BY VICTOR SHARPE, FAMILY SECURITY MATTERS—
Was T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) the prime creator of the post Ottoman Turkish landscape we know today as the Middle East, or were other individuals equally or more responsible for enabling Britain’s defeat of Ottoman Turkey during World War I?
Was it Lawrence or another hero who helped British and Anzac forces defeat the Turkish army at Beersheba and Gaza? And who was responsible for thus providing Britain’s General Allenby the ability to lead his forces in the final liberation of Jerusalem from Ottoman Turkish occupation?
Lawrence raised the Arab Revolt, as it has come to be called, in the deserts of the Hedjaz. But it was left to a pro-British secret Jewish spying organization known as the NILI underground, which led to the liberation of the Sinai, of El Arish, and which opened the door to the geographical territory known as Palestine.
And it was a British colonel and intelligence officer, with the unlikely Danish name of Meinertzhagen, attached to Allenby’s staff whose classic ruse led the Turks into believing that Gaza was to be the target of a British full frontal attack when, in reality, it was a mere feint: The full attack led successfully by the Australian Light Horse coming against Beersheba.
Richard Meinertzhagen was an avowed Christian supporter of Jewish and Zionist aspirations working for the reconstitution of a Jewish state within the ancient, ancestral and biblical homeland – a reality which came to pass some 30 years later.
He had seen a pogrom break out in Odessa as Jews were beaten and murdered with impunity. At the time he had been dining with the British Consul and later wrote in his journal:
“I am deeply moved by these terrible deeds and have resolved that whenever or whenever I can help the Jews, I shall do so to the best of my ability.”
He later wrote that he was much influenced by the: “Divine promise that the Holy Land of the Twelve Tribes of Israel will remain forever as Israel’s inheritance.”
Meinertzhagen’s opportunity to strike a blow against Ottoman Turkey’s occupation of the Palestinian territory took place when he rode with a member of the Australian Light Horse behind Turkish lines in the Negev Desert.
He feigned a wound as he and his companion fled from a Turkish patrol, while at the same time deliberately dropping a satchel containing false British battle plans designed to fool the Turks into believing an attack was imminent on Gaza. This was the ruse that allowed Allenby instead to attack and defeat the Turkish base at Beersheba.
In his book titled, Lawrence of Judea, The champion of the Arab cause and his little-known romance with Zionism. Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill, wrote thus of T.E. Lawrence:
T.E. Lawrence – better known in Britain and throughout the Middle East as Lawrence of Arabia – was a lifelong friend of Arab national aspirations. In 1917 and 1918 he participated as a British officer in the Arab revolt against the Turks, a revolt led by Sharif Hussein, later King of the Hedjaz. He was also an adviser to Hussein’s son Feisal, whom he hoped to see on the throne of Syria. For generations of British Arabists, Lawrence was and remains a symbol of British support for the Arab cause. Virtually unknown, however, is his understanding of and support for Jewish national aspirations in the same era.
Indeed, Lawrence did work to create harmony between Arab and Jewish aspirations, a fact ignored in David Lean’s movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and in most of the writings about T.E. Lawrence.
For instance, Lawrence suggested to Churchill several times, and especially at the 1921 Cairo Conference, the benefits of the original “two-state solution” which gave the Arabs the extensive territory of the east bank of the River Jordan and a future state – the present day Kingdom of Jordan – while leaving the far narrower and smaller territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan (including biblical Judea and Samaria – known as the West Bank) as the reconstituted Jewish territory and future state of Israel. Sir Martin pointed out that:
The presence of Lawrence of Arabia at the Cairo Conference was of inestimable benefit to Churchill in his desire to help establish a Jewish National Home in Palestine.
Lawrence’s friendship with the Arab leaders, with whom he had fought during the Arab Revolt, and his knowledge of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, was paralleled by his understanding of Zionist aspirations.
On March 27, 1921, ten days after Lawrence’s suggestions in Cairo, Churchill sent him from Jerusalem to Transjordan to explain to Abdullah that his authority would end at the eastern bank of the River Jordan; that the Jews were to be established in the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan (“Western Palestine”); and that he, Abdullah, must curb all anti-Zionist activity and agitation among his followers.
Sir Martin ended with the following words:
It is hard to know how he (Lawrence) would have responded to the Arab world’s growing intransigence toward the Jewish presence in the British Mandate, let alone to its violent attempts to destroy the Jewish State while still in its birth pangs – the same State that he believed held such promise for the Arabs of the region.
Unlike the public activities of T.E. Lawrence and the Bedouin tribes he organized to destroy and disrupt Turkish military and civilian installations and railways in the Hedjaz, NILI was a secret, pro-British Jewish spying organization, which operated in Ottoman occupied Palestine during World War I.
NILI was an acronym for the Hebrew phrase Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker, The words in English mean, “The Eternal One of Israel will not lie,” and comes from Samuel 1. 15:29.
The Aaronsohns were leading members of the Jewish families living among the scattered Jewish villages on and around Mount Carmel. But with the outbreak of World War I, Turkey began to imprison and deport thousands of Jewish residents who were not Turkish civilians. This repression came against the background of the genocide by Turkey of the Armenian Christians.
The Aaronsohns hoped to aid the British in invading Palestine from Egypt and to inform the world of the Turkish oppression of local Jews and others, all in the hopes of advancing the cause for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, though many other local Jews remained loyal to Turkey.
Aaron Aaronsohn eventually made his way to Egypt and finally convinced the British authorities of the immense value of the pro-British Jewish spy ring. Operating from Cairo, Aaron helped his sister, Sarah, to organize communications with the British from her vantage point near Atlit on the Mediterranean coast.
Sometimes information was passed to a British frigate off the coast. At other times, carrier pigeons were used to transmit information about Turkish troop movements, fortifications and the ever vital water sources. But a carrier pigeon one day landed at the home of the Turkish governor in Caesarea carrying coded messages.
This led to severe persecution of many local Jews and finally to the arrest of several members of the spy ring including Aaron’s sister, Sarah, who was horrifyingly tortured by the Turks. Sarah eventually managed to obtain a pistol and shoot herself but lingered in terrible pain for three days before finally dying.
Fragments from her 1917 suicide note contain the following words:
Believe me I no longer have the strength to suffer and it would be better for me to kill myself than to be tortured under their bloodied hands … As heroes we died and did not confess. … I aspired for my people and for my people’s well-being.
In October 1917, the British army, with the help of the Australian Light Horse, surprised the Turks with their raid on Beersheba and opened the way into Central Palestine. Meinertzhagen’s ruse had succeeded brilliantly.
Jerusalem was liberated in December, 1917 and 400 years of Ottoman Turkish rule ended. The conquest of El Arish, Gaza, Beersheba and finally Jerusalem would have been almost impossible without the massive amount of information provided by the NILI Jewish underground.
Contributing Editor Victor Sharpe is a freelance writer and author of the trilogy: Politicide. The attempted murder of the Jewish state.