Hanukka is the well-known mid-winter festival of lights whereby the Jewish people remember the successful expulsion of Hellenistic anti-Jewish civilization from the Temple and Jerusalem. A small group of rural Hasmonean nationalists acted and created the momentum to cleanse their holy city of the hated oppressor.
It is today a major, eight-day celebration and standard, in Israel and across the world, and acts as a traditional pillar of Jewish nationalism and pride.
Purim, on the other hand, is also a festival that seems to signal the end of winter, and magnifies a historical event that happened far away from Israel. On a nationalistic, a geographic and a Temple scale and as an important milestone in Jewish history – it fails. We celebrate Purim but the ideological and religious input of Purim into the full Jewish/Israel fabric is low. (In the Purim Megillah, God doesn’t get a mention.) God planned for the Jewish people to return to their homeland after the destruction of the second Temple and the disaster of the Bar-Khobka revolt. For 1,700 years the Jews wandered and were homeless. The sparks of “return” began to burn brighter after Napoleon, the Vilna Gaon, Zionism, European Nationalism and the crash of empires during WWI.
Technique is important. God doesn’t just snap his fingers and suddenly, supernaturally, things happen. God likes the flow of events. (Even Creation was a flow of events – to allow us to appreciate a godly event in human terms.) Yes, the Ottoman Empire, the Germans or even the Russians could have been the pipeline for the Jews to get their land back.
However, it would have been un-aesthetic, ugly and a stain on the history of the State of Israel to have any of the above as the “midwife” for the rebirth of the Jewish state.
The British were chosen. They were “reasonable” Christians, had a fair civilization and were respectful of the Jewish religion.
Above all – and this is essential for the later collapse of British support for the Jews – they were stupid.
Their political leaders were floundering in the swamp of Middle East intrigue, and their generals were all – at best – second class.
(Nearly all British generals during WWI acted in a manner that was an insult to the word “general.”) General Archibald Murray in Cairo had an excess of men, equipment and a simple desert front, yet he could not capture Turkish Gaza – twice.
General Phillip Chetwode almost captured his part of Gaza (March/April 1917) with his division, but pulled back in the last hour.
General Murray was replaced by General Allenby. (Probably the smartest decision that the war-cabinet in London made in 1917.) General Allenby was competent, but his generals and a personal tragedy blackened his ability.
Chetwode was rewarded for his incompetence: he was given a corps (the XX) to command (two divisions and more).
Major-General Stewart Mott, with his (53rd Welsh) division near Hebron didn’t have the talent to explain to his superior officer (Chetwode) that the one (narrow and muddy) road from Hebron into Jerusalem could not handle his men, artillery, horses and wagons in the two days (December 6 to December 8) that Chetwode gave him to defeat the Turks near Bethlehem, attack and enter Jerusalem from the south.
General Chetwode (November 1917) had planned the attack on Ottoman Jerusalem with his 18,000 men. The northern division (The 52nd, under Major-General Hill) would climb up near Ramallah, and cross the waddies and hills and enter Jerusalem from the north.
The 75th division would use the only road from the west – up through the Sha’ar Hagay canyon, and advance upon the hills of the Castel complex.
General Mott’s job from the south was pivotal to the whole plan. He and his division were to frighten the Turkish (and German) generals into escaping Jerusalem before they got overwhelmed.
Chetwode, on orders from Allenby, was to avoid any artillery and unnecessary destruction in the holy city. (It is obvious that German, Russian or Turkish forces would have no such scruples.) The Australians, and their very mobile (cavalry) battalions, had the empty space between Latrun (Where Chetwode had his HQ) and the isolated “Hebron-Gush Etzion” division (53rd) of Mott.
The Australians, under Colonel Harry Chauvel, an Australian farmer, were planning to go up on the (French) railway tracks that wound through the valleys just south of the famous Jaffa-Jerusalem road. The Australians were ignoring Chetwode and his staff; they didn’t think much of their abilities. These young colonial horsemen were aggressive in their attacks, and they had no contact with Mott to their right. Mott didn’t know about the Australian formations just a few miles away. (Signals and communication between formations and divisions, using the standard “heli-light,” was impossible in the cloudy and wintry weather.) General Allenby, in al-Kastina, miles away, was busy communicating with his bosses in London and Cairo by telegram (this took hours and days); he was ignoring the weather – which was critical – and he was personally suffering due to the loss of his only son, Lieutenant Horace, in battle in northern France. (It happened in July, but they couldn’t find the body in the mud, so he was only informed in November.) General Chetwode informed his staff that if this attack failed then they would take a long break and restart the battle for Jerusalem after the winter (Purim).
Allenby pulled the XX division under General Bulfin back from the front to rest and re-equip.
Only Chetwode was left in charge.
Chetwode, a cavalry officer (like Allenby) did not appreciate the problems that Mott was having in the hills of Hebron. Horses do not fight well in hill terrain.
The main problem facing all the men, logistics and the war-theory was the winter weather.
That winter, the weather was very difficult, rainy, with mud everywhere and heavy fog. When Mott wanted his cannons to fire on the Turkish artillery in and around Bethlehem, his spotters could not find the Turkish cannons because of days of fog.
(Allenby had left specific orders not to fire on churches and Rachel’s Tomb.) The only road from Hebron to south Jerusalem was washed out in places. At one time (December 7) a whole unit of a large horsedrawn cannon and 12 men fell off the road and were killed. Repairing the road under winter conditions was a nightmare.
When the 75th division under Major-General Palin tried to take Nebi Samuel – twice (November 11 and 12) – and keep it from Turkish counter-attacks, they failed. This could have been the turning point for the battle of Jerusalem. Chetwode, riding the success of his previous stroke of genius, in Gaza, was ready to pull back and postpone the battle until March 1918. (It was British war-theory that long planning, massing materials and equipment for months before a battle and then finally attacking was the way to win a war.) General Erich Von Falkenhayn (with his 11-year-old daughter by his side) was probably the most professional general in the Middle East at that time. (General John Monash was by now in northern France.) The German general’s problem was that he had the very tired, underfed and uneducated 7th and 8th armies of Turkish soldiers under his command.
When, finally, Mott got near south Jerusalem on the December 9, and a Jewish-British officer and his company captured Ein-Kerem in hand-to-hand fighting, and the Australians were almost upon Malcha, then the Turkish and German high command on the Augusta Victoria ridge got the message and fled (and almost got captured) northwards to safety.
The British and allied generals entered Jerusalem.
On the Tuesday, December 11, 1917, at 10:30 a.m., General Edmond Hyman Allenby walked past a double row of Australian (actually Victorian) fighters, in their unique hats, entered the L-shaped Jaffa gate in the 450-yearold walls of the Old City of holy Jerusalem. Then he and 47 other Christian officers [British, Italian and French] marched the 200 meters to the stone steps of the Kishle Fortress and liberated Jerusalem from 600 years of Muslim rule.
The Jewish community in Palestine was in the main (only about 80 percent of the Jews thought that this was good) happy with this change.
It was the first day of Hanukka.
It could have been Purim – and this is un-aesthetic in the big picture of Jewish history.