The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) is deeply concerned that next week’s commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba in Israel is being used by the Israeli and Australian governments to normalise a hundred years of Palestinian dispossession.
On 31 October 1917, soldiers of the Australian Light Horse Brigade conducted a successful charge against Ottoman entrenchments at Beersheba, clearing the way for the capture of Jerusalem six weeks later. In its publication Australia and Israel: A Pictorial History the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade celebrates the battle by noting that
On the day Beersheba was captured, the British War Cabinet approved the text of a declaration of sympathy for Zionist aspirations to be made by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, which was published two days later.
In this statement the Department of Foreign Affairs, intentionally or otherwise, links the battle of Beersheba with the future establishment of Israel.
“This is an outrageous re-writing of history” said Bishop George Browning, APAN’s president, “and a discourtesy to fallen Australian soldiers”. He notes the Balfour Declaration contradicted a promise made in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence to recognise the independence of Arab countries between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas if the Arabs would side with the Allies and rise up against Ottomans. “The Balfour Declaration is a secondary commitment and is in contradiction with the first” said Bishop Browning. “That it does contradict the first is implied in its text: it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Not only has the policy of dispossession enacted by modern day Israel and condoned by the international community, entirely annulled the promise made to the Arabs as a result of which they fought with Australians in the battle of Beersheba; but modern Israel has completely ignored the requirement of the Balfour Declaration itself that demands the civil and religious rights of pre-existing Arab communities be respected said Bishop Browning.
APAN maintains that any Beersheba commemoration that celebrates the Balfour Declaration and ignores the crucial Arab role in supporting the British advance Palestine would be a distortion of history that glorifies the worst aspects of British imperialism and normalises the discrimination suffered by Palestinians today.
“In a very real sense I fear that the commemoration of Beersheba will be less about remembering than forgetting. If the sacrifices of the Arabs, their subsequent betrayal and the current suffering of the Palestinians are all airbrushed from history in favour of a triumphalist Zionist narrative, then the Israeli and Australian governments will be using the commemoration to whitewash a hundred years of colonialism, displacement and apartheid,” Browning said.