The Return Journey by Lord Allenby
On 24th October 2017 a Shoresh Tour group of British and Australian Christians led by Paul and Janey Hames joined with Kelvin Crombie’s Australian Light Horse Association tour group for an event commemorating both the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and the commencement of British Mandate rule in Palestine.
If you’ve followed the link to the website from the Winter 2017 News and Views that’s great, our new system works! On 24th October 2017 a Shoresh Tour group of British and Australian Christians led by Paul and Janey Hames joined with Kelvin Crombie’s Australian Light Horse Association tour group for an event commemorating both the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and the commencement of British Mandate rule in Palestine. The venue for the evening of music, poetry and remembrance was the Tower of David (Citadel) Museum in Jerusalem. I was privileged to play the part of General Edmund Allenby, the commander in chief of the allied forces in 1917. The 2017 “Allenby” thanked the representatives of the ANZAC forces for their special contribution to the allied effort that began 30 years of British rule in Eretz Israel. He then presented the keys of Jerusalem, which “disappeared” in 1917, to Ms Eilat Lieber, the Museum Director, ready for display in an exhibition that opened on 11th December, showing the human face of British rule in Mandate Palestine. Four CMJ supporters - Carol Storier, Angela Harverson, David West and Terry Musson, whose fathers, uncles and grandfathers were part of the British presence, have lent many personal items for this special exhibition. Allenby famously walked into the Old City of Jerusalem on that day and was photographed receiving the official surrender from the Mayor surrounded by Australian, New Zealand and British soldiers opposite the gate to CMJ’s Christ Church property. Earlier in the day a plaque commemorating the event was unveiled at Christ Church which will eventually feature in the new CMJ-Israel Coffee Shop project on the roof overlooking the Citadel; one of the most significant sites in the modern history of Jerusalem. Without the ANZAC forces there would have been no victory in the battle of Beersheba, without that victory there would have been no surrender of Jerusalem, and no allied victory on the Eastern Front in World War One. All these events paved the way for the British Mandate for Palestine and the eventual founding of the State of Israel. All interesting historical facts and for me, good fun playing Allenby, but does it have anything to do with God and the Bible?
In 2015 I toured Israel with Kelvin’s Heritage Resources group; the only Pom among 20+ Aussies, 2 Kiwis and 3 Canucks! In that kind of company national stereotypes are default, so don’t be offended by the nicknames! Even though I was the sole Brit, I was in a strong position as the England cricket team had just regained the Ashes and I didn’t miss an opportunity to mention the result! Sadly no bragging about this years results so far!
On one of the rest days by the Dead Sea Kelvin suggested that with “a decent haircut and a beard shave” I could make a passable General Allenby. Always up for dressing-up in character I agreed to be volunteered! October and November 2017 have been the culmination of that conversation and two years of planning. People were asking and are still asking “Why Allenby? Why the ANZACS? Why Beersheba?”
Our Balfour Centenary Tour of Israel aimed to answer those questions from a geo-political, historical and theological point of view.
Geo-politically and historically Great Britain in the early 20th century was a world super-power. The Eastern Mediterranean and the Suez Canal were key strategic areas. Britain needed to protect her trading interests in India and the Far East, and the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand and Suez was a short-cut to the Mother Country. By 1917 WW1 had been ongoing for three years. British Empire forces were locked in stalemate in Western Europe on the Somme, at Ypres and Passcendale; and the British people were disheartened. In the East, Ottoman Turkey, which had ruled the area for over 400 years, was pursuing a policy of genocide among the non-Muslims in its Empire. 1.5 million Armenians had been massacred in 1915 and Catholic and Orthodox Christians and other religious minorities including Yazidis and Jews were facing the same fate. Britain had begun the task of defeating the Turks at Gallipoli in 1915 but those plans had failed. Soldiers from Australia and New Zealand were among those who had fought bravely but suffered many casualties. The British government decided to change strategy and in 1917 plans were put in place to attack the Ottoman Empire from the South through Egypt and the province of Ottoman South Syria (today’s Israel).
After two failed and costly attempts to take the Ottoman defensive centre at Gaza, new blood and revised plans were needed. General Edmund Allenby was appointed as Commander in Chief. He was a Christian who knew something of the history of the area through his Bible reading. He was a successful cavalry commander in Europe with a reputation for getting things done (he was known as the Bull!) and for “thinking differently”.
A daring plan was put forward that involved a surprise attack on Beersheba at the other end of the Turkish defensive lines. A full account of Allenby, Gaza and Beersheba can be found in Kelvin Crombie’s book Gallipoli - The Road to Jerusalem (available from the CMJ office).
It is enough to say here that Prime Minister Lloyd-George ordered Allenby to present Jerusalem to the British people as a Christmas gift! The Battle of Beersheba was won on 31st October after a long day of fighting with the Australian mounted soldiers having their taste of glory in the famous mounted charge which occurred at exactly the same time as the wording of the Balfour Declaration was being agreed by the War Cabinet in London. With Beersheba and its strategic water wells taken, the road was now open for the allied army to to advance on Jerusalem.
General Allenby received the surrender and the ceremonial keys to the city from the Mayor of Jerusalem as the Ottoman Turks retreated on 11th December. The keys then “disappeared” only to be found in a regimental museum in Maidstone, Kent!
It is enough to say here that Prime Minister Lloyd-George ordered Allenby to present Jerusalem to the British people as a Christmas gift!
It was almost a year before the Ottomans surrendered completely. The Allied powers now had the job of developing the non-Turkish parts of the old Ottoman Empire. Detailed legally binding instructions or Mandates were given to Britain and France by the League of Nations with a view to developing Arab ruled areas in Syria, Lebanon, and Mesopotamia (Iraq). The Mandate for Palestine dealt clearly with a League of Nations desire to develop the Holy Land (Palestine) as a homeland for the dispersed Jewish people. It was never meant to be developed as a place for any Arab people to rule themselves.
So what were the theological objectives of our Tour? We asked the question “Was the hand of the Almighty on the events that led to the founding of the modern state of Israel?” and if we said yes we wanted to explore how that might be so. As we toured we explored the nature of God and affirmed that He wants a relationship with His people. In the Bible His relationships are invariably built on covenants - agreements with people which fit the model of other King/Subject agreements in the ancient world. We visited the places where God had met with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, the Prophet Jeremiah and of course Jesus. We found that there is strand that links all of the covenants - when God makes a promise He fulfils it. We found that His two fold promise to Abram of physical descendants through whom all the world would be blessed and a promise of a land for those descendants could never be made void. If God could go back on His promise of a Land for His people; then surely our faith in Jesus and the new covenant is built on a faulty foundation. We visited Shiloh, Bethel, Bethlehem, Capernaum and Jerusalem, and most profoundly Beersheba. In each of these places God spoke with one of His people and reiterated His promises, but it was at Beersheba where the initial promise to Abram was ratified. It was surely no co-incidence that after 2000 years away from their homeland, the very place where God first gave them the land was the very place whose capture enabled the allied forces to begin the process of the Jewish people’s restoration. It took another 30 years for the process to mature, but as we sometimes see in the Bible God is not in a hurry.
There were many stumbling blocks and snares during that 30 year period, and some faulty decisions have led to confusion and conflict in the Middle East but the British people should be proud to have played a key part in God’s continually unfolding plan for His Jewish people.