Friday, March 31, 2017

History Repeating Itself

In his account of the massacre of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of Surafend (Sarafand) by ANZACs in December 1918 (following the death of a New Zealand trooper at the hands of an Arab thief), the Australian war correspondent and historian, Henry Gullett wrote as follows:

"In fairness to the New Zealanders, who were the chief actors, and to the Australians who gave them hearty support, the spirit of the men at that time must be considered. They were the pioneers and the leaders of a long campaign. Theirs had been the heaviest sacrifice. The three brigades of Anzac Mounted Division had been for almost three years comrades in arms... The war task was now completed and they... were going home. To them the loss of a veteran comrade by foul murder, at the hands of a race they despised, was a crime that called for instant justice. They were in no mood for delay. In their movement against Surafend, therefore, they felt that, while wreaking vengeance on the Arabs, they would at the same time work off their old feeling against the bias of the disciplinary branch of General Headquarters, and its studied omission to punish Arabs for crime. 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. Good or bad, the cause of the New Zealanders was theirs. 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 flames from the wretched houses lit up the countryside, and Allenby and his staff could not fail to see the conflagration and hear the shouts of the troops and the cries of their victims. The Anzacs, having finished with Surafend, raided and burned the neighbouring nomad camp, and then went quickly back to their lines." (Quoted in Paul Daley's Beersheba: A Journey Through Australia's Forgotten War, 2009, pp 343-44)

A comment on my 15/10/12 post Time to Revisit the ANZAC's Sarafand Massacre indicates that bayonets were also used:

"I first heard about this event from the son of a NZ soldier who was there (I think) name of Gainfort and he was in 2000 one of the last survivors of WW 1 being nearly 100 years old. I was told the story after I mentioned a sickly lamb I had, had died. I said it had not been worth treating... and was told 'not worth a bullet'. His father told him they bayonetted the Arabs as they were not worth a bullet. Tough men in those days."

My reason for returning again to this subject, is the appearance of a new book, Hit & Run, by New Zealanders Nicky Hager and John Stephenson. The book's blurb runs:

"In August 2010, a New Zealand soldier died in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan. In retaliation, the New Zealand SAS led a raid on two isolated villages in search of the fighters they suspected were responsible. They all knew the rules. Prior to firing weapons, their freshly issued orders said, 'the commander approving the strike must determine that no civilians are present.' If they could not assess whether civilians were present, firing was prohibited. But it all went horribly wrong. None of the fighters were found but, by the end of the raid, 21 civilians were dead or wounded. Most were children or women, including a three-year-old girl who was killed. A dozen houses had been burnt or blown up. The operation was personally approved by the prime minister via phone from New Zealand. More missions against the group of fighters and more potential crimes of war followed, including the beating and torture of a prisoner. Afterwards no one took responsibility. The New Zealand military denied the facts and went to great lengths to cover things up. This book is the story of those events. It is, at heart, about the meaning of honour; about who we want to be and what we believe in as New Zealanders."

What we have here is an uncanny similarity to the events of December 1918 in Palestine. It seems that the only appreciable differences between the two war crimes are that, in the case of Afghanistan, the go-ahead came directly from the prime minister of the day, John Key, and not even the women and children were spared. (That is, if, with respect to the latter, Gullett's account is correct.)

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