From the plain, the country rises, in places through the intermediate foot hills of the Shephelah, in places more abruptly and directly into the mountains of Judæa. These mountains are of limestone formation, terraced, where possible, for cultivation, and often wooded with olive trees or tilled as corn patches or vineyards.
Geography had its influence on the strategy of to-day as completely as it did when armies were not cumbered with guns and mechanical transport. Of the few passes from the Maritime Plain over the Shephelah into the Judean range only that emerging from the green Vale of Ajalon was possible, if we were to take Jerusalem, as the great captains of old took it, from the north.
The Division's most bitter struggle was about the Beth-horons, on the very scene where Joshua, on a lengthened day, threw the Canaanites off the Shephelah. The Yeomanry Mounted Division received orders on the afternoon of November 17 to move across Ajalon into the foothills and to press forward straight on Bireh as rapidly as possible. Their trials they began immediately.
Let me quote the description of Jezar from George Adam Smith's Historical Geography of the Holy Land, a book of fascinating interest to all students of the Sacred History which many of the soldiers in General Allenby's Army read with great profit to themselves: 'One point in the Northern Shephelah round which these tides of war have swept deserves special notice Gezer, or Gazar.
'Up none of the other valleys of the Shephelah has history surged as up and down Ajalon and past Gezer, for none are so open to the north, nor present so easy a passage to Jerusalem. The Anzac Mounted Division had only the 1st Australian Light Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade operating with it on the 14th.
The grand efforts of the 52nd and 75th Divisions in rushing over the foothills of the Shephelah on to the Judean heights, in getting a footing on some of the most prominent hills within three days of leaving the plain, and in holding on with grim tenacity to what they had gained, enabled the Commander-in-Chief to start on a new plan by which to take the Holy City in one stride, so to speak.
At the summit of the pass we rest for half an hour, to give our horses a breathing-space, and to refresh our eyes with the glorious view westward over the tumbled country of the Shephelah, the opalescent Plain of Sharon, the sand-hills of the coast, and the broad blue of the Mediterranean. Northward and southward and eastward the rocky summits and ridges of Judea roll away.
It is one of the few remarkable bastions which the Shephelah flings out to the west on a ridge running towards Ramleh, the most prominent object in view of the traveller from Jaffa towards Jerusalem. It is high and isolated, but fertile and well watered a very strong post and striking landmark.
The tract divides itself into four regions first, a region of sand, low and flat, along the Mediterranean, the Shephelah without its fertility; next, a region of hard gravelly plain intersected by limestone ridges, and raised considerably above the sea level, the Desert of El-Tin, or of "the Wanderings;" then the long, broad, low valley of the Arabah, which rises gradually from the Dead Sea to an imperceptible watershed, and then falls gently to the head of the Gulf of Akabah, a region of hard sand thickly dotted with bushes, and intersected by numerous torrent courses; finally a long narrow region of mountains and hills parallel with the Arabah, constituting Idumsea Proper, or the original Edom, which, though rocky and rugged, is full of fertile glens, ornamented with trees and shrubs, and in places cultivated in terraces.
Finally, Palestine contains the tract from which it derives its name, the low country of the Philistines, which the Jews called the Shephelah, together with a continuation of this tract northwards to the roots of Carmol, the district known to the Jews as "Sharon," or "the smooth place."