"The story of Australia's extraordinary military contribution to the ending of Ottoman rule in Palestine in World War I is an epic rivalling Gallipoli in feats of courage and endurance, but is far less well-known. The military story is intimately connected to the publication by Britain of the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 supporting the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. This was the first official step on the long road to the attainment of Jewish statehood in May 1948." (Australia & Israel: A Pictorial History Celebrating 60 Years of the Australia-Israel Bilateral Relationship)
I've already posted (Myth In-formation, 1/5/08) on the Australian Zionist lobby's shameless appropriation of the charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba in 1917 as some kind of quasi-metaphysical prelude to the transformation of Palestine into Israel. With the publication of Beersheba: A Journey Through Australia's Forgotten War, Sun-Herald columnist Paul Daley reminds us that our 'heroes' (cum Zionist conscripts) - or at least some of them -had, subsequent to their taking of the Turkish defences guarding Beersheba, gone on to blot their copy books in a manner that would have done the later Zionist terror gangs of the Haganah, the Irgun and the Sternists proud.
Here's an edited extract from Daley's book:
"After the armistace in November 1918, Australians and New Zealanders from the Anzac Mounted Division... were camped near the Jewish settlement of Richon le Zion, close to the Mediterranean, not far from present-day Tel Aviv... The Australians' commander-in-chief - as it had been in Beersheba - was the formidable but well-respected British cavalryman General Sir Edmund Allenby. The small Arab village of Surafend stood close to Richon. The local Arabs quickly began stealing from the Anzacs once their camps were established, and the soldiers, who had tolerated the Bedouin for years, had exhausted their patience. They saw no difference between town and village Arabs and the Bedouin. To the Anzacs they were all trouble. The resentment against the Arabs was fuelled by the fact that the Anzacs' mostly British commanders had an informal policy of turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of the natives. It was part of a strategy to engender Arab support for British rule of Palestine. Late on the chilly winter's night of December 9, 1918, 21-year-old trooper Leslie Lowry, a machine-gunner from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, slept in his tent. The local Arabs had been thieving from the Anzac camp night after night and, like many Anzacs, Lowry used his kitbag as a pillow so he'd wake if the barefoot robbers tried to pinch his valuables. Sure enough, the young New Zealander stirred just as someone was tugging his kitbag. The robber bolted, and Lowry sprang out of bed and chased him through the line of guards around the camp* and into the nearby dunes. Lowry grabbed the robber, who, using a revolver, shot the trooper through the chest... Nobody actually saw Lowry's attacker... According to Trooper Ambrose Stephen Mullhall of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment, Lowry 'told his comrades before he died the thief... was a Bedouin and that he had gone to the Bedouin village'. True to Lowry's word, the attacker's footprints were tracked to a hole in the fence near Surafend... [The Anzacs] wanted revenge, and they took it. How many people they killed and exactly who was involved has, however, always been hotly contested. By most Australian accounts, the New Zealanders led the attack on the village while the Australians at best stood by and watched or at worst participated, albeit in vastly smaller numbers.
"[Henry] Gullett deals with the Surafend massacre in 4 pages of his 844-page history [Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, 1923]: 'They were angry and bitter beyond sound reasoning. All day the New Zealanders quietly organised for their work in Surafend, and early in the night marched out many hundreds strong and surrounded the village. In close support and full sympathy were large bodies of Australians. Entering the village, the New Zealanders grimly passed out all the women and children and then, armed chiefly with heavy sticks, fell upon the men and at the same time fired the houses. Many Arabs were killed, few escaped without injury; the village was demolished... The Anzacs, having finished with Surafend, raided and burned the neighbouring nomad camp, and then went quietly back to their lines.' While both the New Zealanders and the Australians were quick to mount official inquiries into the killings, the inquiries were a farce. The Australians blamed the New Zealanders or claimed they were unaware of what had happened. The Kiwis blamed the Australians or feigned ignorance... The war diary and intelligence summary of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, commanded by Sir Granville Ryrie, is an example of military obfuscation, and can be interpreted as the point at which the Surafend cover-up began... The diary neglects to mention that when Allenby stood the entire Anzac Mounted Division to attention that day... he told them that they were a bunch of 'murderers' and, with that, he wiped his hands of the Australian light-horsemen." (One bloody secret, Good Weekend, 25/7/09)
[*Why didn't the camp's guards manage to keep would-be thieves out?]
This was followed by 3 letters on the subject in Monday's Sydney Morning Herald. Peter Wertheim (Darling Point), a former Jewish Board of Deputies president and ardent Zionist (you can read his profile at holocaust.com.au), predictably advocated for the war criminals: "The atrocity was in reprisal for the murder of a New Zealand trooper." Oh - so that's OK then? A hundred eyes for an eye. How very Zionist! And anyway, he went on, Allenby shared responsibility because, "in a misguided attempt to win over the Arab population," he allegedly "refused to apprehend the culprit."
Malcolm Murdoch (Fisher, ACT), also bent over backwards to find excuses for our boys: "Well before Surafend, many Anzacs were critical of their British commanders for the way they needlessly sacrificed their troops, and the refusal to allow the Arabs to be punished for their misdeeds." Murdoch even resorted to that hoary spinner of bush yarns Ion Idriess (1889-1979)* to the effect that "the Anzacs quickly found that leaving a wounded soldier temporarily on his own in the desert often resulted in the man having his throat slit and his clothes and equipment stolen." While understanding the Anzac's desire for "justice," Murdoch at least baulked at their "methods."
[* Here's a taste of Idriess' tall tale-telling: "Then someone shouted, pointing through the sunset towards invisible headquarters. There, at the steady trot was regiment after regiment, squadron after squadron, coming, coming, coming! It was just half-light, they were distinct yet indistinct. The Turkish guns blazed at those hazy horsemen but they came steadily on. At 2 miles distant they emerged from clouds of dust, squadrons of men and horses taking shape. All the Turkish guns around Beersheba must have been directed at the menance then. Captured Turkish and German officers have told us that even then they never dreamed that mounted troops would be madmen enough to attempt rushing infantry redoubts protected by machine-guns and artillery. At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe-inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points. Machine gun and rifle fire just roared but the 4th Brigade galloped on. We heard shouts among the thundering hooves - horse after horse crashed, but the massed squadron thundered on. We laughed in delight when the shells began bursting behind them telling that the gunners could not keep their range, then suddenly the men ceased to fall and we knew instinctively that the Turkish infantry, wild with excitement and fear, had forgotten to lower their rifle sights and the bullets were flying overhead. The Turks did the same to us at El Quatia. The last half mile was a berserk gallop with the squadrons in magnificent line, a heart-throbbing sight as they plunged up the slope, the horses leaping the redoubt trenches - my glasses showed me the Turkish bayonets thrusting up for the bellies of the horses - one regiment flung themselves from the saddle - we heard the mad shouts as the men jumped down into the trenches, a following regiment thundered over another redoubt, and to a triumphant roar of voices and hooves was galloping down the half mile slope right into town. Then came a whirlwind of movement from all over the field, galloping batteries - dense dust from mounting regiments - a rush as troops poured for the opening in the gathering dark - mad, mad excitement - terrific explosions from down in the town. Beersheba had fallen." (The Desert Column, 1932)]
It took Tom Ruse (Woollahra) to inject some reality into the debate: "My grandfather was a surgeon in the Australian Medical Corps and spent nearly 4 years stationed in the Middle East, much of it in Palestine. From his letters, photographs and recollections, he found the Palestinians to be among the most noble and gracious people he had met."
And speaking of Arabs, British military historian Liddell Hart's summary of their contribution to the defeat of the Turks in Palestine is worth quoting as a corrective to the hyped role of our Light Horse: "In the crucial weeks while Allenby's stroke was being prepared and during its delivery, nearly half of the Turkish forces south of Damascus were distracted by the Arab forces... What the absence of these forces meant to the success of Allenby's stroke, it is easy to see. Nor did the Arab operation end when it had opened the way. For in the issue it was the Arabs, almost entirely, who wiped out the 4th Army, the still intact force that might have barred the way to final victory... The wear and tear, the bodily and mental strain that exhausted the Turkish troops and brought them to breaking point was applied by the Arabs, elusive and ubiquitous, to a greater extent than by the British forces, both before and during the final phase." (Colonel Lawrence: The Man Behind the Legend, 1934, p 303)
The Arabs, of course, had been promised independence by the British (in the form of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, 1915). For their pains, however, the British gave them the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Sarafand massacre. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Postscript: You might think that, having discovered the dark side of the Australian Light Horse, a journalist such as Daley might be a little less gung-ho in support of our current 'exploits' in Afghanistan. Not so, I'm afraid. His opinion piece in The Sun-Herald of 26/7/09 is called The path to peace will be long: our mission in Afghanistan remains a vital one. His only concern is with Australian deaths, and the only mention of civilian casualties refers to those caused by the... Taliban!