Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem

"today the crusades have ended."¹

  • General Edmund Allenby, Dec 11, 1917


During WWI, General Edmund Allenby led the British Empire's Egyptian Expeditionary Force against the Ottoman Empire's Fourth Army in the Sinai and Palestine campaign (1915-18)². After decisive victories at the Battle of Mughar Ridge and the Battle of Jerusalem in late 1917, the Ottomans were driven out of Palestine which allowed the British to occupy Jerusalem.

In 1898, when Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Jerusalem he entered via the Jaffa Gate on horseback, which was perceived as arrogant by many locals. Therefore, when General Allenby entered (as victor) on December 11, 1917, he purposely dismounted and passed through the Joffa Gate on foot as a show of humility, letting the locals know he was as much like a pilgrim, as a conquering general.

When I visited in 2017, I too wanted to show my humility and therefore passed through the Jaffa Gate on foot. While the General decided to wear a peaked forage cap, a Sam Brown belt, and jodhpurs, I went with a Gor-Tex shirt, jeans and bucks. When I subsequently reviewed my photographs for this blog, I was quite surprised to realize that I had walked through the Jaffa Gate on December 11, 2017, one hundred years to the day after the General entered. And from the looks of it, only a few hours later.

General Allenby - December 11, 1917

December 11, 2017

​Later on that fateful day, I experienced a story that must be quintessential Jerusalem. Mrs. AAR and I were walking down either side of the Latin Patriarchate Street when a rather older-looking shopkeeper started to chat her up. I pushed on, as I knew she could look after herself until I found myself at the exact spot of the above photo. I people-watched for a few minutes (if you think it's fascinating in Paris, then wait until you get to Jerusalem). I expected her to join me eventually but after waiting about 15 minutes, I felt I should double back to find out what happened, after all, what would the police (משטרת מחוז ירושלים) say, if she disappeared and I waited 30 minutes to report it? When I worked my way back up the street I found she was inside a store, deep in conversation with her new friend, Isaac. Isaac was a jeweler who was renovating a jewelry store so old its first customer may have been Jesus Christ. After a brief conversation, it became quite apparent he was quite excited about his new client . . . me! I immediately felt a "used car salesman" vibe when Isaac said that when he earlier saw the Missus and me, "I knew you were more than husband and wife, you were lovers". When he said the word "lovers", he drew it out like he was a playa in a single's bar ("luveeeeeers"). Against my better judgment, I continued to chat with him, as he was a local and I felt like talking to locals is what travel is all about. Well I knew where this would end up and it soon did. He mentioned that my wife deserved the best and the best happened to be right there in his right hand, a string of the finest Eilat stones³ that money could buy. Of course, I mentioned that a price could not be put on the love I had for my wife, but he was quite insistent. From another pocket, he pulled a string of similar-looking turquoise stones and asked me what I thought of them. I started to mumble something like "they look nice", before Isaac cut me off with a terse "they're crap, see they are made in China" as he held a magnet to them. "What did I know?" I thought, as both strands were a set of smooth turquoise stones about the size of pearls. He continued on "real Eilat stones are not magnetic! How much will you give me for them, whatever you want to offer, I will take!"

Believe it or not, before I met Isaac, I had no idea what an Eilat stone was, whether or not it was magnetic, or how much was one was worth (if anything). He and I excused ourselves to outside his shop, leaving my wife inside sipping mint tea, as it was time for "man talk". I became a little nervous, but then in what I thought was an irrefutable display of logic, I said something like "I'm sorry Isaac, I cannot make you an offer, as if I offer you too little, you will be offended and if I offer you too much then I will later be offended, I'm sorry". I felt my Holmesian logic would put an end to our "negotiation" and let us all go back inside and be "friends". Unfortunately (for me), Isaac was as relentless as dishes in the sink in a kitchen without a dishwashing machine and kept pressing me to make an offer. I went back inside and it all became quite awkward, for me at least as my wife was quite content to sip the mint tea and enjoy the tête-à-tête. Eventually, I took her hand and departed with the volume of Isaacs's voice lessening with every footstep.

A few days later we were transiting the Jaffa Gate when who should we see!? Why it was our old friend Isaac and he invited us both into his shop for some mint tea. The Missus greeted Isaac like an old friend and wanted to accept his invitation (she really enjoys mint tea). I told her it was all a front and he just wanted to close the sale, she disagreed, so I kissed her goodbye ("goodbye luveeeeer!") and walked back to our Airbnb at Mordechai Eliash 7. When the Missus returned a little while later, I was both delighted and saddened to hear her say . . . "it was all a front, he just wanted to close the sale".

The Missus, the Stones and the Isaac

​¹ "today the crusades have ended" is possibly apocryphal, but definitely inaccurate.

² Soon after World War I started, in November of 1914 the Ottoman Empire (allied with Imperial Germany via the Central Powers) which controlled Palestine came into conflict with the British Empire which controlled Egypt. Ottoman forces initially captured much of the Sinai Peninsula (in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Suez Canal), but then over the next three years, British forces assisted by Arabs (the Arab Revolt: Arabs who wanted independence for much of the Middle East from Ottoman rule) slowly fought their way northeast from the Suez Canal to Allepo, capturing the Sinai, Gaza, Jerusalem, Damascus and finally Allepo on October 25, 1918.

³ Eilat stone (pronounced ay·luht) is the name for a green-blue inhomogeneous mixture of several secondary copper minerals including malachite, azurite, turquoise, pseudomalachite, chrysocolla, and others. The Eilat stone is the national stone of Israel and is also known as the King Solomon Stone. Caveat emptor: The blue and green stones sold in tourist souvenir shops are generally imported from foreign copper mines, and are not really from Israel, which is of little importance to the tourists but has to be considered by serious mineral collectors. If you are really interested . . . bring your own magnet.