Almost exactly 95 years
ago, an Australian and New Zealand cavalry brigade conquered Be'er Sheva
from the Turkish army. The skirmish, during World War I, went down in
history as humanity's final cavalry battle. Two days after the fall of
Be'er Sheva, on November 2, 1917, when the British occupation of the
Holy Land had begun, the Balfour Declaration conferred Eretz Israel to
the Jewish people, as its national home.
So where are the Jewish people's thanks for what the Antipodean cavalry
brigade did for it when it conquered the capital of the Negev? That
question makes us laugh.
On the memorial day for fallen Israeli soldiers, people speak of those
who fought for the rebirth of the nation, including those slain prior to
Israel's establishment. But nothing is said about those buried in local
British army cemeteries, even though they constituted the "silver
platter" upon which the Jewish state was founded.
Five years ago, on the 90th anniversary of the battle, a tradition to
reenact the Be'er Sheva charge on the original battlefield was
inaugurated. Veterans of the Australian light cavalry brigade,
descendants of the battle's soldiers, and of soldiers from other wars,
came from Down Under. They galloped about on horses, wearing uniforms of
the time and waving the flags of the Red Brigade, Australia and Israel.
Five years have gone by and once more they have come - idealists who
stubbornly love Israel and feel a need to support it, no matter what.
These are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original
cavalry soldiers. Men and women, they fly Australian flags and sing
"Hallelujah!" They are the cheerleaders. And others are poised to
reenact the battle, precisely at 3 P.M., wearing khaki and cowboy hats
replete with feathers, and all the medals from all the wars in which
they - and their fathers and grandfathers - took part. The horses have
come from a ranch in the Golan Heights, noble, brown ones, some with
Alas, the reality stands their intentions upside down: Since Grad
missiles are being fired from the Gaza Strip, Australian government
officials decided that this desolate site, Be'er Sheva, is dangerous.
Australia's embassy declined any role in the celebrations, and local
officials said: "If there are no dignitaries, no diplomats, why should
we make an effort?"
This is because the state that emerged out of that selfsame, generous
Balfour Declaration 95 years ago has been transformed into an
incomparably ungrateful, narrow-minded entity.
My friend Boaz Yuval, the guide for one of the Australian groups,
called me over. I saw that the municipality did not find cause to supply
even one microphone to the memorial ceremony, at the British cemetery
in Be'er Sheva. Barry Rodgers, the estimable commander of the cavalry
brigade, was forced to shout his remarks and overcome the noise caused
by vehicles in the vicinity. He read a letter of commiseration written
by one of the brigade's commanders to the parents of a soldier killed in
the battle. Mournful notes sounded faintly out of a home-cassette
One solitary figure represented Israel: Avi Navon, a member of Kibbutz
Lahav, who chairs Israel's World War I heritage society. He related that
when veterans of the cavalry brigade and accompanying Australian groups
heard the ceremonies had been canceled, they unanimously decided to
remain, and not surrender to terror. This brought thunderous applause.
Not far from the British cemetery stands a monument to Turkish soldiers
who fell in the battle. A Turkish flag, with its crescent and star,
flies nearby and there is a bust of Ataturk, with one of his statements
inscribed at its base: "Peace at home, peace in the world."
Veterans of the cavalry brigade performed a special tribute across from
the memorial. "They were good, courageous soldiers. They were human
beings who left families behind," remarked Rodgers - referring to the
enemy soldiers. The honor guard made its salute, not knowing that in
this country, it is not customary to pay respect to your enemies - not
even after their deaths. The memorial was vandalized by Israeli
hooligans shortly after the Mavi Marmama-Gaza flotilla affair in May
2010 and the impairment of relations with Turkey; crude graffiti was
spray-painted on the monument.
Hail to a country drenched in hatred, a country where being a gentleman
has become synonymous with being a sucker. Wandering aimlessly on the
liberated streets of the city are the biological and spiritual heirs of
the soldiers of those bygone days; the heirs feel no sense of belonging.
The only courteous host in this alienated city of patriarchs is Howard
Bass, a pastor from the Messianic Yeshua's Inheritance church. He is the
one who perpetuates the tradition of hosting guests, which started with
our patriarch, Abraham.
This Messianic congregation's facility lacks any identifiable markings,
perhaps out of fear of Jewish religious extremists, and is located in a
venerable Ottoman structure on the edge of the old city. The church
library's shelves hold copies of the New Testament in various languages,
including Yiddish. I asked where the prayer hall and altar are located.
Bass explained that his congregation does not routinely conduct mass.
Simplicity reigns. There are some tuna and lettuce sandwiches,
frankfurters and cheesecake.
It is 2 P.M. and, happily, no Grad missile has fallen. In other words,
there is nothing to stop a reenactment of the charge on the city, played
out in front of an audience gathered in a shaded area near the Beit
Eshel lookout point, created by the Jewish National Fund.
Ninety-five years ago, the Australian cavalry brigade surprised the
Turks when it assaulted them from a desert hill, a site studded today
with malls and industrial facilities. Perhaps this fact highlights the
contrast: Here is a row of horses and their riders, galloping ahead
against the backdrop of temples of consumerism.
Much as they love us, the cavalrymen stand along a fence decorated with
JNF flags to receive medals for themselves, and be photographed.
These unflappable Australian Don Quixotes. You've come as gentlemen to a
vulgar land. Ninety-five years later, you still haven't grasped that
this place is irreparable?