BEERSHEVA, Israel – The Israeli city of Beersheva (Beersheba) is marking the 100th anniversary of an epic World War I battle that gave Great Britain control of the city. It's important because that victory helped set the stage for the reestablishment of the Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, MP, and New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy to commemorate the victory of British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers and the Light Horse Regiment a century ago.
"Nearly 4,000 years ago, Abraham came to Beersheva, the city of seven wells," Netanyahu told dignitaries and visitors at a ceremony marking the anniversary.
"Exactly 100 years ago brave ANZAC [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps] soldiers liberated Beersheva for the sons and daughters of Abraham and opened the gateway for the Jewish people to re-enter the stage of history," he said.
"And they spurred their horses through that fire, those mad Australians, through that fire and took the town of Beersheva, secured the victory that did not create the State of Israel but enabled its creation," Turnbull told the crowd.
A Turning Point
The battle for Beersheva was a turning point in the British conquest of the Middle East. That enabled British General Edmund Allenby to walk through the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City less than three months later on December 11th as the victor in the battle for Jerusalem.
Allenby, the first Christian conqueror in centuries, entered the gate on foot out of respect for the Holy City.
Australian light horsemen made that possible. Australian author Kelvin Crombie explained.
"The charge of the Australian Light Horse was significant because they were never trained to do this," Crombie told CBN News.
"They were what we call mounted infantry. They go up to the frontline on horse, get off and go in as infantry. So it's something completely new. They'd never trained for it. Upwards of 600 of these men were given the order and they did it," Crombie said.
"Earlier in the day the British infantry achieved their goals to take the trenches on the western side [of Beersheva]. And the New Zealanders and some Australians captured the significant Tel el Saba, but they had to get into Beersheba before the sun went down because the Turks were going to destroy the water wells," he explained.
Crombie teamed up with the director of the Australian Light Horse Association Barry Waters to spearhead efforts to reenact the charge on Beersheva for centenary commemorations sponsored by the city of Beersheva.
Marking the Anniversary
More than 100 uniformed horsemen rode in the event, which took place on the anniversary of the battle, October 31.
"[The battle] was important in geopolitical terms because it was the action that broke the back of the Ottoman Turkish Empire," Waters said.
At the same time, a monumental decision was being made in Britain.
"So all that happened on one day," Crombie said. "But what's so amazing is that on the same day at about the same time as the event took place the members of the British war cabinet were meeting in London and they voted for that great decision, which we now know as the Balfour Declaration that the British government views with favor the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine."
Proud of their Contribution
Australians and New Zealanders are extremely proud of their role in Middle East history, like Australian Lance Corporal David Wood.
"My great-grandfather was a member of the first Light Horse regiment who held the backdoor open and stopped off the Turkish retreats," Wood told CBN News.
It was Wood's first trip to Israel, the country for which his great-grandfather acting Corporal Alfred Joseph Marsh had unknowingly fought.
"You feel proud and you feel a bit overwhelmed to be around and to have been at the cemetery this morning and seen all the gravestones of my great grandfather's mates is amazing and humbling," Wood said.
Earlier in the day, those celebrating watched the Light Horsemen parade down Beersheva's main street.
"To be here at the place where the Australian victory occurred, it was an incredibly gutsy effort both men and horses," Australian Lt. Col. Robert Patterson said.
"It's all part of our national psyche," said Robin Forward of Queensland, Australia.
"So I think it's another display of [God's] awesomeness and how history is made with Him in this scenario and God being God in who He is and everything He represents. We get to be a part of it being Aussies," said Deanne Moren.
Australia's prime minister summed up the part his countrymen had played.
"While those young men… no doubt did not foresee the extraordinary success of the State of Israel, its foundations, its resilience, its determination, its indomitability against overwhelming odds, their spirit was the same and like the State of Israel has done ever since, they defied history, they made history and with their courage they fulfilled history," Turnbull said.