During his coverage of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, Rebel News Chief Australian Correspondent Avi Yemini paid a visit to a museum with special meaning to him, the Be'er Sheva Anzac Memorial Centre.
Opening in 2017 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Be'er Sheva during the First World War, the museum honours the Australians and New Zealanders soldiers who served under the British Empire as it defeated the Ottoman Turks.
With the museum closed because of the war against Hamas, Avi managed to convince the museum's officials to let him in by showing them a tattoo he has on his arm commemorating the centenary.
The museum's director says the battle is still relevant today, “because we're going from 100 years ago, to the beginning of Israel, to the beginning of the settlers of Israel in those times. And what this battle gave for the people of Israel was the beginning of the country of Israel after World War Two.”
The 1917 battle, he explains, ended the Ottoman Turkish rule over the area and led to the creation of the British Mandate for Palestine.
“It changed everything for us, so (the Battle of Be'er Sheva) is an important moment in Israeli history.”
Providing more background, the director explained how a small minority of Jews lived in the area under Turkish rule. Two days after the 1917 battle, the Balfour Declaration, a statement from the British government supporting the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, was published.
The famous victory, “which was won by the Anzacs,” the director says, caused everything to change for Jews. “In historical perspective, it is very very important.”
Now, the modern conflict, stemming from Hamas' terrorist attack carried out on October 7, have forced a temporary closure of the museum. As Israeli planes fly above, the director says he hopes in a few months the memorial will be reopened. But just because the building's closed doesn't mean work has stopped.
“We are helping the old people here in the city,” the director explains. “We have our workers sitting, making (phone calls), going to people's home(s) and helping” the elderly population of Be'er Sheva he says.
Inside the museum, the director shows Avi the interactive exhibits.
“We tell the story of the Anzacs, we tell the story of those Australian and New Zealanders that came from so far away, more than 100 years ago, to here. To fight for their country, to fight for world liberation from tyranny and barbarism, to protect Western civilization as they called it in those times,” the museum director explains.
Through original footage from the First World War, the museum tells the story of how Anzac forces trained to become soldiers instead of civilians before they were sent on ships, eventually fighting against the Turks near Istanbul during the Gallipoli Campaign, then to Egypt and eventually into Palestine and Israel.
Two British failures to capture Gaza during the war lead to a change in tactics and leadership. “The end of the story is here in Be'er Sheva itself,” the director says, as the allies moved south, away from the coast, to the strategic point of Be'er Sheva. Today, along with another memorial to the Anzacs near the Gaza border, visitors can follow what is called the Anzac Trail, which follows in the footsteps of the army as it changed its approach.
“We have 1,239 graves of young brave soldiers — English, Australian and New Zealanders here,” the director says. “And we talk about them, and we tell their story.”
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