A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Greetings

I want to wish those readers who celebrate Christmas on the Western date today my wishes for the season. Since many Middle Eastern Christians celebrate on the Eastern date instead, there will be further Christmas posts between the two Christmases.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Belated Yalda Greetings

I was busy last night with a holiday party and so failed to note an actual holiday. Last night was the Winter solstice, and thus the ancient Iranian feast of Yalda, originally Zoroastrian in origin. As I've posted about Yalda in previous years,  I'll refer you to my earlier posts for now.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hanukkah Greetings

Greetings on this first night of Hanukkah to my Jewish readers.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11, 1917: Allenby Enters Jeusalem

Allenby enters the Jaffa Gate
After the British occupied Jaffa in November, 1917, General Allenby set his sights on the hill country around Jerusalem. On December 11, two weeks before Christmas, Allenby walked through the Jaffa Gate of the Old City ahead of his troops. (The cavalryman entered on foot because when Kaiser Wilhelm II had visited the city, he rode a white horse, leading to comments that "a better man than he rode a donkey."

Allenby did not take Jerusalem by a direct assault. He sent several columns of British and Empire troops to advance to the north of Jerusalem, to cut the road to Nablus and cut the Turkish line of retreat; another column advanced from Hebron toward Bethlehem from the south. On ditionNovember 24 the 75th Division took Nabi Samwil, the traditional tomb of the Prophet Samuel which dominated the Jerusalem northern horizon.

There was a pause in the advance, but on December 8 the southern column reached the outskirts of Bethlehem. That night the last Ottoman troops left the city. On the morning of the ninth, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Hussein Salim al-Husseini of the well-known Husseini family, set out under a white flag with a letter from the Ottoman commander, planning to surrender the city.
Mayor Husseini and the Surrender Delegarion

He encountered two sergeants of the London Regiment, James Sedgewick and Frederick Hurcomb. Essentially feeling this was above their pay grade, the sergeants declined the surrender, but Husseini was eventually passed up the chain of command until finding an officer to accept the surrender.

Allenby was instructed to keep the surrender a secret until Parliament could be notified, and though he wrote his wife on both the ninth and tenth, he did not mention the surrender until the 11th, the day he entered the city.

Jerusalem, as noted in an earlier post, was not a military objective (the Ottoman Seventh Army had moved to Nablus), but it was a powerful religious symbol to the three religions that consider it holy. The Ottomans did try a counterattack later in December, but by the new year the front had stabilized with both Jerusalem and Jaffa securely in British hands.

Some video (Hebrew captions but the first is an Imperial War Museum video) of the entry:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Jerusalem Decision

President Trump has said that recognizing Jerusalem a the capital of Israel will advance the peace process. Using the same logic, the fires now threatening Los Angeles might best be fought by dropping gasoline on them instead of water, in order to advance the firefighting process.
While the issue of Jerusalem is largely symbolic, Jerusalem is a powerful symbol.

And the symbol was bizarrely timed. Why now? What possible benefit can be gained that outweighs the damage done by the US acting unilaterally? Despite claims to the contrary, the move gives the impression that the most difficult of the 'final status' issues has been settled, by awarding it to Israel.

This may pass, but I cannot see how it "advances the peace process."

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Long Career and Ironic Death of ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih

‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih became President of what was then North Yemen in 1978. Though he stepped aide as President of united Yemen in 2012, he remained a key player in the chaotic conflict in that country. In the course of nearly 40 years on center stage, he had survived assassination attempts, coups, and plots by his neighbors. Yesterday, after one last change of sides, his luck ran out.

Salih's longevity in a country with a history of short-lived leaders was unusual; he came from a relatively small tribe but always seemed to land on his feet. When he was being challenged by the Houthi movement, he originated the charge that the Houthis were Iranian-backed, though more recently he was allied with the Houthis, while Saudi Arabia has embraced the charge. This weekend Salih gambled: starting open battles with his Houthi allies while making overtures to Saudi Arabia. It was a daring maneuver, but this time Salih lost his gamble.