The true guardians of Jerusalem

Christians and Jews in Jerusalem have suffered under Muslim religious demands that non-believers were to be dhimmis – second-class to Islamic believers.

Ottoman troops prepare attack (photo credit: (American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.))
Ottoman troops prepare attack
(photo credit: (American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.))
There was an old Arab saying, “When the Nile flows into Palestine, then shall the Prophet from the West drive the Turk from Jerusalem.”
Except for a short eight year period in the early 19th century, when the Egyptians conquered and briefly held Jerusalem, the city was subject to the iron rule of the Ottoman Turks for over four hundred years. Christians and Jews, but especially Jews, suffered under Muslim religious demands that non-believers were to be dhimmis – second-class to Islamic believers.
The words of the old Arab saying came ‘miraculously’ true in early December 1917. It was the first day of the Jewish festival of freedom – Hanukkah. British General Edmund Allenby led a British army of Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims which had crossed the Sinai desert from Egypt and liberated Jerusalem. For the first time in seven hundred years, Jerusalem was under Christian control.
But didn’t the old Arab proverb say the waters of the Nile would flow into Palestine? Geographically, it is impossible for the Nile River to cross the hundreds of kilometers of Sinai desert. It cannot cross through the middle of the Sinai because of the mountainous interior. For centuries, the Sinai Peninsula was the arid natural barrier protecting the approaches to the Holy Land.
Napoleon had long recognized that an army travels on its stomach. The British concluded that an army travels on water. They needed water to fight across the Sinai into Palestine and to take Jerusalem. The British did what no one did before. They built a water pipeline, which carried the waters of the Nile to their army as it made its way into Palestine.
Yet there was a second part to the saying... “then shall the Prophet from the West drive the Turk from Jerusalem.”
The British Expeditionary force came from the West. In Arabic the word for “prophet” is al-nebi. General Allenby led the army that captured Jerusalem.
Coincidence? Perhaps...
With the fall of Beersheba to Allenby, the retreating Turks made a few efforts to delay the advancing British forces near Jerusalem. Their battle lines were quickly outflanked. They retreated from the Holy City without a fight. In their haste to retreat, they had made a series of plans that were reminiscent of the German plans to blow up Paris when they were retreating from the “City of Lights” near the end of World War II.
Pierre Van Paassen, a journalist turned Unitarian minister who was an unabashed Christian Zionist, reported about the Turkish retreat from Jerusalem in his 1937 autobiographical book, Days of Our Years. Van Paassen had become friends with a Jewish former artillery officer who was attached to the Turkish army under Jemal Pasha protecting Jerusalem in 1917.
“Marek (Schwartz) had served in the Austrian army as a captain of artillery during the Great War. He had been detailed for service with the Turks in the campaign against the British under Fahkri Pasha, the butcher of the Armenians, and had taken part in the retreat from Medina. He had been left in charge of a sacrifice unit of artillery when Jemal Pasha, the Turkish commander-in-chief, had been forced to abandon the Holy City to General Allenby, with instructions to “blow Jerusalem to hell’ the moment the British should enter.
On the personal orders of Jamal Pasha, Schwartz had his batteries trained on the mosque of Omar, and ammunition lying ready for a forty-eight-hour intensive bombardment. When Jemal left for Megiddo to make his last stand before Damascus, Captain Schwartz, rather than destroy Jerusalem, quietly spiked his own guns and walked into the British lines. He had remained in Palestine after the war and had built up a prosperous business.”
The story still raises the dander of anti-Zionists and Muslims that a Zionist Jew may have saved the Haram el-Sharif, also known as the Noble Sanctuary or Temple Mount, from destruction. Jemal Pasha would never have issued such an order, they argue.
Van Paassen was a sensationalist, a fabricating journalist in the pay of the Zionists. The Turks, they assert, put up a valiant defense of Jerusalem.
History has its own way of telling the story. Turkish forces beat a hasty retreat from Jerusalem. Jemal Pasha ordered his personal car and his personal driver to take the mayor of Jerusalem, Hussein Effendi al-Husseini, to the British and surrender the city.
The mayor “requisitioned” a white bed sheet from Jerusalem’s famous American Colony hotel, founded by the Christian Zionist Spafford family.
Fastening the bed sheet to a pole, al- Husseini set out to surrender. He quickly encountered two bewildered British soldiers scavenging for breakfast near the walls of the Old City. Astonished, Sgts. Sedgwick and Hurcomb of the 2/19th Battalion, London Regiment, accepted the surrender of Jerusalem at 8 a.m. on December 9, 1917.
Two days later, in a formal display of surrender for the cameras and for history, Allenby marched into Jerusalem. Proclaiming the city liberated, he stood on the ramparts of King David’s Tower, across the street from the entrance to Christ Church.
One group of British soldiers was specifically prohibited from taking their leave in Jerusalem, the soldiers of the Jewish Legion under the command of Col. John Henry Patterson. These Jewish forces would soon be deployed northeast of the city. Ironically, the Jewish Legion under their Christian commander fought and died to liberate Palestine from the Turks and for land that may be included in a future Palestinian state today.
Allenby turned control of the Haram el-Sharif over to the Waqf – the Muslim trustees. Israel later captured Jerusalem in the Six Day War of June 1967. The Israeli government, like Allenby had done sixty years earlier, also handed control of the Haram el Sharif over to the Muslim Waqf.
The al-Husseini family did not vanish from Jerusalem’s history with the surrender of the city. In 1929, to manipulate the Arab street for political reasons, Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin al-Husseini, the British-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, spread false rumors that Jews were assaulting the Haram el-Sharif. While the British held back, Muslims rioted, killing Jews. In Hebron, a particularly vicious massacre of 67 defenseless Jews took place.
Marek Schwartz and Pierre van Paassen went to investigate and report.
Again in the mid 1930s, al-Husseini once more instigated rioting against the Jews and the British. A familiar call was heard: “the Jews are attacking the Haram el Sharif.” This time, the British wanted him as a criminal. He fled to Nazi Germany for protection, becoming a mouthpiece for Nazi propaganda against the Jews and the Allied Powers.
With Germany’s defeat, al-Husseini escaped and found safety in Syria. He lived there safely until his death in 1974.
Over the years the Muslim street has repeatedly been fed false alarms for political reasons that the Jews are attacking the Haram al Sharif, site of their ancient temples. It has never happened.
Jerry Klinger is president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation;