Jerusalem Allenby Sqr

WWI monument in the present Allenby Square

Allenby Square, a name commemorating Field Marshal Edmund Allenby who commanded the British forces which captured Palestine in the First World War, has been bestowed at different times on two different squares in Jerusalem.

This divergent naming was connected both to prestige struggles within the British forces entering Jerusalem in late 1917, leading to what became known as "the multiple surrenders", and to later vicissitudes of the struggle between Israelis and Arabs for control of the city.

The Multiple Surrenders

The British Army advanced along the Jaffa-Jerusalem Highway and approached Jerusalem. During the night between December 8 and December 9, 1917, the Ottoman Army withdrew, sparing Jerusalem what might have been a bloody and destructive battle.

On the following day the Palestinian Mayor of Jerusalem, Hussin Salim Al Husseiny, set out to tender the city's formal surrender to the British. Near the Shaare Tzedek Hospital, at what was then the sparsely populated western outskirts of Jerusalem, he met with a couple of British kitchen sergeants, and - not familiar with British military rank insignia - tendered the capitulation to them.

However, the officer in charge was displeased with this informal ceremony, and held a second surrender ceremony on the same windswept hill, with his own participation; a higher officer demanded and got a third one, still in the same location; and finally, Field Marshal Allenby insisted on still a fourth and final one, held this time at a different location - just outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City wall, which Allenby then ceremoniously entered, making the point of dismounting and entering on foot out of respect for its religious significance. The Mayor of Jerusalem was not present at the final surrender, having caught pneumonia from too much standing on the exposed hill in the cold mountain winter. Allenby visited him in the hospital.

Due to these manoeuvres, there were two competing days of the Surrender of Jerusalem (December 9 and 11) and two locations: the hill where the original ceremony took place, and the Jaffa Gate where Allenby's ceremony was held. These discrepancies left still-tangible traces on the map of Jerusalem.

The Monument

In 1920, a British war memorial was erected on the hill where the first surrender ceremony took place.

The three-metre high rectangular monument, similar in style to other British WWI memorials, was designed by the architect Wallcousins. It bore the date of December 9 (rather than 11), with the text:

Near this spot, the Holy City was surrendered to the 60th London Division, 9th December 1917. Erected by their comrades to those officers, NCOs and men who fell in fighting for Jerusalem.

The monument creates a silhouette resembling medieval knights, a reference to the comparison made at the time by many Britons between the 1917 conquest of Palestine and the crusades. An equestrian statue of Allenby was planned to stand on the pinnacle, but was never actually installed.

According to Israeli researcher Dov Genehovsky, the monument was built from the stones of the dismantled Ottoman clock tower which had been erected on top of the Jaffa Gate at the accession of the Sultan Abdul Hamid.

The First Allenby Square

As noted, the hill where the first surrender took place and the monument erected was at the time on the thinly inhabited western edge of Jerusalem. It was the square near to the Jaffa Gate where Allenby had held his ceremony, which was then named "Allenby Square".

Throughout the years of British rule in Mandatory Palestine, Allenby Square was in the midst of a bustling thoroughfare. However, with the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the square became part of the battlefield, separating first the Jewish and Palestinian militias from each other, and later the newly-formed IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) from the Jordanian Arab Legion.

The 1949 Armistice Agreements fixed the position of Allenby Square as part of the no-man's-land, and it remained such until the conquest of East Jerusalem and its annexation to Israel in 1967.

In the first flush of victory euphoria, the Israeli authorities decided to change the name of the square to "IDF Square" (ככר צה"ל), which is its name up to the present, a conspicuous location on the invisible "seam line" still dividing Israeli-inhabited West Jerusalem and the Palestinian-inhabited Eastern sector, forty years after the formal "unification".

The Second Allenby Square

During the British period, the 1920 monument, in the midst of an empty field, became gradually surrounded by the houses of the Romema neighborhood. After the creation of Israel, the Jerusalem Municipality surrounded it by an elliptical fence and planted some bushes; however, it was not officially declared a city square or given a name, and the area became increasingly neglected.

Allenby, whose memory is regarded with some favour in official Israel, was deprived in 1967 of "his" square, and the authorities decided to bestow the name on this neglected area around the monument - though some commentators objected, stating that Allenby had not taken place in the ceremony on that spot, and disdained it. Nevertheless, the name was duly bestowed.

It remained, however, rather neglected: only in 1994 did the municipality make the effort, after many protests by neighbours, to establish a proper playground for the Romema children. It was further refurbished, with new paving and lighting, when the new Jerusalem Central Bus Station was created nearby.


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