At sunset on October 31, 1917, the successful ANZAC charge of the 4th (Victorian) and 12th (New South Wales) Australian Light Horse Regiments (4th Light Horse Brigade) on Be’er-Sheva became the last mounted infantry charge in military history and marked not only the liberation of Be’er-Sheva from the Ottoman-Turkish Empire, but also the beginning of the end of World War I. There are a number of commemorative books and movies describing this remarkable, historic feat, as well as memorials commemorating the event, here and in the United Kingdom, Australia & New Zealand, such as our lovely Park of the Australian Soldier in the Yud-Aleph neighborhood that recounts Be’er-Sheva’s unique WWI history. On Centenary Day, October 31, 2017, the brand new Be’er-Sheva ANZAC Memorial Centre, adjacent to the WWI Commonwealth Cemetery is to be officially dedicated.
The WWI Commonwealth Cemetery is located just above the Old City and contains 1,238 well-kept graves marked by crosses for the Christian ANZAC soldiers (British, Australian & New Zealander) who died during the battles against the Ottoman Empire (Turks) at Be’er-Sheva and in the Negev Region between 1914-1918. In the last row on the right, there is one Jewish gravestone with a “Star-of’David” on it, belonging to Captain Seymour Van der Berg, killed on October 27, 1917; his commanding officer, Major Alexander Lafone (1870-1917), buried right beside him, was the recipient of the highest British award for bravery, the “Victoria Cross.” There is also one unusual group gravestone, marked with the British Airforce symbol in memory of 8 British pilots who had also perished in the region during WWI; it had actually been prepared out of a respect for their peers by some German pilots who had fought for the Ottoman ‘enemy’ and had later been found in the field and relocated by the British in the Commonwealth Cemetery.
On October 31, 2017, the Centenary Day commemorating the extraordinary Light Horse charge to take Be’er-Sheva from the Ottoman-Turks (that occurred in October 31, 1917), with almost 3,500 guests from Australia, New Zealand & Great Britain present, as well as the Prime Ministers of Israel and Australia, the brand new ANZAC Memorial Centre was dedicated at 4 Ostrovsky St., adjacent to the WWI Commonwealth Cemetery – 073-7689705.
Allenby Park, located in the center of the Old City, was one of the first public parks in Israel, originally created by the Ottoman-Turks in 1902 following a round, axial French-garden design. The British conquest of the Holy Land took place under the command of Field Marshall, Lord Edmund Henry Allenby (1861-1936). Subsequently, this park was named in British Imperial Governor Allenby‘s honor. His bust was commissioned and sculpted by Abraham Melnikov and situated at the hub of the park, atop a high pedestal, but was later damaged during the Arab rebellion of 1938. With the restoration of the park in 2015, the damaged bust was replaced by another sculpted by Etienne Millner, situated on a lower, broader column. In his diary, Allenby wrote: “Beersheba is a lovely place, in which it’s pleasant to be.”
Aref el-Aref (1892-1973), also known by the Bedouin as “Abu Tsufian,” was the ruler of the Be’er-Sheva District on behalf of the British Empire from 1929-1939; he also led Bedouin uprisings against Jewish settlers. As an historian, he published several Arabic books on the history of the Bedouin tribes and on Bedouin law and justice. The distinctive building that had served as his home, built in 1938 in the Old City, was made of specially-brought pink Jerusalem stone.
Built in 1943 (under the British Mandate), Bet Eshel was one of the first 3 pioneering Jewish settlements/outposts in the Negev Desert. In 1947, after the U.N. partition of Israel, relations worsened between the Jewish Bet Eshel settlers and the tens-of-thousands of their surrounding Bedouin neighbors. In response, the British offered the extremely-isolated Jewish settlers the option of evacuation, but they decided not to leave and held their ground throughout the hostilities, even when Be’er-Sheva was under seige by the Egyptians and Bet Eshel was cut off from the rest of Israel. In fact, the first defensive air-attack by the fledgling Israeli Airforce took off from Bet Eshel. During the course of Egypt’s attack in 1948, Bet Eshel was hit by ca.200 mortar shells that caused major destruction, but no casualties.
In honor of the 2017 Be’er-Sheva WWI Centennial, a special art exhibit is being displayed by the Be’er-Sheva Artists and Sculptors Association at the Kaye College of Education, the theme of which is “Be’er-Sheva love stories,” including: love for the city and its residents; love for its soccer team – Ha-Poel Be’er-Sheva; loving couples; love between animals; love of society & culture; and even sexual love–all against the background of Be’er-Shevan scenery.
At the end of October 2018, the Israeli flag was once again hoisted above the British Tegart Police Fort, centrally located atop the Ottoman Old City of Be’er-Sheva, in celebration of 70 years since the Israeli Police Force established its headquarters there in 1948, after the city was liberated from the Egyptian Army.
***All British/Commonwealth immigrants residing in Be’er-Sheva and the Negev Region are invited to join the AACI – Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, Southern Branch, that welcomes all English-speakers into its fold and offers assistance (Miriam Green – 08-6433954) and English culture. The AACI English Regional Public Reading Library (with over 8,000 books that may be borrowed for a token fee) is currently situated in the Yud-Aleph Community Center.
***LOGON – The Light Opera of the Negev (founded 1981) puts on a semi-professional production of a different operetta or musical each year in English (with Hebrew translation). The players, singers & dancers are volunteer amateurs of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. LOGON is always on the lookout for new talent.
Since “Our future is inspired by our past” – join the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites – http://www.shimur.org.il. You are welcome to come to the Be’er-Sheva Office of the Society, now located in the Old City at Mordey ha-Geta’ot 74 and/or call Michal Leibovich at 052-7271053.