Monday, October 31, 2011

The Gates of Jerusalem Then and Now, Part V -- Dung Gate, Sha'ar Ha'Ashpot

Dung Gate interior (circa 1900)
The wall of Jerusalem's Old City and many of the gates that we see today were built in 1540 during the days of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.  The Dung Gate is one of eight gates in the Old City Wall. 

Dung Gate interior (circa

The original Dung Gate is mentioned in the book of Nehemiah 3:13.  Close to the Temple Mount and facing the ancient City of David and the Shiloach spring, the original gate was probably well traversed.  The gate is at the lowest point of the walls, and indeed it was probably used for removing refuse and possibly ashes from the Temple.  A major drainage tunnel near the gate, more than 600 meters long and dating back at least to Herod's days, has recently been discovered and cleared and opened for tourists.

"Ash heaps from the Temple
sacrifices" 1898
The Library of Congress collection includes one picture, incredibly captioned, "Ash heaps from the Temple sacrifices."  The location of the photo is unclear but it does not appear to match the terrain below the Dung Gate.
Dung Gate today. Note the small arch of
the original Ottoman gate on top of
the larger opening

The Ottoman-built gate was small and narrow, the upper arch of which is still visible above today's gate.  In 1952, during Jordan's occupation of the Old City, the gate was widened to permit vehicles to enter.  The opening was reinforced with cement posts. The gate was renovated by Israel after 1967 to match the Ottoman stone and design.

See previous photo essays on the Zion Gate, Damascus Gate, Golden Gate and Lions Gate.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Kaiser Arrives, and the Rabbis Turn Out.
How Jerusalem's Jews Greeted the German Emperor in 1898

The welcome arch constructed by Jerusalem's Jews in honor
of the German Emperor Wilhelm II
The German Emperor's visit to Jerusalem on October 29, 1898 was a major historic event, reflecting the geopolitical competition between the German Empire, Russia, France and the British Empire.  Emperor Wilhelm II and his wife were received with open arms by the Ottomans collapsing under the weight of centuries of corruption and still reeling from the aftermath of the costly Crimean War of the 1850s.
Wilhelm II and Augusta Viktoria

Preparations were undertaken throughout Turkish-controlled Palestine: roads were paved, waterworks installed, electrical and telegraph lines laid, and sanitation measures -- seen today as basic -- were implemented.  The Turks even breached the Old City walls near Jaffa Gate to construct a road for the Emperor's carriages.

Interior of the arch. Note the curtains hanging.

The visit was photographed extensively by the American Colony photographers.  The popularity of the Emperor's pictures led to the establishment of the Colony's photographic enterprise and eventually the 22,000 pictures that were donated to the Library of Congress.

The Jews of Jerusalem were caught up in the excitement.  Some of the Jews with ties to Europe were actually under the Emperor's protection.  Others expected to benefit from the Emperor's largesse.  And still others wanted the opportunity to recite a rarely said blessing upon seeing a king, according to David Yellin, a Jerusalem intellectual who described the visit in his diary.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi,
Yaakov Shaul Elissar

The Jewish community constructed a large and richly adorned welcome arch to receive the Emperor.  The arch was located on Jaffa Road (near today's Clal Building) and bore the Hebrew and German title, "Welcome in the name of the Lord."

Torah crowns and breastplate
on top of the arch
The Library of Congress collection offers viewers the ability to enlarge the photos, and once enlarged, the details under the arch are amazing.  The chief rabbis of the time are easily recognizable, the arch is decorated along the top by Torah crowns, and it is clear that the arch is lined by the curtains from Torah arks, parochot.

Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem,
Shmuel Salant

The enlargements show that one curtain came from the Istanbuli synagogue in the Old City, another was donated by the Bukhari community, and a third belonged to Avraham Shlomo Zalman Hatzoref, a student of the Gaon of Vilna and a builder of Jerusalem who arrived in Eretz Yisrael exactly 200 years ago.  We can deduce that the third parochet came from the Hurva synagogue which Hatzoref helped to fund (actually arranged for the cancellation of the Ashkenazi community's large debt to local Arabs).  For his efforts he was killed by the Arabs in 1851.  Hatzoref is recognized by the State of Israel as the first victim of modern Arab terrorism.

Curtain from the Bukhari community
Curtain from the
Istanbuli synagogue

The curtain lists several names besides Hatzoref.  Their names are followed by the Hebrew initials Z'L -- of blessed memory.  The fact that Hatzoref's name is not followed by Z'L suggests that the curtain was made prior to his death in 1851.

Hatzoref's parochet, suggesting it came
from the Hurva Synagogue

According to the New York Times account of the visit, two Torah scrolls were also on display in the Jewish arch, but they are not visible in the photographs. 

Photo montage of Herzl
and the Emperor at
Mikve Yisrael school
Two individuals who should have been under the arch were not there.  The first was Theodore Herzl who came to Palestine in order to meet with the Emperor and encourage him to express his support for a Jewish homeland to his Turkish allies.  Yellin reported that Herzl was not invited by the local Jewish leadership, some of whom were opposed to the Zionist movement on religious grounds.  Others were fearful that Herzl's message would anger the Turkish government.  Herzl met the Emperor later at his compound on November 2 and at the Mikveh Yisrael agricultural school.
Also absent was the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Zonnenfeld.  According to some accounts, Zonnenfeld believed that the German nation was the embodiment of Israel's Bibilical arch-enemy Amalek, and he ruled that no blessing should be recited upon seeing an Amalekite king.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in their Sabbath finery, standing along the
Emperor's parade route
 Another astonishing element of the picture is the finery worn by the Orthodox Jews lining the streets, including silk caftans and fur shtreimels.  Did they dress up for the German Emperor? 

Actually no, this is how they dressed on Shabbat. 

Yes, the German Emperor arrived on Saturday, and the Jewish community turned out for him and displayed their synagogue treasures in his honor.

A version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Battle of Be'er Sheva, October 31, 1917
Buy Your Aussie Cobber* a Beer

Australian light horsemen riding in north Jerusalem in this badly
damaged photo from the Library of Congress collection
The American Colony Photographers' collection (1880-1946] in the U.S. Library of Congress contains hundreds of pictures of World War I battles in Palestine. The photographers had access to both of the warring sides. To put the capture of Be'er Sheva on October 31, 1917 into context, we also present photo essays on Be'er Sheva before the war and the war in Gaza.

The third British attack against the Turkish defense lines in Gaza would be unleashed in the Fall of 1917, the German and Turkish military leadership strongly believed.  Already in March and April 1917 the British had smashed up against the Turkish army in Gaza, the western edge of a 40-mile front, with heavy losses.  And the British forces, now under the command of General Edmund Allenby, gave their enemy ample signs that Gaza was again the target.

Turkish mounted lancers, Be'er Sheva
An attack on Be'er Sheva was impossible, the Turks believed.  The British forces consisted largely of light-horse soldiers, mobile on their horses to move to the front where they would normally dismount and fight as infantrymen.  Horses require massive amounts of water, grain and forage, and there was none within two days of the Be'er Sheva oasis.  No cavalry could go so long without water.

Click on the photos to enlarge.
Click on the captions to see the originals.

Turkish defenders at Be'er Sheva awaiting the British attack 1917
But Allenby secretly moved some 40,000 troops and their horses to confront the Turkish army at the eastern edge of the front, in Be'er Sheva.  Small amounts of water were pre-positioned along the route, but after a 48-hour march, the horses would have to be watered at the wells inside Be'er Sheva, Allenby planned.  That required capturing the garrison village in less than a day and before the Turks could destroy the wells.

Funeral of Turkish army officer
killed in action, Be'er Sheva, 1917

The battle began in the morning of October 31 with artillery barrages and infantry attacks against Turkish artillery, machine guns, and extentive trench defenses.  Only in the afternoon did New Zealand troops capture a strategic hill, Tel Saba, that had provided the Turks a clear field of fire against troops crossing the plain on the approach to Be'er Sheva. 

The British commanders realized that with the sun setting they had to act quickly.  They dispatched 800 Australian light-horsemen across the plain against the Turkish lines.  The Turkish artillery and riflemen waited for the Australians to dismount, but instead they rode on and charged, in many cases jumping their horses over the trenches.  With bayonets and rifles, the Australian soldiers were able to overrun the Turks and secure most of the wells within an hour of the command to saddle up. 

Australian Light Horsemen guarding 600 prisoners of war -German officers and Turkish soldiers 
captured in the battle  of Jericho, 1918
The commander of the Turkish forces in Be'er Sheva was German General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein.  In his account of the battle, he described his troops' surprise at the cavalry charge and added, "Unfortunately the destruction of the wells at Be'er Sheva arranged by [Turkish officer] Ismed was only partially accomplished."

From Be'er Sheva, Allenby's troops were able to roll up the Turkish forces to their west and to move north up the Hebron road.  Within two months, Allenby marched into the Old City of Jerusalem.

View an account of the Battle for Be'er Sheva in the Australian movie "The Lighthorsemen."

*CobberAustral., Slang a close companion; comrade.  Origin: prob.  Heb. chaver, comrade

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Library of Congress Photos Show the British Army's Failure to Take Gaza in 1917, Delaying the Capture of Jerusalem

Gaza after the two battles in March and April 1917. 
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.
Turks prepare to attack the Suez
Canal, 1915

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 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

Appearing soon: The Battle for Be'er Sheva, October 31, 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."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be’er Sheva 100 Years Ago – On the Eve of World War I

Be'er Sheva (circa 1900). See also here
For centuries, Be’er Sheva was little more than a desert oasis surrounded by scattered Bedouin tribes.  In the 19th century the Ottoman Empire established a garrison in the village (“town” would be an exaggeration), and as war clouds gathered in the early 1900s, the Turkish army presence grew.
Be'er Sheva well (circa 1900). See
also here

The American Colony photographers recorded scenes of the town, showing it sparsely populated and almost barren. 
Army tailors 1917.  See boot-makers here
The photographers took pictures of some of the services that were established for the army – a tailor shop for uniforms, cobblers for the army boots, a mill for flour, etc. 
Be'er Sheva, 1917, on the eve of the war. Note the army
encampment on the right. Click to view the serai, or inn.

The present day Be’er Sheva municipality reported that Jews arrived in Be’er Sheva during this period to work in some of these services and to work on the railroad line and bridges to Be’er Sheva.
The largest building in Be’er Sheva was the serai, an inn.  The wells of Be’er Sheva were the only source of water in the region.
The arrival of the first train in Be'er Sheva, 1917. Note the large
contingent of soldiers. Turkish railroad lines were built
throughout Palestine to support the war effort.
During World War I, Be’er Sheva was a supply center for the Turkish army and an anchor for Turkish-German defense line between Gaza and Be’er Sheva blocking the British army’s advance north from Sinai.  The British attempted to break through the line at Gaza twice in March and April 1917, and they failed disastrously, losing thousands of men. 
Watch for these two features here in coming days: The Battles for Gaza and The Battle for Be’er Sheva, October 31, 1917

Click on the photos to enlarge. Click on the captions to see the originals.

Aerial photo, Be'er Sheva, 1917. (Source Australian Light Horse
Studies Centre.) Note army tents located around the village.
Be'er Sheva today. (Source The Marker)
population 200,000.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Printing the First Stamps from Eretz Yisrael 91 Years Ago

A stamp showing
Rachel's Tomb with
writing in English,
Arabic and Hebrew
The Ottoman Empire established a postal service throughout Palestine in the 1800s, but six foreign powers had contracts -- called capitulations -- which permitted them to run their own postal service. 

Printing and proofreading stamps 1920
After Great Britain captured Palestine from the Turkish army in late 1917 and 1918, it set about to establish one local Palestinian Mandate postal service. 

In 1920, the British supervised the printing of stamps, and as an "overprinting," added Hebrew to the Arabic and English on the stamps.

The "overprinting" in English, Arabic
and Hebrew
Proofreading the stamps, 1920
The Jews of Palestine requested that the name Eretz Yisrael be printed on the stamps in Hebrew.  The Arabs protested, and the name Palestina was written in Hebrew with an important addition: the letters Alef and Yud were added -- the abbreviation of Eretz Yisrael.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jerusalem's Nablus Road - Where History Marched -
Updated with New Photos

Originally published in July

The Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City faces west to Jaffa. Just head out on Jaffa Road. The Jericho Road heads east, and the Hebron Road leads south. Damascus Gate, called Sha'ar Shchem (Nablus Gate), faces north.

Nablus Road plays a prominent role in the Library of Congress-Matson collection, perhaps because Eric Matson's American Colony community was located along Nablus Road.

The Photographer cuts off left part of photo, adds caption.

The first photo (1) shows the state visit to Jerusalem of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1898.  The royal party entered the city from the north, passing the American Colony building.  New photo added: Photographer's own caption, "The Kaiser Passing our House," but it's missing several elements on the left of the picture.

1. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (on
 the white horse) entering
Jerusalem on Nablus Road. 1898.
Note the Jewish bystander
and the minaret on the left.

Note the minaret on the left of the Kaiser; it shows up in this second photo (2) of the Turkish army heading south on Nablus Road.

2. Turkish soldiers marching
south (circa1900)
The third photo (3) is undated but is certainly prior to 1911 when a tower on the Italian Hospital showed up on Jerusalem's skyline.  It doesn't appear in this photo.

3. First view of Jerusalem from
the North
Click on a picture to enlarge. Click on caption to view original.  
4. British convoy from Jerusalem
 heading north 1936
After World War I and Britain assumed contol of Palestine, Nablus Road and the route north were important for maintaining control of Palestine, particularly during the Arab Revolt (1936-1939).  Picture 4 shows British armored vehicles providing protection to a convoy traveling between Jerusalem and Afula in 1936.

New pictures added October 22, 2011

The American Colony's location adjacent to Nablus Road provided its photographers a vantage point on history.  Picture 5 shows heavy British artillery being moved south on Nablus Road in 1917 or 1918.  Picture 6 is a picture of Jewish children marching on Nablus Road in 1918.  (An essay about the picture appears here.)  Picture 7 shows British soldiers heading north responding to Arab riots in 1920. 
7. British Soldiers heading north
past the mosque in response
 to Arab rioting, 1920. Note the
 Indian soldiers.

5. British artillery heading
south through Jerusalem
on Nablus Road. 1917-1918.
 Note house with arches.
6. Jewish children marching south
on Nablus Road in 1918. Note
 the house with the arches and
the British army camp on the
 hill on the left. An essay about
this picture appears here

For comparison we also present an aerial photograph of Nablus Road in the 1930s and a contemporary picture of Nablus Road.

Aerial photograph of Nablus Road 1931.  The house with
the arches had a second story added. Today it is a school.
Nablus Road today. Note the house
 with the arches. The mosque complex is
on the right.