On October 31, 1917, courageous soldiers from New Zealand and Australia took part in the Battle of Beersheba - a step toward the defeat of the Ottoman Empire that ruled the Holy Land. And today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu shared these words at a ceremony marking the battle - and the bravery of those who fought in it:
We are remembering an act of courage that changed history. The indomitable spirit of the soldiers of New Zealand here and the Australian Light Horse right there changed history. It is something that didn’t take very long, only a few hours, but the pivot, the hinge of fate moved at that point. It required resources of courage and determination and resolution, precisely because they were facing very fierce, strong and determined troops. This makes their achievement all the greater.
We are here standing in the city of Abraham. Four thousand years ago, our forefathers came here. Now, because of that day a hundred years ago, you see the modern city of Be'er Sheba, with the cyber headquarters, with the future in our hands. We have peace, prosperity and security, but it was made possible because of those heroes.
We always remember that. We remember the sacrifices of these young men from New Zealand and from Australia. We are sister democracies. We – New Zealand and Israel – have the advantage of being small relative to Australia, so I would have said our three small democracies, but that would be a gross misstatement. But I would say our three valiant democracies, who have created prosperity and hope for their peoples, and by cooperating with each other, for many other peoples. This forged a bond of friendship that began in Gallipoli between New Zealanders, Australians and the young Jewish fighters, who were the first Jewish fighting force in history.
I spoke about that earlier in the cemetery, but I want to mention something else that happened that saved many, many lives, because each life, each drop of New Zealand blood that was shed here and Australian blood that was shed there is precious blood. But it could have been a far greater tragedy for those families and for many more families were it not for Aaron Aaronsohn, a brilliant scientist and agronomist and his sister Sara, and their comrades, who established an intelligence ring that gave General Allenby the information that said you must come here. Don’t go there. Don’t go again to Gaza. Come to Be'er Sheba.
The British assessment was that because of the contribution of Aaronsohn, tens of thousands of lives were saved. And Sara Aaronson, who took her life under severe torture, rather than spill out these secrets, we remember too. Sara is a name I like, I have to tell you. So, Sara the wife of Abraham was here 4,000 years ago. Sara Aaronsohn was here, even though she wasn’t, 100 years ago. And we, the great democratic allies of New Zealand, Israel and Australia are here today as we celebrate the future. We remember the past, and we celebrate the future.
But even so, even with that contribution of intelligence, you still needed courage. To face entrenched troops here and entrenched troops there, courage was required. And courage, of all human values, is the most important one, because it guarantees all the rest. There was plenty of courage that day. And of those fallen New Zealand soldiers and the fallen Australian Light Horse, we can say, in the words of a man of extraordinary courage, King David, “They were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions.”
We shall always be indebted to them and we will always remember them.