Israel is a land filled with history that goes back to the time of Abraham. Wars have been fought, lives lost, and it is still a land of conflict. Yesterday’s enemies have become today’s friends.
October 31, 2018 marked the 101st Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. No reenactment of the battle or large crowds. Three separate ceremonies, with dignitaries who honored those who died so far away from their homeland of Australia and New Zealand. They came to fight alongside the British against the Turkish Ottoman Empire and won. Young men with their horses. Australia is 12,213 km from Israel and New Zealand 16,281, as the crow flies. No airplanes, no cell phone or computers.
General Allenby’s campaign plan demanded the battle for Beersheba commence at dawn. By late afternoon a series of British and ANZAC offensives had achieved part of their objectives, including the courageous capture of the strategic heights of Tel el Saba by the New Zealand Mount Rifles. The biggest problem was Beersheba, and its vital water wells, remained in the hands of the Ottoman troops. Creativity and thinking outside the box was very important, alongside with bravery.
“The men of the 4th and 12th Light Horse regiments formed up behind a crest four miles to the south-east of Beersheba, drew their bayonets, and moved off at a trot. Surprise and speed were their allies, and almost at once their pace quickened to a gallop. Facing sustained enemy fire, but moving fast, the horsemen quickly fell upon enemy lines, jumping the trenches, dismounting their horses, and then entering the trenches on foot, clearing them with both rifle and bayonet.
“Though outnumbered, the momentum and boldness of the surprise attack carried them through Turkish defenses. The light horsemen took less than an hour to overrun the trenches and enter Beersheba. Some 1100 Turkish and German soldiers were taken prisoner. The capture of Beersheba was complete.
“The Battle of Beersheba, though mild by the standards of the bloody Western Front, nonetheless exacted its share of human tragedy. 32 Light Horsemen were killed in the charge, most falling during the fierce hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches. But the heaviest Allied losses were suffered by the British infantry in taking out the Ottoman defensive lines to the town’s west. New Zealand also suffered for its heroic efforts in taking Tel el Saba. Were it not for their efforts, the charge would never have taken place. Brave Turkish and German troops died that day as well, defending their lines, and in large numbers.” His Excellency Chris Cannan, Australian Ambassador to Israel
Shortly after the last great cavalry charge in history, the Balfour Declaration which recognized the Land of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people was announced, changing the history of the modern world.
Her Excellency Wendy Hinton, Ambassador of New Zealand, spoke about her country’s involvement in winning the battle. Some history never changes. She proudly wore a feathered cape called a Māori cloak adorned with feathers and bestowed on chiefs and dignitaries to convey prestige, respect and power
Each person can make a difference and touch another; even if 101 years have passed. Ambassador Cannan spoke about one individual, “I am always touched by the stories I hear of the respect and affection these communities felt for the Australian soldiers. One particular story linking our peoples stands out. That of Jewish-Australian trooper, Lion Harlap, the youngest member of the 10th Light Horse. Originally of Odessa, Harlap migrated to Palestine in the 1890’s only to take ship to Australia in 1909. Six years later he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was deployed out of Fremantle on the HMAT Kanowna to Egypt to join the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. In a twist of fate, as the troops moved through Rehovot in early 1918, Harlap re-united with his parents who had stayed behind in the Holy Land. As the war’s end approached, Harlap wrote to his commanding officer to request permission to be decommissioned and settle back with his family. His request was granted. He would live out the rest of his life here. A story of reunion amid the rubble of war.”
“Since that charge, like the ANZAC, with their hats adorned with the feathers of the Emu, the unique Australian bird that cannot walk backwards, only forward – Be’er-Sheva has only been moving forward.” Yair Nagid, head of Be’er Sheva Municipality Cultural Administration
Today, Beersheba, also Be’er Sheva is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the “Capital of the Negev”, it is the center of the fourth most populous metropolitan area in Israel, the eighth most populous Israeli city.
Be’er Sheva River Park, which is almost twice the size of New York’s Central Park, is a JNF urban revitalization initiative that has turned what was once a massive junkyard into a lush greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists and, as importantly, a space for family celebrations and community festivals. Perhaps one of the most stunning aspects of the River Walk project is Abraham’s Well. Here, Abraham is said to have dug a well and made a pact with the Philistines. Today, visitors enter a multimedia-filled courtyard, reconstructed with ancient drawings, that evoke the Be’er Sheva of more than 3,000 years ago.
Israel is a country of many religions. The Turkish Ottoman Empire lost control of the City of Beersheba in 1917; yet, in 2018, the Turkish Embassy in Israel held a Turkish Commemorative Service to honor their dead. Within walking distance of the Beersheba War Cemetery is the Turkish Memorial Monument. “Many years have passed. It is a different world, with different challenges. We gather here today in this Plaza, built in 2008, with the cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Israel, and dedicated in the name of the Founder of the Modern Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk. We are here to commemorate the Ottoman Turkish Soldiers who fell in the Battle of Be’er Sheva.” Yair Nagid.
A National Anthem of one’s country is a solemn patriotic song officially adopted as an expression of national identity. The freedom to sing your National Anthem in another country is powerful. There are not many countries where you hear the National Anthem of Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. Yet, in Beersheba, Israel they were proudly sung by Israelis, Turks, Australians, and New Zealanders.
“The presence of representatives of those nations here today reminds us that yesterday’s foe can be today’s friend.” Australian Ambassador Cannan
Ode to the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
They went with songs to the battle, the were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
All respond: WE WILL REMEMBER THEM