Schools in Beersheba were closed on Monday out of concerns for the safety of
schoolchildren and their teachers given the threat of Grad and Kassam rockets
But Beersheba Mayor Ruvic Danilovich seemed less perturbed
about his own personal safety and participated in the annual ceremonies
commemorating the October 31, 1917, Battle of Beersheba.
The battle was a
major turning point in the discontinuation of 400 years of Ottoman rule. The
Turks were defeated by the British and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
(ANZAC) as well as Indian, Canadian and South African military units fielded by
Some one hundred people – including Australian, New
Zealander, Turkish, German, British and Israeli diplomats and military attaches;
members of Australian Zionist youth groups who are in Israel under the auspices
of the Australian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC); and an Australian delegation of
Bridges for Peace as well as MFO, UNTSO and Beersheba Municipality
representatives gathered initially at the Park of the Australian Soldier, then
at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and lastly at the Turkish obelisk in
Mustafa Kamel Ataturk Plaza.
They came to honor not only the Australian
and New Zealander soldiers in the 4th Lighthorse Brigade who lost their lives in
that last courageous charge by mounted troops, but also the bravery of all the
soldiers who were caught up in the conflict of the region in the World War
People from the Australian embassy, in conversation with participants,
admitted that they did not know until Sunday whether or not the event would take
place. It was then that they had been notified by the Home Front Command that
the three commemorative ceremonies could go ahead as
Nonetheless, Beersheba Municipality director of international
relations Ishay Avital, warned participants that in case a siren went off, they
were to take shelter behind the walls of the Park of the Australian
The park, a project of the Australian-headquartered Pratt
Foundation, was inaugurated in 2008, and according to Danilovich, has become a
symbol for freedom, tolerance, fraternity and connections between people of all
national, ethnic and religious backgrounds. It is primarily dedicated to
children with special deeds.
The Pratt Foundation, founded by Richard
Pratt, has donated many millions of dollars to a variety of causes and projects
Pratt’s daughter Heloise Waislitz, who heads the Pratt
Foundation, recalled the pleasure it had given her father to be present at the
opening of the park, and said that the playground for children with special
needs was at the heart of the foundation.
Australian Ambassador Andrea
Faulkner also related to the symbolism of the park, saying, “Nowhere are links
between Australia and Israel more apparent than in this wonderful park,” which
she said plays a significant role in community and is a testimony to the depth
and breadth of the role played by the late Richard Pratt in furthering the good
relations between the two peoples.
Rabbi Raymond Apple, the former senior
rabbi to the Australian Defense Forces, who has participated in the Battle of
Beersheba services since making his home in Israel in 2006, said that his
Jerusalem-born father had ended up in Australia after the World War I, but
returned for a visit in the late 1930s.
“When he told the locals that he
was from Australia, it immediately struck a chord. The Australians were bronzed,
handsome heroes who had served in the Middle East during the war,” he
“No one could ever cut the Australians down to
Australia and Israel became firm friends in those far-off days and
the two nations remain close, said Apple.
“Other places, other people
don’t know the Israelis and can’t find a good word for them, but there has never
been a divide between Australia and Israel and never will be. Here you find
evidence of Australia everywhere. All over Israel there are Australian
eucalyptus [trees] and Australian accents,” said Apple.
“It would shock
the sourpusses to find Arabs and Jews mixing freely in the Park of the
Australian Soldier, as they do throughout Israeli society,” he
“Anyone who accuses Israel of apartheid doesn’t know what
apartheid is, what Israel is, what the reality of life is.”
noted the success of Australian immigration to Israel.
are a success story. Australian Zionist youth are a great chapter in the story.
They may make aliya; they might stay in Australia. Whatever happens, their lives
will have changed forever because of Israel, this land that is small in size but
a giant in achievement and inspiration.”
Speaking in both Maori and
English, New Zealand’s deputy head of mission Tui Dewes reiterated what had been
conveyed by Danilovich and Faulkner, namely that these commemoration ceremonies
were not only in remembrance of the Australian and New Zealander soldiers but
for those who fell on all sides. 750 fallen New Zealanders lie in what is now
Israel and the Palestinian territories, she said.
d’affaires Dogan Ferhart Isik commended the people of Beersheba for the respect
that they have shown to Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, by
creating the square in his name and for organizing an event in memory of
Turkey’s fallen soldiers. This attitude was a continuation of the centuries-old
cooperation between Turkish and Jewish peoples, he said.