Reenactment of General Allenby’s entrance to Jerusalem 100 years ago. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jerusalem celebrated the 100th anniversary of its liberation from oppressive Ottoman rule by British troops led by the famed General Allenby. 

It happened 100 years ago, and it is still relevant, maybe now more than ever.

On December 11, 1917 the soldiers of the British Imperial Army, led by General Edmund Allenby, entered Jerusalem, announcing the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire and ushering in a new era for the city.

On Monday, the Tower of David museum at Jaffa Gate unveiled a new exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the historic event.

Artifacts on exhibit include the original white flag of surrender presented to the British by surrendering Turkish forces, the keys to the city of Jerusalem, correspondence between Allenby and his mother and travel journals, as well as personal equipment of the soldiers that made their way back to their original homeland and eventually into museums in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Enormously Proud

In addition to the exhibition, the Old City marked the event with a street fair and a re-enactment of Allenby’s entry into the city, led by Viscount Henry J. H. Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe, who was accompanied by his mother Sara, Viscountess Allenby whose husband was the great nephew of the Field Marshall. John Benson, the great grandson of Allenby’s division commander Major General John Shea, also traveled to Jerusalem to pay tribute to his ancestor’s work. All three said their trip to Jerusalem was an emotional journey, more emotional than expected.

“I feel enormously proud of the role that my great grandfather played in the history of Jerusalem. Coming here has been more emotional than I was expecting. I’m impressed by the city and by its history and proud that in some small way our family has been part of that,“ said Benson.

“Certainly, I save been surprised by the level of interest by the international press here in Jerusalem and also by the national press here in Jerusalem,” Benson told reporters.

A Respectful Victor

Historians say that in addition to bringing down the curtain on the Ottoman Empire, Allenby’s entry into the city was notable because the general insisted on walking through Jaffa Gate, an unusual move since leaders at the time often preferred to demonstrate their superiority by entering Jerusalem on horseback. Allenby, however, was different: By entering the city by foot he showed his respect for the status of Jerusalem as the holy city important to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For that reason, the British proclamation encouraging the city’s residents to continue living their lives as usual and to freely observe their religious practices and ethnic traditions, was written in seven languages, among them Hebrew, the first time in modern history that Hebrew received international recognition.

The proclamation brought a moment of hope for all communities in Jerusalem. A Christmas present for the Christians, a Chanukah miracle for the Jews.

By: Joelle Levitan