AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will be joined by senior politicians, military personnel and communal leaders next Tuesday when they stand shoulder to shoulder with their Israeli counterparts in Beersheba to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the landmark battle that saw the defeat of the Ottoman Turks and helped pave the way for the establishment of the Jewish State.
“On October 31, 1917, when Australia Light Horse units breached a fortified Turkish outpost at the end of defended lines extending to Gaza, they rode into the pages of history,” Turnbull reflected.
Paying “tribute to the courage of those who accepted the burden of service” and “those who made the supreme sacrifice for a grateful nation,” he added, “From the crucible of this war and the next, the people of Israel and Australia forged a unique bond – one that bridges the separation of distance and the passage of time.
The sentiment was echoed by Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who told The AJN this week that he feels privileged to be a part of the anniversary celebrations. “It is an amazing piece of Australian history and it is of great significance to both of our nations.”
Enthusing about the strengthening ties between the two countries in the fields of technology, healthcare and water conservation, Shorten said he is excited to return to Israel, following his visit there late last year.
Joining their respective party leaders at the commemorations, which will include the opening of the Anzac Museum and a re-enactment of the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, will be federal Jewish parliamentarians Josh Frydenberg, Mark Dreyfus, Michael Danby and Julian Leeser.
The event is especially significant for Leeser, whose great-grandfather Sylvester Henry Browne fought in the Battle of Beersheba.
“A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade report on the history of Australia and Israel relations states of my great-grandfather that ‘he proudly claimed to have been the first Jewish soldier of the British and Imperial forces to enter the ancient land of Israel’,” Leeser said.
“While there is no doubt that this battle was an iconic military victory, Beersheba has a much broader significance.
It provides a shared piece of history for Britain, Australia and the Jewish people more widely.
“The Battle of Beersheba marked a new beginning for Israel and the Jewish people. The following day, the Balfour Declaration was released by the British government, proposing the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.”
As well as attending the commemorations, Turnbull is scheduled to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pay his respects at Yad Vashem.
Full coverage, and a Centenary supplement, is in this week’s AJN