The Charge of Beersheba from a Jewish Viewpoint – book review by Barry Rodgers

February 15, 2017

There have been a large number of books written about Beersheba and the Light Horse in recent years, although mainly from a secular historical perspective. In more recent times Col Stringer enthralled Australian Christians with his graphic account. Kelvin Crombie, in my opinion the foremost historian in Australia on all things Light Horse, has written a number of seminal books such as “ANZACS and Israel, a significant connection.”

Here is another book from a Jewish writer and this one has an intriguing title:

1917. Palestine to the land of Israel.

“The extraordinary struggles of Christian and Jewish heroes to establish the State of Israel.”

Barry Shaw

Barry Shaw

This book is of great interest for a number of reasons. Firstly it is not a dramatic account of the ANZACS through the eyes of a proud Aussie. It’s a scholarly well researched account by an Israeli Author and written from a uniquely Jewish perspective—Author Barry Shaw—a long time Israeli resident and academic.

Secondly, it is remarkable for the pre-eminence given to Christian Zionists, men like Charles Wesley whose Zionist hymn is written out in full, although I quote only the first verse;

“O that the chosen band,
Might now their brethren bring,
And gathered out of every land Present to Zion’s King.”

He states that “the core of revival in the Church of England found its voice in calling for the return to Zion of God’s Holy people.”

He highlights men like British Prime Ministers, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Shaftesbury and Palmerston to name a few, who all get a mention. He refers to the “basic Christian belief in the historic justice of their cause,” and how this influenced men like David Lloyd George and Balfour in the drafting of the Balfour declaration. That document of sympathy with the Jewish Zionist cause …. “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National home for the Jewish people.”

John Henry Patterson

John Henry Patterson

Of great interest is the account of Colonel Patterson (pictured), the Christian Zionist commander of the Jewish Fighters, of great assistance to the Allied efforts in the later stages of the war. Interestingly Patterson was the godfather of Yoni Netanyahu, Benjamin’s older brother who was killed in the heroic rescue at Entebbe airport. Some may remember Richard Meinertzhagen, the British Intelligence officer in that great Australian Film the “Light Horsemen.” He cunningly devised a plan to trick the Turks into thinking the next attack would be at Gaza not Beersheba, well the half has not been told, Shaw highlights what this great Zionist achieved on many fronts.

Then there was the great Allied Commander, General Allenby an important Christian, with his brilliantly executed military campaign that drove the Turks and Germans out of Palestine. The imagery on the front cover of Allenby entering Jerusalem is highly symbolic.

Thirdly, the prominence given by the author to the role the “Aussie Light Horsemen played and mostly links them with the New Zealanders. ”The New Zealand and Australian soldiers had once again showed the mettle and courage in prolonged fighting under extreme weather conditions.” A whole chapter is given to “Galloping Jack” Royston the flamboyant and famous Light Horse commander. When speaking with the author by phone, he commented how the ANZAC Mounted Division formed the “spine of his book.” He even finds time in the book to make special mention of the Waler horse, the oft forgotten hero of the Palestinian campaign.

The little known factor, the Jewish connection to the success of Allenby:

Lastly, the enormous contribution a small band of Jewish Spies made to the outcome of the war.

Aaron Aaronsohn 1876-1919

Aaron Aaronsohn 1876-1919

Aaron Aaronsohn (pictured) was a famous agronomist who found an ancient variety of wild wheat growing on the slopes of Mount Hermon. European varieties did not do well in the relatively harsh conditions of Palestine. However, Aaronsohn’s developed strain of wild wheat did, and he began to be in great demand by the Turks throughout the land, even though he was a Jew. Not all Jews living in Palestine agreed with Aaronsohn’s spying activities as they didn’t want to upset the Turks and risk deportation or worse, but Aaron and his family had a deep conviction that the British held the key to the fulfilment of their Zionist dreams. As Aaron was travelling extensively throughout the land he became aware of the Turkish defensive positions, troop movements and other intelligence of vital importance to the British.

Sarah Aaronsohn

Sarah Aaronsohn

The Aaronsohn family formed an underground spy ring called NILI, which was an acronym for the Hebrew, “The eternal God shall not lie.” Using Aaronsohn’s up to date intelligence reports and accurate maps, the Australian Light Horse could find their way through the desert to Beersheba. The Turks believed the terrain was impassable, but Aaron knew otherwise and the ANZACS safely navigated their way through the Negev, thanks to Aaron Aaronsohn. The British artillery hit with uncanny accuracy camouflaged Turkish and German artillery positions thanks to Aaronsohn’s detailed and accurate information. The account of the NILI spy ring is more spine tingling with intrigue, drama and danger than any James Bond movie and the role of the incredibly brave Sarah Aaronsohn (pictured) is nothing short of inspiring. The importance reference to 1917 as pivotal year in world geopolitics is significant. The writer of this review cannot help but feel 2017, one hundred years on will also be of great significance.


book review by Barry Rodgers

1917 From Palestine to the Land of Israel

This is a very important book by Barry Shaw of Netanya, former IDF soldier and today is a Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Institute for Strategic Studies.

I thoroughly recommend this important work. Copies can be obtained from the author, or from Barry Rodgers OAM, email barry@emugully.com.au or phone 0428 662 528 at cost $22 plus postage.

Barry Rodgers

The Australian Light Horse Association Ltd is a non-profit organisation, whose aim is to preserve the history and tradition of the Australian Light Horse and its predecessors.

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