My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 7 November 2017: The Consequences of the Battle of Beersheba nothing to celebrate
by ray goodlass
The consequences of Beersheba are nothing to celebrate
Last week’s national chest beating over the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba reminded me that the consequences of that victory are nothing to celebrate, and neither is last week’s other centenary, Britain’s Balfour Declaration.
Both need a dose of honest assessment, rather than the uncritically jingoist interpretation they have been given by the mainstream Australian media.
The Battler of Beersheba first. Essentially what was celebrated was the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade of the ANZAC Mounted Division on 31 October 1917 that captured Beersheba and thus fatally compromised the Ottoman Turkish defensive line stretching across Palestine. Jerusalem, the rest of Palestine and then Syria rapidly fell to the British under General Allenby.
While this famous cavalry charge is much celebrated by the victors and the ultimate beneficiary, Israel, the immediate consequences for the Palestinians were devastating. The initial rapes and famine that killed 100,000 was bad enough, but the long-term consequences for the indigenous Palestinians were disastrous.
The post WW1 British Mandate of Palestine, the UK’s prize for its defeat of the Ottoman Turks, opened the land up to Zionist colonisation, the creation of the State of Israel, and today’s ongoing occupation by Israel of Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza Strip
As Greens MP Lee Rhiannon posted on Facebook “The dark history that followed that charge has been largely swept under – from the massacre by ANZAC soldiers in Surafend that went unpunished a year after the charge to the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of the land by the Israeli army 30 years after that.
“But the grand re-enactment that is taking place, attended by Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will have no mention of the people who belong to that land – who have since been expelled,” Senator Rhiannon’s post concluded
To which I add, where were the Palestinians while Australia, NZ and Israel were partying on last week? Nowhere in sight of course. The only Arabs in view both in 1917 and 2017 were the horses.
Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten should hang their heads in shame for participating in this jingoistic piece of military play acting.
Now to the Balfour Declaration, which is not as well known in Australia as the Beersheba cavalry charge, but had even more disastrous consequences for the Palestinians.
In the Declaration the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Arthur Balfour, promised the land of Palestine as a homeland for the Jewish people. In an amazing piece of Orwellian doublethink (the ability to hold two completely contradictory thoughts simultaneously while believing both to be true) Lord Balfour added “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
Britain’s motives were various, and though some in Lloyd George’s government, himself included, genuinely wanted safety and security for the Jewish people, the motivation was essentially ‘realpolitik’, namely to win support from the Jewish populations of Russia and the USA for the war.
So last week approximately 13 million Palestinians scattered throughout the world marked its centenary by lamenting what noted Palestinian-American academic Edward Said has rightly dubbed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the creation of the State of Israel, its occupation of what remains of Palestine, and millions of Palestinian refugees.
The centenary was met with huge protests in Occupied Palestine, and in London, where there were demands for a British apology.
As for me, I would have liked to have attended street artist Banksy’s ‘Apologetic Party’ at his appropriately named ‘Walled-Off Hotel’, my favourite place to hang out in Bethlehem.