Saturday 28 April 2018

The Kiwi Connection In Palestine.

New Zealand's Collective Punishers: “I was proud of you as brave soldiers but now I am ashamed of you as cold-blooded murderers.” - Major-General Sir Edmund Allenby addressing New Zealand and Australian troops after the Surafend Massacre, December 1918.

I DON’T KNOW which is more embarrassing: to have a lawyer called Trotter defending a woman who prostituted her own daughter; or a PhD history candidate called Trotter “Exploring the Kiwi connection as Israel turns70”.

On balance, I’d have to say that the PhD history candidate is the more embarrassing of the two. That our justice system goes out of its way to ensure that every accused person is provided with effective legal representation is something of which we should all be proud. So, I doff my hat to Karl Trotter for his defence of the indefensible. To Sheree Trotter, however, I have only questions to offer – not the least of which is: How could a PhD history candidate’s description of Israel’s “Kiwi connection” not include the moving ceremony at Rishon LeZion and the brutal massacre at Surafend?

Rishon LeZion (The First of Zion) was one of those settlements involved in what was, rather quaintly, referred to as, “the upbuilding of Palestine”. On 4 November 1917, New Zealand troops had participated in the Battle of Ayun Kara, located very close to Rishon LeZion. Twelve months later, the leader of the Zionist settlement invited the New Zealanders (who were still encamped close by) to a commemorative ceremony.

The small Jewish community had erected an obelisk in memory of the New Zealanders who fell at Ayun Kara, and its Mayor had prepared a speech:

“These dead have not only fought for their country, they have planted the flag of justice and lit the torch of liberty. Its light will never be extinguished. You have placed marking stones along the route to the future. These markers, formed by your tombs, will cause those who come after to meditate: ‘It is just about a thousand years’ they will say, ‘since, on this very soil, Western lords came with the sacred flame of religion and in the name of the Cross to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel. And now, after long delay, these same children of the West have come again in their thousands, glowing with ardour, animated by the thirst for liberty, justice, and fraternity, to liberate the same country from the yoke it has borne for nearly five centuries.”

Stirring words – and they clearly left a deep impression on the Kiwis. Because, just over a month after the ceremony at Rishon LeZion, on 10 December 1918, animated no doubt by their thirst for “liberty, justice and fraternity” troopers of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, backed by their comrades in the Australian Light Horse, inflicted a gruesome collective punishment upon the inhabitants of the Palestinian village of Surafend.

The night before, in the course of a botched robbery, a Palestinian Arab had shot and killed a New Zealand soldier, Trooper Leslie Lowry. The offender had been tracked back to Surafend and the Kiwis ordered the villagers to hand him over for punishment. When the villagers refused, the Kiwis and their Aussie mates, some 200 men altogether, marched the women and children out of the village and then proceeded to attack the men and boys who remained.

Their weapons of choice were pick-axe handles and the heavy, canvass-sheathed chains used to haul supply wagons and field guns. They swung these with deadly effect against the Arab defenders. By the time the Kiwi and Aussie troopers marched out of Surafend, by now a smoking ruin, more than 40 Palestinian Arabs had been killed or wounded.

The massacre had taken place in defiance of the Brigade’s commanders and with the connivance of more than a few junior officers. The Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force – the occupier of Palestine following the cessation of hostilities – Major-General Edmund Allenby, was furious. Forming the ANZAC’s into a hollow square he unleashed a tongue-lashing the like of which no British or Empire troops had heard for many, many years:

“I was proud of you as brave soldiers but now I am ashamed of you as cold-blooded murderers.”

This outburst aroused such mutinous resentment among the New Zealand and Australian troops that Allenby was soon forced to retract his words. In the weeks ahead, as the British tightened their grip on the former Ottoman possessions in the Middle East, they would have need of that ANZAC muscle. When the New Zealand and Australian troopers were ordered into action against protesting Arab nationalists, the dreadful reputation they had fashioned for themselves at Surafend rode ahead of them.

Thus, was the Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jews a national home in Palestine, given effect. Such, was the Kiwi connection with one of the earliest Zionist communities in Palestine. That sorrow-filled stretch of earth which would, forty years later, become the State of Israel.

The lesson imparted by those murderous Kiwi and Australian soldiers on the night of 10 December 1918 – that Palestinian Arabs could be collectively punished with impunity – was one the Zionists never forgot.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 24 April 2018.


peteswriteplace said...

Such words from Pommy colonists.

Geoff Fischer said...

Reprisal killings of civilians and wounded enemy soldiers have been an unfortunate feature of New Zealand military history over the past two centuries. First occurring in the New Zealand wars, they were repeated in the First and Second World Wars, in the Vietnam war, and most recently in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern now has the opportunity to draw an end to this disgrace by conducting a full and open inquiry into the Tirgiran massacre. In doing so she will indeed become a Prime Minister of whom New Zealanders can be "immensely proud".

Glenn Webster said...

Good on them.
Kill a soldier and you get killed
A perfectly justified reprisal.
Read more history.

Nick J said...

Ditto Geoff, it is well overdue. I don't care if our "allies" see us as holier than thou sanctimonious softies. We need to set a standard that gives us confidence and pride in our forces and in our international relations.

jh said...

The lesson imparted by those murderous Kiwi and Australian soldiers on the night of 10 December 1918 – that Palestinian Arabs could be collectively punished with impunity – was one the Zionists never forgot.
I don't think we can assume they interpret it like that - people have their own spin.
Recently I read an opinion piece in the Christchurch Press about why we celebrate ANZAC day. The writer hoped it was about the dread/evil of war. I think differently (and the same goes for General Lee etc,etc): we celebrate our ability to be the dirtiest rats and come out on top (to live, to kill, to die for our survival). How the hell else did we get here?
On another note I'm reading Recalling Aotearoa by Spoonley and Fleras. Recalling Aotearoa is literally restoring Maori culture precolonisation and was recommended to me on Frogblog when I harped on about how tino rangatiratanga was going to work in practise. I'm reminded on the 1960's with students all around and a step mother who on listening to the change the world dialouge what say: "you people who want to pull everything down: what are you going to replace it with?". Spoonley and Fleras are happy to diagnose that settler society was a rotten apple, now exposed (history it seems is my narrative versus yours). So now the pieces are on the floor and the authors discuss what to do as though they were part of some socialist committee; you get no sense of but what do the people want?. I'm reminded of jordan Peterson's description of a leftist view of the world as being made up of factions in some Hobbesian struggle. The authors see this as "an interesting time in our history".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

This was egregious, but I doubt if there is an army in the world that hasn't done something like it. It just goes to show that the so-called "rules" of war simply don't work particularly well. I suppose at least they give us the means to punish those who break them, which is maybe all we can hope for.

Brian D said...

You seem to "bang on" about Surafend every Anzac day, one point is that it was a very small incident in the greater scheme of things at the time especially when compared to the horrors being inflicted on the Armenians by the Turks. The NZ troops at the time were sitting in Egypt the war was over they were waiting to be sent home and were frustrated and severely provoked, terrible things do happen in war time, NZ troops have been involved in a small number of incidents over all of the wars we have been involved in.You could go on about the few prisoners taken by the Maori battalion at Takrouana in WW2, the Italian troops were given the option of facing the bayonet or jumping over a cliff The reason allegedly that Sgt Manahis recommendation for a VC was declined. NZ troops have been at the sharp end in most conflicts that they have been involved in and have generally behaved well under very trying circumstances, we should be proud of their achievements and the reputation that they have gained for us over the last century.

Brian D

Ian said...

Brian D, lest we forget. Chris does NZ a service in making sure we don't have a lopsided view of what the ANZACs did. Troops that kill 40+ civilians because they are frustrated and "severely provoked" deserve our condemnation. Other soldiers have been executed for much more minor crimes. Just because these troops didn't get punished doesn't excuse their crimes.

As for the Armenian genocide, it amazes me to see adults doing what I did as a child. Often when I was being told off, I'd point to my sister and say "But she did...". To my parents' credit, they always ignored my attempts to deflect their attention even though what I said about my sister was correct.