Rul­ing the Pales­tine re­gion for more than 400 years, the Ot­tomans fought fiercely to keep the an­cient lands dur­ing World War I but even­tu­ally lost them to the Bri­tish

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Feature & Lounge - ERHAN AFYONCU - IS­TAN­BUL

PALES­TINE, which has wit­nessed many con­flicts through­out his­tory, came un­der Ot­toman rule in the 16th cen­tury. When Yavuz Sul­tan Se­lim de­feated the Mam­luk ruler Kansu Gavri in the Bat­tle of Marj Dabiq in 1516, Syria and Pales­tine joined the Ot­toman lands. Yavuz Sul­tan Se­lim en­tered Jerusalem on Dec. 29, 1516

Un­der Ot­toman rule, the Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory was or­ga­nized into three states, Jerusalem, Gaza and Nablus, all linked to the Da­m­as­cus Prov­ince. Pales­tine, in the last pe­riod of the Ot­toman Em­pire, was first linked to the state of Si­don, later to Syria and then to Beirut, which was founded in the last pe­riod.

The Ot­tomans ruled in Pales­tine for 401 years. Pales­tine was and still is a re­gion of great im­por­tance for Mus­lims, Christians and Jews. In par­tic­u­lar, the sa­cred places in Jerusalem could not be shared. Even the var­i­ous de­nom­i­na­tions of Chris­tian­ity were in con­flict with each other. Af­ter the con­quest of the re­gion, the Ot­toman Em­pire also ap­plied its own ad­min­is­tra­tive meth­ods in Pales­tine and the Ot­toman regime dom­i­nated the re­gion. When Western forces in­vaded the re­gion in the 19th cen­tury, a never-end­ing chaos be­gan in Pales­tinian and other re­gions of the Mid­dle East. In 1917, the war was go­ing on at all fronts in World War I. How­ever, Ot­toman forces had be­gun to re­treat, los­ing many places in the south­ern front. On March 11, 1917, Bagh­dad fell. Tun­cay Yıl­mazer, who stud­ied on the Pales­tinian front fol­low­ing Çanakkale, de­scribes in de­tail the wars in Pales­tine in his ar­ti­cles.


The key tar­get for the Bri­tish was Jerusalem. Ot­toman troops were try­ing to block the Bri­tish by hold­ing the Gaza-Beer­sheba line. Con­flicts in­ten­si­fied in Gaza.

The Ot­toman army stopped the Bri­tish by win­ning the first Gaza bat­tle in March 1917 and the sec­ond Gaza bat­tle in April 1917.

Then the Bri­tish sent Ed­mund Al­lenby, an im­por­tant com­man­der who had fought on the Western front.

In Au­gust 1917, the Ot­toman ad­min­is­tra­tion strength­ened its armies in the re­gion with Ger­man bat­tal­ions and es­tab­lished the Yıldırım (Thun­der­bolt) Army Group.

Erich von Falken­hayn, who had fought on the Western front, was ap­pointed head of the group. There were many im­por­tant com­man­ders on the Pales­tinian front such as Mustafa Ke­mal Atatürk, Fevzi Çak­mak, İs­met İnönü, Re­fet Bele, Ali Fuat Cebe­soy and Fahrettin Al­tay.

Many troops that had fought in Çanakkale were also present on this front.

The Ot­toman mil­i­tary force was weak against the en­emy in terms of num­bers and equip­ment and the lim­ited Ot­toman mil­i­tary power had al­ready been se­verely weak­ened by the Sarıkamış and Canal at­tacks. Against the ad­vanc­ing en­emy, En­ver Pasha could not de­cide where to con­cen­trate his troops. While the south­ern fronts were fall­ing one by one, there were still Ot­toman troops on the Euro­pean front. Due to strategic and tac­ti­cal mis­takes, the Ot­tomans were caught weak on the Pales­tinian front. There was also a divi­sion of views be­tween Ger­man and Turk­ish com­man­ders. The re­port sent by Mustafa Ke­mal Pasha to En­ver, Talat and Ce­mal Pashas in Septem­ber 1917 clearly re­veals those and more trou­bles.

Gen. Ed­mund Al­lenby of the Egyptian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force tried to open the way to Jerusalem by cease­lessly oper­at­ing af­ter his ar­rival in Cairo in June, even­tu­ally break­ing down the Ot­toman de­fenses.Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Lloyd Ge­orge gave the or­der to take Jerusalem by Christ­mas of that year.

While the Ot­tomans were ex­pect­ing an at­tack in Gaza, the Bri­tish took Beer­sheba on Oct. 31, 1917.

The at­tacks by the Ot­toman forces to take back Beer­sheba were not ef­fec­tive.

The Bri­tish in­ten­si­fied their bombing and turned Gaza into rub­ble. Re­fet Bele Pasha chose to take a stand in­stead of re­treat­ing. How­ever, the Ot­tomans from Gaza on Nov. 6-7, 1917 with hun­dreds of causal­i­ties. As the Ot­toman units re­treated, they lost the ma­jor­ity of their equip­ment as well as suf­fer­ing sig­nif­i­cant hu­man losses. The Bri­tish won the third Gaza bat­tle, open­ing the way to Jerusalem.


Al­lenby did not al­low the for­ma­tion of a new line of de­fense by tak­ing a hard line with the re- treat­ing Ot­toman forces. Bri­tish land and naval ar­tillery and air­craft re­lent­less bom­barded the Turk­ish troops. The Turk­ish forces, strug­gling with hunger and dis­ease as well as the in­tense fire of the Bri­tish, lost de­spite their hero­ism. In par­tic­u­lar, the troops of the 57th reg­i­ment and the 77th reg­i­ment from Çanakkale showed ex­cep­tional hero­ism on this front.

The courage and calm­ness of the Ot­toman of­fi­cers, such as Asım Gündüz and Hüseyin Erk­ilet, prevented a great de­feat. The heroic sol­diers fought with their bay­o­nets fear­lessly, mak­ing the en­emy to pay a huge cost for the vic­tory.

Falken­hayn be­lieved that he could de­fend Jerusalem, but suc­ces­sive de­feats weak­ened the re­sis­tance of the Ot­toman com­man­ders. By the end of Novem­ber, the Bri­tish cap­tured Is­mail Hill near the city. Of­fen­sive at­tempts to re­trieve the hill failed. Ot­toman forces built a 20-kilo­me­ter de­fense line. How­ever, when the Bri­tish cap­tured some of the Turk­ish po­si­tions, the de­fen­sive line broke.

The Bri­tish were not able to ad­vance im­me­di­ately be­cause their forces were not re­in­forced even though they got through the de­fense line.

How­ever, the Ot­toman forces with­drew from the city due to their psy­cho­log­i­cal state and their de­ter­mi­na­tion to not let the city be de­stroyed. Ot­toman troops aban­doned Jerusalem on the night of Dec. 8, 1917.

In the morn­ing of Dec. 9, 1917, Mayor AlHus­seini stepped out­side the city walls to de­liver the city’s sym­bolic key and the de­liv­ery doc­u­ment. The first peo­ple they met were two cooks. Then came more sol­diers of dif­fer­ent ranks. No­body knew what to do. In the end, 60th Divi­sion Cmdr. Shea got the city on be­half of Al­lenby.


Gen. Al­lenby walked on foot to the Jaffa gate on Dec. 11, 1917. Il­lus­tra­tions pub­lished in Europe de­picted Al­lenby as en­ter­ing the city in the pres­ence of an­gels. The fall of Jerusalem was likened to the Cru­sades in the Bri­tish press, and Al­lenby to God­frey of Bouil­lon who oc­cu­pied Jerusalem dur­ing the first Cru­sade.Al­lenby com­pleted the un­fin­ished cru­sade of Richard the Lion­heart, the English king who set out for cru­sade and failed cen­turies ago. From Oct. 31, 1917 to Dec. 8, 1917, until the fall of Jerusalem, the Ot­toman mil­i­tary saw a to­tal of 25,000 ca­su­al­ties, in­clud­ing mar­tyrs, the wounded and cap­tives. The are re­mem­bered up until to­day as heroes of great courage and strong char­ac­ter.

Jerusalem to­wards the end of the 19th cen­tury.

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