A Military Strategist’s View Part II -- By: David G. Hansen

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 02:2 (Spring 1989)
Article: A Military Strategist’s View Part II
Author: David G. Hansen


A Military Strategist’s View
Part II

David G. Hansen

The “Hour-Glass” road system.
Roads from the north and south come together as they go through Ramallah and El-Bireh.

Is ABR’s Khirbet Nisya Biblical Ai?

Military commanders and strategists are influenced by geography. Whether conducting sweeping defensive and offensive operations with large armies, or leading small numbers of soldiers, they search for locations that give them an advantage over their adversaries. These topographic features vary depending on the objective of the military operations and the nature of the terrain. They may be mountain passes (such as that at Megiddo), or dominating plateaus (the Colon Heights) or hills and gorges that inhibit movement (the Judean Hills).

Roads frequently traverse militarily important terrain and when they do, the roads will dictate how a commander will replenish his army and direct his route. Throughout history, the combination of an important road network coupled with critical geographic features has influenced how and whether a military leader defends and attacks.

Such a special situation is found near the present day town of Ramallah, ten miles north of Jerusalem.

The terrain around Ramallah, described by David Livingston as an “hourglass,” has troubled armies for millennia. Commanders who wanted to travel north and south along the watershed route to avoid the Jordan Valley or the seacoast roads, have found their armies constricted by the waist of this hourglass. Steep valleys on either side of the waist, and a dominating hill just to the east, have further subjected their armies to the risk of ambushes. At Ramallah, the watershed road intersects with the important route leading up from the coastal highway, the Biblical “way to Beth-Horon.” This gentle, winding and narrow ascent is easily defended but has been a traditional westerly invasion route. Thus, this unique combination of terrain and a valuable road system makes Ramallah a strategic prize for any commander.

The Bible describes many military encounters in this region and it undoubtedly explains why the territory was the tribal bound-arc between Benjamin and Ephraim and later became the border for the nations of Judah and Israel. Extra-Biblical history also has its share of military leaders who recognized the importance, but topographical difficulties, of the Ramallah area. When Napoleon was urged to take Jerusalem following his victory at Gaza in 1799, he is supposed to have said, “I should not want to share the fate of Cestius; I will not be bogged down in the mou...

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