jews Will Blow the Shofar (Ram's Horn) in Synagogues on Thursday and Friday

Yemenite Jew blowing the shofar (circa 1935, all photographs are from the Library of Congress archives)

"Blow the Shofar at the New Moon...Because It Is a Decree for Israel, a Judgment Day for the God of Jacob"  - Psalms 81

Jews around the world prepare for Rosh Hashanna this week, the festive New Year holiday when the shofar -- ram's horn -- is blown in synagogues. 

The American Colony photographers recorded a dozen pictures of Jewish elders blowing the shofar in Jerusalem some 80 years ago.  The horn was also blown in Jerusalem to announce the commencement of the Sabbath.  During the month prior to Rosh Hashanna, the shofar was blown at daily morning prayers to encourage piety before the High Holidays.   

Ashkenazi Jew in Jerusalem blowing the shofar to announce the Sabbath

Yemenite Rabbi Avram, donning tfillin for his
daily prayers, blowing the shofar
Man blowing the shofar in Mandelkern, NY, 1901

Monday, September 1, 2014

Skip to the End -- How Did WWI End in Palestine?

Handwritten caption: "The Mayor of Jerusalem Hussein Effendi El Husseini meeting
with Srgts Sedwick and  Hurcomb..., London Regiment, under the White Flag of
 Surrender, December 9th at 8 a.m." The white flag was a bed sheet
taken from the American Colony residence. (1917, Library of Congress)
World War I began 100 years ago in the Middle East with the Turkish assault on the British-held Suez Canal.

Let's skip to the end and view how the war concluded in Jerusalem in December 1917. 

The British forces stalled in their attempt to capture Palestine through Gaza. A daring attack across the desert to Be'er Sheva in October 1917 opened the path to Jerusalem.

Click here for more on the surrender of Jerusalem to two British army sergeants.
Click on pictures to enlarge. Click on caption to see the original.

The Middle East fighting continued until October 1918, after major battles in Megiddo, Jericho and Damascus.

Turkish troops arriving in Jerusalem from nearby positions, before fleeing the city
(1917, stereograph photo, Monash University archives)
British General Edmund Allenby's arrival in Jerusalem via the Jaffa Gate
 after the city's surrender (1917, Library of Congress)

Friday, August 15, 2014

New Photo Resource Uncovered: The Ottoman Imperial Archives

In recent weeks, the Ottoman Imperial Archives put digital photographs, illustrations and documents online, posting them as well to Flickr and Facebook.  As we explore the archives, we are finding many pictures of life in Palestine in the 19th century and of Turkish forces in Palestine in World War I. We present a preview below.

Caption reads: Reservists and recruits rounded up in Palestine by the Turks being marched unwillingly to barracks.
Right: Troops of the Turkish Regular Army marching newly-raised levies through Jerusalem to
a camp in readiness for their projected attack on Egypt.

These pictures and English caption appear in the Ottoman Imperial Archives. They show the forced conscription of residents of Palestine, including Jews, prior to the Turkish attack on the British controlled Suez Canal in 1914.  The picture on the right shows the confiscation of supplies and food stuffs from Jerusalem residents.

According to the report "Palestine during the War, 1914-1917" by the London Zionist Organisation, life for the Jews of Palestine was difficult and perilous:

Jews and Christians ...were for the most part not placed on active  [army] service but assigned to various labor battalions. The members of these battalions were the pariahs of the army; their clothing, feeding, and general equipment was abominable, and they were treated worse than slaves. The Jew would sell his last stick in order to scrape together enough money to ransom him from the slavery of this battalion. But there were still many who could not raise sufficient, and who had to serve in the labor battalions; and these had to leave their families behind entirely unprovided for.

A large part of the Jews in the workers' battalions never returned. They fell victims to epidemics and starvation. A large part of the families of these soldiers also perished from poverty and sickness.

"Ottoman army, preparatory to the attack on the Suez Canal, 1914," is the caption in the Ottoman
Imperial Archives. The handwritten caption above appears in an album in the Library of Congress

Pictured below are the Varhaftig/Amitay family from Tiberias with their son in a Turkish uniform and Jerusalem resident Mendel Kremer in uniform. 
Mendel Kremer, Turkish soldier, later a
pharmacist, journalist and spy (1910)

Varhaftig/Amitay family in Tiberias (courtesy)

Several of the photos of the Turkish
army in World War I also appear in the Library of Congress' American Colony/Matson Collection and have been featured here in the past.

Ottoman Imperial Archives: "Ottoman soldiers pass through the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem" (1915)
In the Jaffa Gate photograph, note the Jewish  residents of Jerusalem in their black caftans and hats to the right of the troops.

The clock tower was built in 1908 in honor of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.  After the British captured the city in 1917 the ornate tower was torn down.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tisha B'Av, the Day of Jewish Mourning

Jewish men sitting on the ground at the "Wailing Wall" (circa  1935).
From the Library of Congress collection.
A version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine, July 27, 2012. 
Tisha B'Av is commemorated on the evening of Monday, August 4, 2014 and continues until sundown on August 5.

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av -- Tisha B'Av -- is the day in the Hebrew calendar when great calamities befell the Jewish people, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of the fortress Beitar in the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 136 CE, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.  The day is commemorated with fasting, prayers and the reading of Lamentations.  In Jerusalem, thousands pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

"Devout Jewish women" at the Wall (circa
1900). View another photo of devout women here

The American Colony photographers frequently focused their cameras on the worshipers at the "Wailing Place of the Jews."  The Colony founders who came to Jerusalem in 1881 were devout Christians who saw the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a sign of messianic times. 

Of the dozens of pictures at the Kotel there are several of elderly men and women sitting on the ground or on low stools, customs of mourning practiced on Tisha B'Av.

"A Jewish beggar reading at the Wailing Wall" (circa 1920).
Note others sitting on the ground. The day is almost
certainly Tisha B'Av and he is probably reading the
book of Lamentations.

Jews straining to see the Western Wall (circa 1929)

"Jews' wailing place without mourners.
Deserted during 1929 riots." View looking north.
Other pictures presented here show the very narrow and confined area of the Kotel over the ages until Israel's army captured the Old City in 1967 and enlarged the Kotel plaza. 

The tragedies that occurred to the Jewish nation are also evident in the pictures of the deserted plaza after Arab pogroms in 1929.  The area was deserted, of course, during the 19 years of Jordanian rule of the Old City when Jews were forbidden to pray at the site.

A story is told of Napoleon passing a synagogue and hearing congregants inside mourning.  To his question who they are mourning, he was told they were weeping over the destruction of the Jewish Temple 1,800 years earlier.  Napoleon responded, according to the legend, "If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt."
Western Wall deserted in 1929. View looking south.



Dedicated in memory of 
Chaim Menachem ben Levi

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gaza in 1917. What Led to Such Terrible Destruction?
-- Excerpts from a previous posting

Gaza City in World War I, 1917 (Library of Congress). What caused such destruction?
Turks prepare to attack the Suez Canal, 1915

In the early 1900s, the British Empire relied on the Suez Canal to maintain communications and trade with India, Australia and New Zealand.  And that was precisely why Germany encouraged Turkey to challenge British rule over Egypt and British control of the Suez Canal.

In early 1915, the Turkish army in Palestine crossed the Sinai and attacked British troops along the Suez.

The British army beat back the attacks, took the war north into Sinai and pushed the Turkish army back to a defense line stretching from Gaza, located on the Mediterranean, to Be'er Sheva, some 40 miles inland.

Great Mosque of Gaza (circa 1880)
The Mosque after the fighting (1917)

In March and April 1917 the British army attempted to push through Gaza and up the Mediterranean coast in battles that involved as many as 60,000 soldiers, British and French ships firing on Gaza from the Mediterranean, the use of poison gas, and the deployment of newly developed British tanks. The British suffered a disastrous defeat.
Ruins of Gaza, believed to be after the 1917 battles

British trenches in Gaza. After the defeat, the
 British army switched to more mobile tactics.

British tanks destroyed in the Gaza fighting

The British campaign for Jerusalem would be stalled for six months.  It would be led by a new commander, a large number of reinforcements, and a new strategy that took the war in a new direction, east toward Be'er Sheva.

British Prisoners of War, captured in Gaza 1917

Footnote: History records Jews living in Gaza for thousands of years.  [View the mosaic depicting King David from a 6th century synagogue in Gaza.]

Mosaic of King David
(Israel Museum)
Ottoman tax records showed dozens of Jewish families in Gaza in the Middle Ages.  One of the most famous Gazan Jews was Rabbi Israel Ben Moses Najara (16th Century) who composed prayers and Sabbath zmirot (songs) popular to this day.  He was buried in Gaza.

Jewish families fled Gaza in the 1929 pogroms. Population records still showed Jews living in Gaza until 1945.

Kfar Darom, named for a community mentioned in the Talmud, was a Jewish kibbutz established in the Gaza Strip in 1930 that was abandoned in the 1948 war.  Kfar Darom was reestablished in 1970 but evacuated by Israel in the 2005 "disengagement."