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outside the perimeter of the modern city of Beersheba, stands the
ancient site of Tel Sheba, the remains of a biblical administration
center/fortress dating back to the early Israelite period.
strategically situated, overlooking the confluence of the Beersheba and
Hebron Stream. The site was excavated in the 1970's, and it was
designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. The site contains the
remains of ancient walls, with parts of the gateway and an ancient well
at the entrance. Inside the fortifications, one sees the foundations of
the original residences, warehouses and a general layout of the former
town. Extremely interesting, and impressive, is the ancient subterranean
water system which was connected to the Hebron Stream and delivered
water inside the fortress via tunnels and cisterns, erstwhile concealed
on the outside to invading forces.
to the tamarisk trees, beside the entry into the site, stands the
replica of an altar with the four horns, the original having been
discovered on the site. The ancient Tel Sheba is a site rich with
biblical references, especially associated with the wanderings of the
Patriarchs - the digging of the well by Abraham and his servants, the
sworn agreement with Avimelech, and confirmed by the planting of the
tamarisk tree - Genesis 21:22-33; the covenant with Isaac, renewing the
blessing God had made with Abraham, and sanctified by Isaac who built an
altar there - Genesis 46: 1-3; and the covenant with Jacob, and the
promise that God will accompany Jacob and his family down to Egypt and
redeem them as a great nation Genesis 46:1-3.
One of the most
significant features of the site is an ancient well that lies just
outside the city gates, known as Abraham's Well, which is where,
according to tradition, Abraham made the oath with Abimeleh.
Today Beersheba, the gateway and the modern capital of the
Negev, boasts a population of 250,000 citizens, of whom a large majority
are students studying at the various faculties of the Ben Gurion
University. The university has revived a city that belies an important
historical event that took place almost a hundred years ago on October
31, 1917. Only in recent years has the story come to light, and yet it
had the most profound effect of changing the direction and redefining
the boundaries of the modern Middle East.
drama can be retold from the commanding location of Tel Sheba, and with
a compass and maps in hand, it is possible to determine the various
positions of the opposing forces. One can visualize the charge of the
Australian Light-Horse Brigade, valiantly racing across the plains of
Beersheba, as the late afternoon sun is wavering, and their desperate
mission to capture the wells of Beersheba before dark, or otherwise face
the grim prospect of retreat, returning through two days of blistering,
waterless desert to their nearest supply source.
theater of war in Western Europe during World War I, and being trapped
in a bloody carnage of trench warfare, encouraged the British Command to
initiate an alternative Front, by attacking the German-Turkish Alliance
through the Middle East. History books memorialize the tragic and
unsuccessful Battle for Gallipoli (1915-16). Its disastrous consequences
for the British, Australian and New Zealand forces led to a change of
strategy, resulting in the re-deployment of forces in Egypt with the
intention of advancing through Palestine. However, two disastrous
battles fought by the British Palestine Expeditionary Force along the
Gaza coastline, thwarted their attempt to breach the German-Turkish
Subsequently a change of command, with the promotion of
General Allenby, created a different quality of leadership. He employed a
ruse - using propaganda, whereby the enemy was misled to incorrectly
anticipate and reinforce their troops - leaving Beersheba exposed and
vulnerable. In the background to this smoldering situation, Lawrence of
Arabia was creating a groundswell of rebellion among the Arab tribes on
the eastern side of the Jordan River. There was a spy story, and a
tragic love-triangle that assisted the Expeditionary Forces to find
their way across the desert to Beersheba. While in London, the British
Parliament was promulgating the Balfour Declaration, for the
establishment of a Jewish homeland, and yet simultaneously, the same
British Parliament was deceptively promising part of the same territory
to Emir Hussein, offering an Arab Kingdom that extended across the
Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea. Against this scenario of
conniving politics, calculated duplicity and empty promises, the British
and the French had conspired between themselves to divide the
Middle-East and formulate their own borders - in essence, the creation
of the modern Middle-East.
If we return to the events unfolding
in the Battle of Beersheba, one recalls the capture of the strategic
mound of Tel Sheba - by the New Zealand forces - which had militarily
dominated the surrounding landscape and overlooked the plain below. This
success was followed by the dramatic 6 kilometer charge of the
Australian Light - Horse Brigade, across the plains towards the town of
Beersheba, the last great horse-cavalry charge in history. The
Australian force comprised of volunteer farmers from rural Australia -
chosen because they were all good horsemen - and later, their virtues
were immortalized in a poem by Banjo Paterson. The horsemen were
desperate to succeed before darkness, and capture Beersheba or face
forced retreat and defeat. With their bayonets waving - as they were not
a regular cavalry they did not carry sabers - and with that will to
decide the fate of the battle, they overran the German-Turkish positions
and trenches, among volleys of enemy artillery and rifle-fire.
secured the wells of Beersheba and victory was theirs. As a result of
this breakthrough, the way to Jerusalem was opened. Six weeks later,
General Allenby entered Jerusalem and received the surrender of the city
- which heralded the change into the modern Middle East.
through the modern city of Beersheba today, we pass the Commonwealth
Cemetery, where the graves of 1200 brave men recall that period of
history, and whose heroism brought about the fall of the Ottoman-Turkish
Empire (1530 - 1917), and led to the more favorable change of
administration under the British Mandate Period (1917- 48). It seems
providential that Beersheba, the site chosen by God to renew the
covenant with the patriarchs of Israel, would be the place in modern
history which was chosen again, and most influenced a causal chain of
events resulting in the eventual creation of a State.
Touring Tel Sheba
are no regularly scheduled bus tours that currently include Beersheba
and Tel Sheba so options for touring these sites are limited to doing
them on your own by either public transportation or car rental, or by
hiring the services of a private guide for a day. Beersheba is
approximately a 70 minute car ride from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and both
cities offer regularly scheduled bus service to Beersheba, as follows:
Tel Aviv: Take line 380 from Arlozorov Terminal, or line 370 from Tel
Aviv Central Bus Station. The trip takes about 1.5 hours.
From Jerusalem: From central bus station - line 470; line 446, approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Train services runs hourly from Tel Aviv to Beersheba.
Graeme Stone is a licensed Israeli tour guide and contributing expert on Travelujah. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah. He can be reached at email@example.com.