Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: 1917 and all that

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Allon Lee

 

The 100th anniversary commemoration of the Charge of the Light Horse saw a cornucopia of media reports on the legacy of the Battle of Beersheba.

Australian Financial Review reporter Andrew Tillett filed many commemoration stories but also noted potential business opportunities.

ABC TV "7.30" (Oct. 30) followed a group of Indigenous Australians who travelled to Israel to honour their ancestors' participation in the battle.

The Weekend Australian magazine (Oct. 28) printed a 36-page supplementary edition.

ABC TV "Lateline" (Oct. 30) focused on Australia recognising a Palestinian state. Pro-Palestinian activist Antony Lowenstein said Australia should have recognised Palestine "10, 20 years ago," while also describing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a "corrupt, old fool".

Yet 10 years ago, Abbas rejected an offer of a Palestinian state, whilst nearly 20 years ago his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, did the same in favour of launching the Second Intifada. AIJAC's Jamie Hyams said recognition would discourage the Palestinian leadership from making "hard compromises" for peace. Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said recognition would create "another failed state or terror state" and the best path is to "speak in terms of ending the conflict".

ANU Professor Amin Saikal disparaged PM Turnbull's claim of Australia and Israel sharing values (ABC TV "News 24" Nov. 2). Later on ABC TV "News 24", Jamie Hyams noted that only Israeli citizens have full democratic rights in the Middle East and the Palestinian Authority has rejected Israeli offers of a state and today refuses even to negotiate.

On ABC TV "Insiders" (Nov. 5), host Barrie Cassidy and Fairfax guest Mark Kenny grumbled that because Israel didn't exist in 1917, Israeli flags shouldn't have flown during the reenactment. Fellow panelist Gerard Henderson said they were "nitpicking... we were on Israeli soil."

Courier Mail columnist Terry Sweetman (Nov. 5) accused Netanyahu of "hijack[ing]" the ceremony "in a boastful display of political vulgarity."

In Hobart's Mercury (Nov. 7), Peter Boyer said Israeli flags flying during the reenactment were "unhistorical".

Yet there doesn't seem too much opposition to Turkish flags - which were not the flag of the Ottoman Empire we fought - appearing at Gallipoli each year, or Australian flags in the first fleet re-enactment of 1988.

Boyer disputed Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's claim that "the Jewish Legion... helped liberate Palestine... in the battle for Beersheba."

Actually, Jewish espionage ring NILI provided information that greatly assisted Britain winning the battle and overthrowing Ottoman rule of Palestine, a fact British commander General Allenby acknowledged.

Boyer also claimed that "Beer Sheba was not and never had been a Jewish town... Its Arab character was recognised in 1947 by the United Nations, which included the city within the proposed Arab state of Palestine. Less than a year later... Israel... expelled its Arab residents."

The Mercury published (Nov. 10) AIJAC's Jamie Hyams' letter noting that Beersheba "was founded by Jews in biblical times" and is "a Hebrew name, meaning Seven Wells. The reason it had few Jews up to 1947 is that they had been driven out in Arab rioting."

He also explained that "the Egyptian army made it their headquarters, making it a legitimate military target for Israel. However, Israel did not... expel the Arab residents - they left with the Egyptians."

In the Sunday Age (Oct. 29), pro-Palestinian activist Sol Salbe lamented that after the 1948 War of Independence no Bedouin remained in Beer Sheba, but didn't explain why.

Salbe said Israeli Bedouin today face discrimination, "with many of their villages unrecognised... meaning they are not connected to water or electricity or entitled to protection from rockets...from neighbouring Gaza." There is no evidence Bedouin are not protected from rockets.

The vast majority of Bedouin do not live like this. For those that do, Israel has offered generous compensation and resettlement in nearby modern towns, including free land. But Salbe seems to think that Israel must agree to whatever demands some Bedouin groups make.

The Spectator Australia (Nov. 4) attacked a cartoon by Pope in the Canberra Times (Nov. 1) which used "Beersheba's fallen diggers to flog a grab bag of pro-Arab propaganda and Palestinian ‘grievances'...The Jews are the indigenous people of Palestine. The Turks were the occupiers. We can be proud of our fallen."

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