No doubt you have heard, perhaps more than once, how the Turkish surrendered
Jerusalem to a British army cook in 1917. But did you know that there were
actually four surrenders, and not just one?
Three of these historic events took place on more or less the exact spot, at the
time an open field on the highest hill in Jerusalem. Today situated in the very
heart of Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood, it is called Kikar Allenby for the
British general under whose command Palestine was captured from the Turks during
World War I.
Although the newer houses in Romema, built after the establishment of the
State of Israel, are drab and lack character, nearly a dozen of the stunning
original buildings still stand and have been artfully preserved.
For a fascinating one- to two-hour tour, amble along the earliest streets
of Romema, the first Jerusalem neighborhood to be established during the British
Mandate. Each structure has its own charm, and many feature elements found
in the loveliest of homes of ritzy Talbiyeh.
Begin your outing on Jaffa Road outside the city’s bustling Central Bus
Station. Completed in 2001, the station replaced one that began operating in the
same location during the 1960s after moving from its original spot in the center
When plans for the new bus station were announced, Romema residents were less
than thrilled with its grandiose design, fearing it would become an urban
eyesore like its Tel Aviv counterpart. As a result, that portion of the bus
station facing Romema proper is far more modest than the front.
Exit the bus station on Jaffa, turn left and stop in front of the green gate
(a sign on the wall reads ’Architects’). Located on the southern edge of Romema,
the three-story structure was built by wealthy Arab Haj Muhammad, who owned
quarries in nearby Lifta and served as a judge in the city’s Muslim courts.
Cross the road to better view the side of the house. The exterior
is decorated with bluish Armenian tiles, possibly the creations of David
Ohanessian, whose works are found on many of that period’s most magnificent
Note the pink and white color of the stones on the corners of the building
and above the windows. Then go through the gate to view the ornamental railings,
several of which feature leaf-shaped adornments. You will see more tiles above
the door and under the windows. An Arabic inscription from the Koran reads:
’Everything of yours that is good comes from God.’ Today a Jewish family resides
in the house.
Continue to the corner and turn left up Rehov Moriah. Then climb a few steps
to reach Kikar Allenby. It is here that the first Turkish surrender of Jerusalem
took place. While there are many versions to this tale, my favorite follows.
In the wee hours of December 9, 1917, two British army cooks from the 60th
London Division left their Jerusalem base in search of fresh eggs and vegetables
for their commander. Less than six weeks had passed since Commonwealth troops
had breached the Turkish lines in Israel for the first time and conquered
Beersheba; earlier that very morning the British had captured Jerusalem from the
Turks, as well.
As the cooks walked through a deserted field on an exposed hill, they were
accosted by a number of residents anxious to surrender the city. Among them were
four policemen, several youths, the Jerusalem mayor Hussein Selim el-Husseini
and a photographer from the American Colony.
Upon sighting British soldiers, the Jerusalemites lifted their arms. They
held a white sheet that had been hastily torn off one of the beds at the
American Colony’s hospital. Attached to a broom handle, the sheet was the
Jerusalemites’ makeshift flag of truce. The mayor then handed the cook and his
aide a tender of capitulation, explaining that the Turks had fled the city.
When the soldiers returned to base, they told their commander what had
happened. He was so upset that the ’ceremony’ had taken place without him, that
he ordered the mayor to return to the hill, and conducted a second surrender.
However, that officer’s commander was furious that he hadn’t been present
at either surrender, so he held a third ceremony on the same spot.
But General Sir Edmund Allenby, commander in chief of the British-Anzac
Egyptian Expeditionary Force, was unimpressed by the three surrenders.
On December 11, 1917, he entered the Old City of Jerusalem and conducted yet
another capitulation ceremony. Unfortunately, the mayor was unable to attend —
he is said to have contracted pneumonia after standing on the exposed hill for
the three previous ceremonies and to have died soon afterward.
Ignoring the location and circumstances of the fourth and final surrender,
soldiers of the 60th London Division decided to erect a three-meter-high
monument near the original site in 1920. The inscription around the base reads:
’Near this spot, the Holy City was surrendered to the 60th London Division, 9th
Note the date: not the official 11th of December, but the ninth. Walk into
the square and look closely at the monument: It features etched silhouettes
of Crusader knights who, like the British soldiers, conquered Jerusalem.
FOUNDED IN 1921 around the square, Romema was a private initiative built
entirely with private funding — unlike many other Jerusalem neighborhoods.
It also differed in its distinct lack of planning, which explains the
area’s absence of parks and homogeneity.
The neighborhood’s name was taken from Psalms (118:16): ’The Lord’s right
hand is lifted high (romem)....’. Indeed, at the time this was the highest hill
in Jerusalem, at 810 to 830 meters above sea level.
Most of the original streets were named for the Hebrew newspapers in print
at the time. They included Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s Hatzvi, Ariel, Ha’or, Torah
Mitzion and Moriah.
Romema was intended as a splendid neighborhood of 24 houses, far from the
noise of the town and situated between the Arab villages of Lifta and Sheikh
Bader. Yet in the end, apparently for lack of money, just over a dozen beautiful
buildings were constructed.
The initiator of the Romema project was attorney Yom-Tov Hamon, an expert
in Ottoman law and land ownership issues, who was often asked to arbitrate
disputes between Arab landowners in the region. When there was a disagreement
about ownership of the land on this hill, Hamon decreed that the plot should
be sold, thus making it available for a Jewish neighborhood.
One of the houses around the square is called Allenby 2. In the 1950s two
floors were added to the former one-story building, which still boasts lovely
window frames and a magnificent entrance. For the past 15 years it has served
as a guesthouse conveniently located near the Central Bus Station. Walk inside
to view the original entrance with its beautiful columns. The rooms are small
but picturesque and full of charm.
Across the street, the house at No. 2 Rehov Hatzvi was built by lawyer Aharon
Mani in 1925. Pass the entrance, so that you can feast your eyes on the
magnificent porch and its lovely staircase, then note how beautifully it fits
on the corner.
Continue down the street to No. 4 Rehov Hatzvi, where hotelier and
businessman Yehiel Amdurski built an elegant domain. Constructed out of red
stone brought from quarries in Hebron, it features two covered balconies held
up by columns with decorative capitals. Walk over to the closest balcony and
look up at the ceilings to view exquisite tiles. Move into the parking lot
to see this house from the side. Everything about it, from the portico to the
windows to the rounded faade, is magnificent.
Next door, the dwelling at No. 6 Rehov Hatzvi belonged to the Hefetz family
from Bukhara. What makes this house different from its neighbors are its blue
and white tiles with a windmill design, brought here after a trip
Continue on Rehov Hatzvi to the corner, then turn right onto Rehov Hame’asef and
almost immediately take a right onto Rehov Ariel. You can’t miss No. 8 Rehov
Ariel, with its colonnades and a gable above the door. The date of construction
(1923) and the name of the architect (A. Balog) are engraved in large letters
(and numbers) on the wall.
Go through the gate and head for the windows. Adorable people-shaped shutter
holders on the bottom are collectors’ items today. Brought to this country
by Templers, the iron holders are known by their Yiddish name, menchelach.
Next door and up the street, the house at No. 6 Rehov Ariel also features
columns and a gable. Don’t pass by without getting a look at the ornamental
ACROSS THE street, No. 3 Ariel was the home of Moldova-born Rabbi Yehuda
Fishman-Maimon. One of the first houses to be built in Romema, it boasts
a unique faade. Look for the Star of David that is engraved in stone above the
entrance. The year 1922 and the name Yehuda are decoratively written inside and
around the Star of David as part of a famous phrase from the midrashim:
’Jerusalem will be settled and the cities of Yehuda built up.’
Fishman-Maimon was one of the founders of the religious Zionist movement
Mizrachi, and a signatory of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Enter the large building and climb the stairs. Following the fall of the
Second Temple, sages of the period declared that every new building must carry
a reminder of that destruction: an unpainted area measuring one cubit by one
cubit (46 cm. by 46 cm.). Many religious Jews take this edict literally and
leave an unplastered or black square on their walls. The picture you see
embedded into the wall of Fishman-Maimon’s residence — ceramic tiles showing the
River of Babylon, harps and weeping willows — measures exactly one cubit by one
At the end of Rehov Ariel turn left onto Rehov Ha’or and continue onto Rehov
Ha’adrichal (the architect). The unusual street name refers to German-born
architect Richard Kaufmann, who designed over 150 of Israel’s towns, farming
communities and garden neighborhoods, but not a single building in Romema.
The first house on your left has disappeared in a mass of modern
construction. It was built by Altar Levine, a pioneer in the insurance industry
who loved art and books, and wrote poems under the pseudonym of Asaf Halevi.
Levine was found hanging on a palm tree in the yard of his home in 1933, with
nary a word of explanation. A solution to the mystery of his sudden demise may
have been found in 1991, when a forgotten journal in an Istanbul library
contends that Levine was a Jewish spy.
According to the journal, written by a Turkish commander in Jerusalem, Levine
assisted the British during World War I and helped bring about the fall of the
Ottoman Empire. Possibly, some say, Levine’s death was an act of revenge carried
out long after the war’s end.
Head for the corner of Rehov Ha’adrichal and Rehov Hamon to view the stunning
residence of Romema’s founder (Yom-Tov Hamon), which is under renovation. Its
exterior is a feast for the eyes, featuring decorative balconies,
a pyramid-shaped metal top and a roof lined with little pillars.
Facing the building from Rehov Hamon, look right to view the tall water tower
built by the British at the beginning of their mandate in Palestine. As this was
the highest point in Jerusalem at the time, water from the adjacent pool was
directed into pipes all over the city.
Follow Rehov Hamon to the corner and turn left onto Rehov Ha’or. The
grandiose structure at No. 2 Rehov Ha’or, today a meeting place and library for
Russian-speaking Israelis, features stunning capital-topped columns and rounded
You are back at No. 2 Allenby and the square. Turn left onto Rehov Torah
Mitzion to see an enormous shikun — a long, monotonous apartment block. The
newest of ’Old Romema’’s buildings, it was erected in 1945 mainly to help rabbis
who survived the Holocaust. Nevertheless, refugees and other needy people moved
in and today dozens of families reside in the structure.
Romema stayed small, bordered by Arab villages that launched sporadic
attacks. It was only after the War of Independence that new buildings with
little character were added as the neighborhood expanded.