Having charted the role played by Britain – and especially its Christians – in the restoration of the Jewish people to their ancient land, I think it’s only fair to record for posterity the vital contribution made by our Antipodean friends from Down Under.
You may recall me saying how UK evangelicals, and in particular the now international society CMJ (Church’s Ministry among Jewish people), were at the forefront of efforts to persuade the British Government to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. This resulted in the so-called Balfour Declaration of 1917 and became a practical possibility just nine days later when General Allenby’s forces took Jerusalem from the Turks.
But without the brave ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) forces this could surely not have happened, and the Jewish people remain forever in their debt.
Against all odds, the legendary charge of the ANZAC light horse brigade completed a victory in the Battle of Beersheba that might not otherwise have been possible and paved the way for the subsequent capture of Jerusalem, bringing the centuries-old Ottoman Empire to an ignominious end in the process.
As it happens, April 25 is ANZAC Day which this year marks the centenary of the landing on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula of Australian and New Zealand forces, who subsequently conducted a brave eight-month long campaign against fierce opposition, losing 8,000 of their men, and has since been marked as a day of remembrance for all 60,000 ANZACs who fell during World War I.
And so it was that on the very day that the British Government promised to do all in its power to establish a Jewish national home in what was then known as Palestine – October 31 1917 – British and ANZAC troops captured Beersheba, the first military victory in the campaign to liberate the land of Israel from the Turks.
As Australian historian Kelvin Crombie describes in his book Anzacs, Empires and Israel’s Restoration (Vocational Education & Training Publications): “About 800 bayonet-wielding Australian horsemen set off at a canter in three columns across the five kilometer plain to Beersheba on what would not only become an epic cavalry charge, but a venture which was to change the destiny of the former Ottoman Empire, and the course of world history.”
They were evidently riding a gauntlet of shrapnel, high explosives and machine-gun fire, and their rapid advance prevented the intended complete destruction of local wells, which would have been disastrous for over 50,000 soldiers and their animals.
Jerusalem was duly captured on December 9 1917 and for a few days CMJ’s Mission Hospital (now the Anglican International School, still under CMJ) became the headquarters of the 60th London Division. General Allenby arrived there two days later before heading off on horseback to declare the official end of Turkish rule from the balcony of the Imperial Hotel just inside Jaffa Gate in the Old City.
He was surrounded by British and ANZAC troops as he made the proclamation just across the road from Christ Church, CMJ’s Jerusalem HQ. Apparently all the photographs of that historic occasion were taken from on top of the buildings of the Christ Church compound. I am looking at the photograph now and it has become very familiar to me, having visited twice in recent years. The scene is virtually unchanged, except that the soldiers are largely replaced by crowds of tourists and pilgrims.
After the ceremony, Crombie reports in his book Restoring Israel (an account of CMJ’s first 200 years published in 2008 by Nicolayson’s Ltd at Christ Church), Allenby and his entourage, including T. E. Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame), returned to General Shea’s headquarters at the CMJ hospital for lunch, adding: “It was only fitting that both of CMJ’s Jerusalem properties were involved on that historic and auspicious occasion.”
It would appear that for some reason only known to God, he used people from the farthest ends of the earth in a very pivotal way to establish his purposes for Israel. And it is perhaps because of this important link more than any current involvement with fighting terrorism in the region that Islamic State apparently sought to mark ANZAC Day with an attack in Melbourne which was thankfully foiled.
There’s more. At Rosh Ha Nikra, on the border with Lebanon, there is a plaque commemorating the role of New Zealanders in building the railway line which was supposed to extend from Egypt to Turkey. Unfortunately it had to be bombed during World War II to prevent the enemy using it for troop transportation. And close to the border with Gaza, there is a special memorial to the New Zealand soldiers who fought in the Holy Land in both world wars.
It is perfectly fitting, therefore, that Aussies and Kiwis (especially the Christians among them) continue to play a key role in various efforts to bless and support Israel today.