Thursday, November 1, 2012

October 31 (1917)

His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country
United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild)

Never mind being Halloween, October 31 is a very auspicious day, especially in the Jewish calendar.

First, October 31 is the 304th day of the year (305th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 61 days remaining until the end of the year (December 31).
Here are only a few of the events that occurred on October 31 over the years:
·   1517Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther posts his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. That bore well for the Jews.
·   1926 – Magician Harry Houdini dies of gangrene and peritonitis that developed after his appendix ruptured. Let’s not forget, Harry was a Jew. A nut perhaps, but still a Jew.
·   1940World War II: The Battle of Britain ends – the United Kingdom prevents a possible German invasion. Paving the way for a final complete defeat of the Nazi enemy (even if it took five more years and 50 million deaths).
·   1941 – After 14 years of work, Mount Rushmore is completed. I don’t know how this is related to the Jews, but it was interesting, so I included it in the list.
·   1961 – In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin's body is removed from Lenin's Tomb. Stalin was one of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people. His memory should be erased.
·   1984Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by two security guards. Riots break out in New Delhi and nearly 10,000 Sikhs are killed. Nothing to do with Jews or Israel but it’s also interesting.
Ok, so I copied from Wikepedia, but you get the point.
October 31 may be the anniversary for lots of varied and interesting events, but for us in Beer Sheva, October 31 has been, for the last 95 years at least, ANZAC Day. ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day commemorates the decisive victory of the Allied army over Ottoman forces in World War 1 in the battle of Beer Sheva, or in the immortal words of Wikepedia:
·   1917World War I: Battle of Beersheba – "last successful cavalry charge in history".
In 1917, the General Staff of the British Army understood that to break the Ottoman’s rule in the Middle East, they would need to first conquer the ‘Holy Land’. After two unsuccessful battles in Gaza, (Sir) Edmund Allenby became the commander in chief of the British Forces based in Egypt. He decided that lack of water was easier to overcome than the fortifications in Gaza, and decided to send troops through the Sinai and Negev deserts to Beer Sheva, then an Ottoman administrative town, and face off there. The rest is history. The Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, commanded by Brigadier William Grant, attacked the Ottoman forces who were under the leadership of some loser the German General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein (I looked that one up). Suffice to say, the Aussies and Kiwis won the battle, the last successful cavalry charge in history. (The Poles lost their great cavalry charge against German Panzer tanks in the first battle of World War II.)
One small point however, is that the 4th Light Horse Brigade was not a cavalry unit, but rather a mounted infantry unit. The Turks actually waited for them to dismount their horses before beginning battle. They were therefore rather surprised when the British troops charged at Turkish positions.
To be perfectly honest,  the majority of the population of Beer Sheva has probably not heard of ANZAC or the battle, don’t know who the guy on the pedestal is in Allenby Park in downtown Beer Sheva, and have no idea who’s buried in the British Military Cemetery. (Don’t get me started on the educational system in this city…)

British Military Cemetery Beer Sheva
But I love this stuff, and I try to go every year to the memorial service held at the British Cemetery. In recent years, a service has also been held at the Memorial to the Turkish Soldier. We like to play even. Five years ago, on the 90th anniversary of the Battle, the day was commemorated by a mounted parade in the streets. People came from all over the British Empire to commemorate the battle and those fallen; England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal, and South Africa were all represented. The horses were ridden by Australians and New Zealanders whose ancestors had participated in the battle, some of whom were buried in the cemetery in town. This year too, on the 95th anniversary, there was a ‘reenactment’ of the battle.

Preparing for battle

The soldiers and their followers?


Australians and New Zealanders came to participate again; many of them pensioners, and many of them descendants of the original warriors. For these families, the battle for Beer Sheva is significant, and they understand how their family helped to shape history.
ANZAC Memorial about 20 Km from Beer Sheva
The ‘liberation’ of Beer Sheva allowed the British army to continue on and, two months later, ‘liberate’ Jerusalem (where the main street was named after the reigning monarch King George) and Ramle, and on to Beirut and Damascus. The battle for a small, dusty, peripheral town opened the way to the British Empire’s control over and eventual carving up of the Middle East.
It also paved the way to the creation of the independent State of Israel. Indeed, two days after the Battle of Beer Sheva, the Balfour Declaration was issued: His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object… This, in turn, led the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, to approve the Mandate for Palestine in July 1922,  formally incorporating the Balfour Declaration into international law.
Balfour and his declaration
Turkish Lancers 1917
What was ironic about yesterday’s ceremonies was that most of them were canceled by the Australian and Turkish embassies. They formally advised their citizens travelling abroad not to enter Southern Israel in general, and any point within a 40 km range of Gaza, in particular, for fear of incoming rockets from Arab-held territory. Australia, and even more so Turkey, have, in recent years, protested against Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, which prevents weapons from reaching the terrorists there. Turkey has all but broken off all relations with Israel over this matter (despite its own occupation of part of Cyprus). Yet, they recognize the fact that Israel is under fire and must defend its citizens. I can only hope that they see the irony also.
Despite the warnings, there were over 100 Aussies and Kiwis who came to pay homage to their warriors, and pay respects to their fallen. As the director of the reenactment stated, “ we’re not going to let a bunch of terrorists tell us where we can and cannot go.”
And he said it in a really strong Aussie accent too, so it sounded really authentic.

The 4th Light Horse Brigade in Beer Sheva 1917

1 comment:

rutimizrachi said...

Fascinating bit of history, Reesa! Thank you for sharing!