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 from Gaza.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 the British.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 I.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 scheduled.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 Soldier.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 in Israel.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 said.“No one could ever cut the Australians down to size.”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 continued.“Anyone who accuses Israel of apartheid doesn’t know what apartheid is, what Israel is, what the reality of life is.”Apple also noted the success of Australian immigration to Israel.“Australian olim 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.Turkish charge 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.