Can historians know the mind of God? It is a long time since most historians have scrutinised the intentions of the Almighty. Generally they think that understanding human actions is difficult enough.
So it will be news to many that this year’s official commemoration in Israel in October of the 1917 Battle of Beersheba, involving the Israeli and Australian governments, will implicitly bless the contemporary policies of these allies in terms of an alleged divine plan supposedly sealed in the blood of Anzac dead.
All this occurs in a context of continuing Australian acquiescence in the Netanyahu regime’s ongoing promotion of illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, which defines as a war crime the colonisation of captured territory.
These developments see Israeli `hasbara’ information campaigning target the Anzac legend so important to Australians. In fact the charge of the 4th Light Horse against the retiring Ottoman rear-guard at Beersheba was a rare thing in the Great War, a well-planned assault manoeuvre executed at minimum cost to the attackers.
But these glimmers of military glory are hardly sufficient to attach Australia righteously to the Zionist project and its terrorist past and subsequent wars and brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Yet it is precisely the legitimation of Israel and its oft proclaimed `right to defend itself’ that is the purpose of the historical arguments of Mr Kelvin Crombie, a consultant to the Australian Light Horse Association’s centenary re-enactment of the charge.
This will be celebrated in conjunction with the official ceremonies in the Negev later this year, where the Israeli government is engaged in dispossessing ancestral Bedouin tribes. Crombie induced a former Governor General to argue as recently as 2014 that divine intervention could not be discounted as the driving force behind a chain of events stretching from Gallipoli to the establishment of Israel in 1948. The Gallipoli landings were on this view intended to take Jerusalem, the geographical centre of Christian fundamentalism.
While few would lend scientific credence to this interpretation, based as it is on the fallacious view that preceding events are necessarily causes of subsequent events, his contentions are rhetorically persuasive to holders of received opinion that Australia and Israel form part of the `Judeo-Christian West’, locked in a clash of civilisations with the Muslim East.
According to this orientation, which informs much generic mainstream opinion by default, Australia and Israel are `natural’ allies, sharing values such as democracy and the rule of law, and bonded by common military traditions forged at Beersheba.
All this at a time when there are calls from the press, the military and strategic think tanks for closer ties with the Israeli military as regards tactical doctrine, technology and intelligence. Almost none of those calling for this have assessed the cost to our national interest in thereby alienating our near neighbours and the lucrative trade with the Arab and Muslim world.
Effectively these celebrations, coming in the wake of the Netanyahu State Visit to Australia earlier this year, reward Israel for political bad behaviour and delinquency in the face of international law. It is simply not good enough for Australia to merely mouth support for a two-State solution while continuing to develop military ties with Israel. In such circumstances Australia should be suspending defence arrangements with Israel, not reinforcing them. Is the Prime Minister not bending over backwards in suspending Parliament so he can endorse Israeli propagandising around the unseemly celebration of the charge in Israel?
While it is hard not to envy the Machiavellian hutzpah and opportunism of the Zionist attempt to hijack our history and the national custom of commemoration of our sacred war dead, this is not to condone it. Historically speaking it is the kind of rewriting of the past which Orwell warned against.
It is certain that as they sat in their saddles before going into action on the late afternoon of 31 October 1917, the light horsemen were not thinking of a divine plan to `restore’ the `State of Israel’ in 1948, much less condone its bellicose human rights abuses today. To even suggest this is to abuse and besmirch their memory. Yet this it would seem is exactly what the Jewish National Fund of Australia is objectively doing in its current In Their Steps exhibition in Sydney.
As the historiographer RG Collingwood taught, `the aim of history is not to know the past but to understand the present.’ Accordingly history ought not to be an excuse for self-congratulation, but a motive for reflection. To do otherwise is to effectively and irresponsibly rewrite history in the image of a complacent present.
Australia’s participation in the British conquest of Palestine a century ago is grounds rather for a sense of obligation towards the country, in so far as the Nakba Catastrophe was to flow from the British Mandate protectorate over the Holy Land. That conquest was a British imperial initiative in which our ancestors participated, not an act of military liberation.
What is needed now is action to address the neo-colonial legacy of blood, sweat and tears which has resulted and lingered too long in defiance of Palestinian human rights.