One hundred years ago men from the Southern Hemisphere fighting under the flag of the British Empire opened the way for the Jews to come home.
Today the battle is raging over Jerusalem. Donald Trump’s disinclination to announce his embassy’s move to the Israeli capital has opened the way for other nations to take the lead. In this Centennial year of the Battle of Beersheba, will Australia make the move it knows is right?
Last month, in an historic visit, US President Donald Trump flew into, and back out of, the Middle East. Israelis were uplifted by his empathy and love. After eight years of hostility from Washington, effused President Reuven Rivlin, “America is back.”
For this observer, America was nearly back. Almost but not quite. My real hope – and it flowed and ebbed through conflicting news reports leading up to the visit – was that Trump would keep his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Yes he did speak – in his final, keynote speech at the Israel Museum – to the Jews’ “ancient and eternal” ties this land: “They date back thousands of years, including the reign of King David,” he said, naming the eminent Jewish monarch who made Jerusalem his kingdom’s capital three millennia ago. But Trump would not go on to close that circle and recognise this undivided city as the capital of David’s descendants today.
So near, and yet so far.
It is clear, now that he’s moved on, that the American came seeking primarily to form a US-supported alliance with a Sunni Muslim bloc headed by Saudi Arabia against the threat of a Russian supported, potentially nuclear, Iran and its terrorist allies – including Israel’s archenemies Hamas and the Hizb’Allah.
Restarting the ‘peace process’ between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs – especially if it conforms to the 2002 Saudi Peace Plan (which advocates of a two state solution seem inclined to default to in the wake of a failed Oslo) – could nicely oil the wheels of Sunni partnership.
What this does, however, is it places Israel in a vulnerable position, and the nation needs to be watchful.
Israel will be extremely loath to blight its new friendship with Washington by in any way obstructing its Mideast policy. Trump’s top consideration will be what he perceives to be his nation’s best interests in the region, and Israel may have to kowtow to those.
Israeli opposition to any aspects of a peace agreement based, say, on the plan that has Saudi’s name on it may see increasing unjustifiable pressure exerted on Jerusalem by an American president protecting this US-Sunni alliance.
Having said that, my overall reading of Donald Trump’s visit has not been shaped by his diplomacy, nor by the realpolitik lying behind his words of praise and exhortation.
Rather, my view of this apparently new reality is from the unchanging centre point of Heaven’s compass – the immovable Bedrock of the Mountain of God.
It is from this place that has always been impervious to the passage of time or the ebb and flow of political tides that I observed Trump come, heard him speak, and watched him fly away.
I am not questioning the genuineness of his expressed support for Israel when I say that, for 27 years, I have watched from this very same place four other American presidents (two Republican and two Democrat) and their peace plans come and go. I have seen the toll each of these land-for-peace efforts has exacted on Jewish lives; have borne witness to their erosion of Israel’s security in the face of an ever-growing existential threat.
For thousands of years, this hilltop in Jerusalem has waited to witness the striking events we are seeing in our day. Desecrated by the abominations planted on its crest, Mount Moriah has long-sufferingly anticipated the homecoming of the aborigines of this land, and the restoration of their sovereignty over Jerusalem.
It was in 1882 that they began their return. And in 1917-18 their homeland was freed up for them to reclaim.
With the ANZAC as spearhead, the British Empire drove the Ottoman Turks from Beersheba, Jerusalem, the Galilee and over and out through the Golan Heights. The pivotal Beersheba victory – lying in the collective memory in the shadow of Gallipoli – hinged on the dual efforts of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade and the daring charge of the Australian 4th Lighthorse Brigade who were willing to be thought madmen as they stormed the town to liberate its water supply for the horses.
It was highly unconventional, and it worked.
Thus did those Aussies and Kiwis at the forefront of the Allied advance stream into the Jews’ historical homeland and liberate it.
Fifty years later, Israeli warriors restored to the Jews the cradle of their nationhood – Judea and Samaria – and united their 3000-year-old capital into a single, undivided city.
But up until today – in this double anniversary year marking 100 years since Beersheba and 50 years since the Six Day War – this land battle persists, fiercer and more unresolved than ever.
Jerusalem – and the hilltop at its heart – sits in the eye of the storm.
My question – as I prepare to make my fourth speaking tour Down Under come July – is can Australians be rallied to stand by Israel in her claim to her Holy City? It is understandable that the Turnbull government would not have wanted to steal Trump’s thunder by pre-empting his embassy move after the American had repeatedly pledged to do so.
However, now the Trump has signed the six month waiver on his embassy move, the way is clear for Canberra to take the initiative and put the principal representation of its government in the capital of the State of Israel. Every single one of Australia’s other embassies and high commissions sits in the designated capitals of the states in question. Israel alone is discriminated against in this indefensible way.
It is past time to redress this. One Hundred Years after Beersheba, it is time to put boots on the ground in the fight for Jerusalem, in daring and, yes, unconventional ways.
May the spirit of the ANZAC live on.
Lest we forget.
This article originally appeared on Jerusalem Watchman, August 13, 2017, and reposted with permission.