Miracle at Be’er Sheva
Few people probably associate Australia and New Zealand with the Balfour Declaration. But here is a look at a little-known miracle that helped to shape that segment of history.
November 2 marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a well-known watershed moment in the history of the establishment of the modern State of Israel. But the Balfour Declaration’s effectiveness for the Zionist cause could have been impaired had a lesser-known historical event—the Battle of Be’er Sheva—turned out differently.
On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, assuring him the British government would work toward establishing a Jewish state in Israel’s ancient homeland. The letter, which became known as the Balfour Declaration, read,
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The Declaration provided great hope to the Jewish people of World War I. They knew Britain’s support of Zionism was significant because Britain was a global leader and the empire that would soon assume post-war control of Palestine. (Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed Israel “Palestine” in AD 135 to spite the Jewish people.)
Though the dream of a modern Jewish state would not be realized until 1948, the Balfour Declaration played a crucial role in paving the way for subsequent legal promises: In 1922, the Council of the League of Nations—comprised of 51 countries—reaffirmed the Balfour Declaration in its Mandate for Palestine. And on November 29, 1947—70 years ago this year—the UN General Assembly declared its support for a Jewish state by passing Resolution 181, called The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine.
Charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade
While many people know about the Balfour Declaration, few have heard of the historic Battle of Be’er Sheva, also known as The Charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. The charge took place in the desert town of Be’er Sheva on October 31, 1917—the day Britain’s war cabinet agreed to the Balfour Declaration, which became public two days later.
The battle pitted the Ottoman armies, made up of Turks and their German allies, against the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The Battle of Be’er Sheva figured significantly into the Ottoman Empire’s defeat and the Jewish people’s subsequent return to their ancient homeland.
On October 28, 1917, 800 ANZAC troops of the 4th Light Horse Brigade began a 30-mile trek through the Sinai’s sand dunes and mountains to Be’er Sheva. They prepared to charge 4,000 entrenched Turkish and German troops. Greatly outnumbered and armed merely with bayonets and rifles, the ANZAC soldiers faced a highly trained, heavily armed enemy.
Since the Australians were at a great disadvantage, they strategically positioned themselves to charge at dusk when the sun would be in the enemy’s eyes. At 4:30 p.m. on October 31, with just 20 minutes of daylight remaining, the men of the 4th Light Horse Brigade mounted up and began their 1.8-mile charge on the Ottoman troops.
The horses had been without water for more than 48 hours, which worked to the troops’ advantage. As soon as the steeds smelled water from the Be’er Sheva wells, they bolted over the trenches—trampling the Turks and Germans and overturning their pillboxes and machine-gun nests. With the sun in their eyes, the panicked Ottomans fired their weapons but forgot to lower their gunsights, so the bullets soared over the horsemen’s heads.
Some riders jumped off their mounts and took 700 Turks as prisoners. The against-all-odds ANZAC victory became known as “the last great cavalry charge in history.” Their capture of Be’er Sheva helped to end 400 years of Turkish Ottoman rule and enabled British forces to advance into Israel and capture Jerusalem on December 9, 1917. Thirty-one ANZAC soldiers died, and 36 were wounded.
Sam Lipski, chief executive of the Pratt Foundation, an Australian philanthropic organization, called the ANZAC charge an “important strategic contribution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, [British Field Marshal Edmund] Allenby’s conquest of Jerusalem some six weeks later, and the British Mandate in Palestine that followed.”
Had the Australian-New Zealand forces failed to push back the Ottoman Turks from Be’er Sheva that day, the remaining Turkish forces could have affected the Balfour Declaration. The ANZAC victory opened the route for British forces to reach Jerusalem and capture Palestine.
It Shall Come to Pass
As some say, “World War I prepared the land for the People, and World War II prepared the People for the Land.” God chose to use the Balfour Declaration and the ANZAC forces to help prepare the land of Israel for the return of the Jewish people.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the day God would regather His people from the four corners of the earth and bring them back to their ancient homeland:
It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isa. 11:11–12).
For almost 2,000 years, the Jewish people were exiled from Israel and scattered among the nations. But God is faithful, and He kept His promise to them. On May 14, 1948, Israel officially became a nation again. Jewish people from around the world—“the four corners of the earth”—have flocked to the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants as an eternal possession.
The upcoming centennial celebrations of the Battle of Be’er Sheva and the Balfour Declaration extol God’s faithfulness. God has fulfilled His promise to bring the Jewish people home, and we can count on Him to fulfill His future promises to return to Earth and defeat Israel’s enemies. Messiah Jesus said through the prophet Zechariah,
It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced (Zech. 12:9–10).
The stage is being set for that final battle when Christ will return to Earth, defeat Israel’s enemies, set up His Messianic Kingdom in Jerusalem, and reign forever from King David’s throne (cf. Rev. 11:15).
So as we celebrate the 100th anniversaries of the Battle of Be’er Sheva and the Balfour Declaration, remembering God’s past faithfulness, we should look forward to the day the Lord returns to establish His everlasting Kingdom.
Jennifer Miles is a writer and copy editor for Israel My Glory magazine.