A re-enactment of the Battle of Beersheba.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An ANZAC museum dedicated to the history of the October 31, 1917, Battle of Beersheba in which the Turkish forces were vanquished by Australian and New Zealand soldiers from the 4th and 12th Light Horse regiments, will be built by the Beersheba municipality in cooperation with the Australian Government, the Australian Embassy, the Australian-headquartered Pratt Foundation, and other donors, Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich announced on Friday.
Danilovich spoke at Beersheba’s Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at the annual memorial ceremony co-hosted by the Australian Embassy, the Beersheba municipality and the Pratt Foundation, which in 2008 established the Park of the Australian Soldier that was donated to the City of Beersheba, and which continues to take an active interest in the development of the city. The park includes special facilities for children with physical and/ or mental disabilities, including a maze for blind children with signs in Braille.
A plot for the ANZAC museum already has been allocated and an architect commissioned, Danilovich said. The museum will be completed and officially inaugurated on October 31, 2017, which will mark the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba.
Though primarily an ANZAC ceremony, the remembrance service is dedicated to all those who fought and fell during the Allied Campaign of World War I, including soldiers in the Turkish forces. A representative of the Turkish Embassy is always among the wreath layers, and there is a second ceremony at the nearby Turkish monument that was initiated by former Beersheba mayor Yaakov Terner. Altogether there are three ceremonies, the last being in the Park of the Australian soldier.
Danilovich who was born in Beersheba said that as a child he was always curious about the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and, at school, learned that Israelis owe their freedom to the heroic soldiers who fell in battle and are buried there.
Today, only one Jewish soldier, Captain S.I.H. Van den Bergh from the Middlesex Yeomanry, remains there. According to Haim Marantz, a professor of philosophy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, there were six other Jews buried in the cemetery, and when Shas became influential in Beersheba, the families of the deceased soldiers were persuaded to have the remains removed and re-interred in other cemeteries in which there are Jewish sections.
Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, referring to the upcoming centenary year of the Battle of Beersheba and the ANZAC museum, said Israelis will be hearing a lot about the battle over the next three years.
Sharma presented a detailed review of the battle and said the fighting in this part of the world during the First World War was regarded as being of only peripheral importance in 1914 when war broke out, but by 1917 the Middle East theater had become critical to the outcome, and framed the shape of post-war settlement that still reverberates in the Middle East today.
The reckless charge by the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse caught the Turkish infantry forces by surprise and they were convinced that they were being attacked by a whole brigade instead of a relatively small contingent.
But the battle itself is not the only important historical landmark for Israel. On December 31, 1917, the British War Cabinet approved the text for what later became known as the Balfour Declaration, a declaration of sympathy for Zionist aspirations, Sharma said, noting that this set off a chain of events that eventually led to the creation of the State of Israel.