In this paper’s Weekend Magazine in its October 25 edition, one SG Rosenberg, published an extensive piece, over 4500 words actually, entitled The Wilderness of Zin. Its theme was “under the guise of biblical archeology, a war strategy”.
Rosenberg, who I presume is Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, a senior fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem and formerly of the Institute of Jewish Studies, University College London, traces the amazing tale of how British military long-term planning exploited, successfully, the academic science of archaeology to be prepared for the military conquest of Ottoman Empire territory, the Sinai Desert. The permit for the work being issued on October 29, 1913, one year shy of a century ago.
Rosenberg informs us that
“There are four major dramatis personae involved, two of them quite famous, the others less so. Two were army officers and two archeologists…Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome, later British Secretary of State for War…Thomas Edward Lawrence…later to be famous as the dashing Lawrence of Arabia…Capt. Stewart Newcombe…and the other archaeologist Leonard C. Woolley of the British Museum…”
Whereas the Palestine Exploration Fund which provided the cover for the enterprise had legitimate and worthy goals, among them the route of the Israelites in “the Wilderness of Zin”, to examine the Darb el-Shur, and to investigate Ain Kadeis, the probable site of Kadesh Barnea, the military intelligence task was the more important and lasted into May 1914. They were to provide the raw data for the drawing of maps so necessary for offensive that would ultimately come, the staff officers assumed.
As Rosenberg informs us, the editing of the maps was finished by April 1915, and the PEF Committee then ordered 1,000 copies to be printed, but without the map, which was still on the secret list.
As the war proceeded, Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force was ordered to attack Gaza and from there to proceed to Jerusalem. The military maps were of immense assistance. Stymied at Gaza, the new commander, Allenby, decided to first take Beersheba. A ruse, a planted “secret document” with, as it were but really wasn’t, the outline of the upcoming attack on Gaza attack, was successfully employed at the end of October 1917.
Turkish forces were transferred to Gaza thus enabling the conquest of Beersheba, notably by the mounted charge of the Australian cavalry, the 4th Light Horse Brigade:
and from the movie, The Lighthorsemen:
Allenby was in Jerusalem by Christmas or, better, Chanuka, the first of several surrenders happening in Romema on December 9.
It is an interesting, even riveting retelling.
But something is missing.
Shmuel Katz has provided the details lacking in Rosenberg’s account in his “The Aaronsohn Saga” where, on p. 195, he quotes Captain Raymond Savage who served as Allenby’s deputy military secretary (and biographer) as attributing to NILI, the Yishuv’s spy ring, at that time led by Sarah Aaronsohn, who provided the on-the-spot intelligence and advice that contributed in a major fashion to the re-orientering the direction of the campaign which was quite bogged down at Gaza. It must be recalled that Aaron Aaronsohn had much more experience trekking through the area and had been providing the British with geographical information. Already in July, Naaman Belkind had brought to the British a report which proved Aarohsohn’s idea of moving the front to Beersheba to be the best opportunity for smashing through the Turkish-German lines before their counter-attack could be launched. Aaronsohn met Allenby on July 17 and then became an aide to Richard Meinertzhagen, head of GHQ intelligence, and the man who, after two failed attempts, himself performed the famous “haversack” maneuver that would trick the Turks.
The updated survey of the Turkish Gaza-Beersheba front line was made by NILI agent Avshalom Fein (Katz, p. 199) in September. While at Ruhama, he even succeeded in stealing documents and maps including locations of water. They were brought to Zichron Yaakov, passed on to the British boat, the Managem, which sailed then to Cyprus and then on to Port Said. Captain Waldon, the ships’ intelligence officer, read the report and realizing their prime importance skipped over Cairo and sent it directly on the front this earning got himself a promotion to Major.
Rosenberg’s article avoids all mention of NILI. Maybe he is still digging.