Australian horsemen re-enact World War One Beersheba cavalry charge in Israel | News | DW | 31.10.2017
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Australian horsemen re-enact World War One Beersheba cavalry charge in Israel

The WW1 cavalry charge broke Turkish defenses and led to conditions for British authority in the Middle East and the foundation of Israel in 1948. Israeli, Australian, and New Zealand leaders joined the commemorations.

Nearly 200 horsemen rode through the southern Israeli town of Beersheba on Tuesday to commemorate a cavalry charge during World War One that set the conditions for the later creation of Israel.

The horsemen, some of them direct descendants of soldiers who took part in the battle, also re-enacted the famous charge as part of an event attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Redding.

A decisive victory

On October 31, 1917, soldiers of the 4th Brigade of the Australian 10th Light Horse charged and broke Turkish defenses in Beersheba, which at the time was part of the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire which was allied with Germany.

The charge left 31 Australian troops and hundreds of Ottoman soldiers dead. But it ended with a victory for the Australia and New Zealand Corps (ANZAC).

The Corps and other British Imperial troops went on to conquer Jerusalem and the rest of the region in the weeks that followed, thereby setting up British authority in the holy land after the end of the war in 1918.

Balfour Declaration

The Beersheba victory is also widely remembered for its connection to the famous "Balfour Declaration."

Two days after the town was taken, then-British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared Britain in favor of "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

The declaration is seen as an important document in setting up conditions for the foundation of Israel in 1948.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smile for a selfie with two re-enactors

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attended the ceremony

'They spurred their horses through fire'

Speaking at Tuesday's commemoration, Netanyahu paid homage to the soldiers from the Australia and New Zealand Corps (ANZAC).

"Exactly 100 years ago, brave ANZAC soldiers liberated Beersheba for the sons and daughters of Abraham and opened the gateway for the Jewish people to re-enter the stage of history. The heroism of your fallen men will never be forgotten," he said.

Turnbull also drew attention to the battle's importance to the later establishment of Israel in his speech.

"They spurred their horses through that fire, those mad Australians, through that fire, and took the town of Beersheba, secured the victory that did not create the State of Israel but enabled its creation," he said.

After the re-enactment, the three leaders attended an opening ceremony for a museum dedicated to the entire British campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

A controversial history

Many Palestinians have long criticized the victory for the British Empire in Palestine and Balfour's commitment to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the region.

Some have argued that the Balfour Declaration was illegitimate because Britain did not have the right to establish a homeland on territory that it had not previously owned.

Read more: Palestinian leaders to file complaint against Britain for 1917 Balfour Declaration

amp/jm (Reuters, AP)

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