In October 2017, Norman Miller, co-founder of Indigenous Friends of Israel and the Centre for International Reconciliation and Peace, and I led a Sons of Abraham ANZAC tour to Israel with a number of focuses. Only one of these is discussed here – the centenary of the Battle of Be’er Sheva on 31 October and visiting battle sites in Israel. We had a team of 50 from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, England and Ireland. The Australian team consisted of Indigenous people and Chinese who considered themselves spiritual ANZACS.
On the first day of our tour, 17 October, we went to Ness Ziona to see the statue of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles which is in Ben Gurion school. The students greeted us enthusiastically. We then went to Rishon Le Zion and met with Pastors Shlomy and Miriam Abramov and we travelled with them to Ayun Kara where the New Zealanders mostly and some Australians won a decisive battle against the Ottoman empire in 1917. We prayed there and had communion, also using anointing oil and salt.
Before leaving Australia, the Lord gave me a word “A time to shine and a time of shame.” Be’er Sheva is the time to shine for the ANZACs and Surafend is a time of shame. A special part of our visit was to go to Surafend. In 1918, after the war, the ANZAC Mounted Division were stationed nearby at Rishon Le Zion and a New Zealand soldier, Leslie Lowry, 21 years old, kept his kitbag under his head while sleeping as there had been a lot of theft. His kitbag was stolen, waking him and he chased the intruder who killed him. As the soldiers had experienced theft and even murder in Egypt and then Palestine from Arabs over a long period with no action by their British commanders, the New Zealanders took things into their own hands about 24 hours after reporting this to the British.
They initially asked the sheikhs of Surafend to hand over the man responsible as Lowry is reported to have said his attacker came from there. As no knowledge of this was voiced by the sheikhs, the soldiers later surrounded the village on 10 December, got the old people, women and children out and massacred the men and torched the village and a nearby Bedouin village. Reports vary as to whether Australians were involved or not but they were at least cheering the New Zealanders on and/or in the know about it. Reports vary as to the number of men killed – 40 to over 100. General Allenby was furious but no one was charged because the men closed ranks as to who was responsible. All the ANZACs there lost their previous bravery citations. The British government extracted money from the New Zealand and Australian governments to rebuild Surafend.
Norman and I led an ANZAC Light horse tour of 14 Australians and 7 New Zealanders to Israel in 2010 including to the October 31 anniversary of the Battle of Be’er Sheva, and we repented to the Lord at Surafend for this massacre. Shlomy and Miriam Abramov helped us find the place. At the time, we could not find an Arab group to say sorry to. Miriam suggested we write an apology on paper to go into the archives of Rishon Le Zion which we did but they didn’t keep it.
|Prayer at Ayun Kara with Ps Shlomy & Miriam Abramov of Rishon Le Zion (back Right) Marjorie Leatua Left & Joye Alit front photo by Barbara Miller||Statute to NZ mounted Rifles at Ness Ziona photo by Barbara Miller|
This visit I wrote an apology which we had engraved on two plaques with each plaque in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The Rishon Le Zion museum declined to receive it because of its sensitivity. Shlomy had translated it into Hebrew and Bassem Adranly had translated it into Arabic. We had a time of prayer and communion about the event at Surafend also using anointing oil and salt. Arab pastor Victor Bahbah, who was to attend to accept the plaque of apology on behalf of Arabs, was not able to attend at the last minute. However, Shlomy, his good friend, passed it onto him by agreement. Shlomy and Miriam will safeguard the other plaque meant for the museum until the Lord leads them what to do with it.
Jacqueline Bedson of our team prepared four wreaths of poppies to lay at cemeteries around Israel and we laid one at Ramleh cemetery which is where British, New Zealander and Australian soldiers are buried. Jacqueline and the New Zealanders with us laid the wreath at Leslie Lowry’s grave.
|Ramleh cemetery Jacqueline Bedson, Australia & Margaret & John Rozmus etc. of NZ laying wreath photo by Barbara Miller||Plaque written by Barbara pictured and translated into Arabic by Bassem Adranly pictured photo by Norman Miller|
|Wreath Laid at Haifa War Cemetery||Barbara at Mt Carmel where we prayed|
I can only list what we did because there is so much and I need to write a longer article.
- On 20 October we went to Haifa Commonwealth War Graves cemetery and Jacqueline laid a wreath there.
- The same day we prayed at Megiddo, a key place for the Australian Light horse and key biblically. General Allenby is known as the Lord of Armageddon after this battle.
- On 23 October we joined the Australian Light horse Association (ALHA) for an event at Semakh (Tzemach). There was a successful Australian Light horse charge here in 1918 at the Turkish railway station. There will be a centenary of this charge next year and a statue erected to the Australian soldier with an Indigenous face because of the Indigenous soldiers who fought here. We met the riders, including Indigenous riders here.
- On 24 October we went to the ALHA event at the Tower of David where there was a sound and light show, a great event. About six weeks after the victory at Be’er Sheva and following further battles, the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled Palestine for 400 years, surrendered. It was a historic moment when British General Allenby walked, out of respect to the holy city, from the Jaffa Gate to the Tower of David Citadel on 11 December 1917. Among the mounted units to accompany Allenby on his formal entrance into Jerusalem were the Australian 10th Light Horse Regiment and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. Jerusalem was liberated from centuries of Islamic rule.
|Australian Soldiers Riding in to a Huge Crowd at Tzemach by Sharon McBride||General Allenby Walking into Jerusalem from Jaffa Gate –photo copyright expired|
- On 28 October we prayed at Mt Scopus British War Cemetery and laid a wreath there. It was very moving.
On 30 October we followed the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL_JNF) ANZAC Trail which covered many sites of significance including the ANZAC Memorial and Eshkol Park.
- Also, on 30 October we prayed extensively at Tel Sheva (Tel El-Saba) re re-digging the wells of revival. It is the place of the first peace treaty or covenant between Jew and Gentile, Jews and Philistines so we called forth peace and reconciliation at this place. Isaac renewed the peace treaty his father had made with Abimelech King of the Philistines to give the descendants of Abraham the right to settle in the land.
- The Be’er Sheva centenary celebrations on 31 October is a story on its own which I will cover elsewhere. The Prime Ministers of Israel and Australia attended and the Governor General of NZ. Australian Aboriginal (also my cousin) David Hudson opened by a didjeridoo and it was world class. Norman and I laid a wreath, followed by William Cooper’s grandson Uncle Boydie and Abe Schwarz. Many others did also. The ANZAC Museum, that we had been lobbying for over many years, was opened. There was an exciting re-enactment of the famous charge of the Australian Light horse, with Indigenous riders taking part, some of them descendants of the light horsemen of 100 years ago.
- It was too dark on our arrival in Tel Aviv to visit the three ANZAC battle sites there but some of the tour group did on the following day, a rest day being the last day of the tour.
|Beer Sheva 31 Oct 2017 Millers with David Hudson who blew the didjeridoo for the opening ceremony and laid a wreath for Indigenous servicemen photo by bystander||Millers lay a wreath at Be’er Sheva for the
Centre for International Reconciliation & Peace. Uncle Boydie (William Cooper’s grandson) and Abe Schwarz behind us as Luke Webb captures the ABC coverage.
|Light horse charge re-enactment Beer Sheva 31.10.2017 photo by Barbara Miller|
|Some of our group at Jerusalem War Cemetery Mt Scopus ready to lay a wreath|
Centenary of the Balfour Declaration on November 2
I found visiting Independence Hall in Tel Aviv was an emotional experience for me as much of the tour was but I was particularly teary here as there was a re-enactment of sorts by photos and sound recordings of the declaration of the state of Israel and the playing of the national anthem.
We attended two lectures at the Tel Aviv University for the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. This was a declaration of the British Parliament supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine and passed on October 31, the same day as the successful Battle of Be’er Sheva. It was communicated to the Jewish community on 2 November 1917. The Battle of Be’er Sheva opened the way to the liberation of Jerusalem from the Turkish Ottoman empire and the Balfour Declaration provided the political will for a Jewish homeland. Jewish groups had been lobbying for this for a long time and Jewish troops were part of the Allied forces. The League of Nations then approved a British mandate in Palestine, and in 1948, Israel became a modern nation.
A duo entertained us with songs between lectures that would have been familiar to ANZAC and British troops e.g. “It’s a long way to Tipperary” and they also sang “Waltzing Matilda.”
It was so special to have been a part of these events and to have led an international team, which included Indigenous Friends of Israel, for this historic event.
|Independence Hall Tel Aviv photo by Barbara Miller||Balfour Declaration Centenary lecture Tel Aviv Uni – Barbara Miller, former Lord Mayor of Brisbane Sallyanne Atkinson, Jeanne Pratt, widow of Richard Pratt who built the Park of the Australian Soldier at Beer Sheva, Norman Miller, Sarina Russo & Mrs James, widow of Digger James whose face is on the statue of the Australian Soldier at Pratt Park photo by bystander|
Share this article