While most people enjoy the day off which Anzac Day affords, probably very few actually know what the day signifies. Some may know that it is celebrated every year on April 25. Some may know it has something to do with the battle at Gallipoli in Turkey in WWI. And some may know that the acronym stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
But few would know the Christian connection, and the Israel connection. The Anzacs in fact had much to do with the founding of the modern nation of Israel, and there is much of importance in this past history which Christians should be aware of.
One person who has done much to explore Australia’s Christian history in general and the Anzac tradition in particular is Kelvin Crombie. He has written books, produced documentary DVDs, and personally led guided tours of the Holy Land over the past several decades.
What follows is a rather heavily edited version of one of Crombie’s pieces, which helps us to get some sense of the historical connection here between the Anzacs and Israel.
It was very ‘coincidental’ that this strategic region [in the Middle East] was sandwiched between Britain and her Eastern Empire, which included Australia and New Zealand. The land of Israel in particular was in fact a strategic buffer zone through millennia. It was a land between Empires, in antiquity between empires to the north and south, but in the modern period between the European empires and their developing colonies in the Far East.
And it was also ‘coincidental’ that at the same time as these geo-political activities were taking place in the nineteenth century, there was a huge amount of interest within the upper levels of British evangelical Christian circles in the future restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. These Christians believed that Israel must be restored before Jesus would return to reign from Jerusalem. And many of these ‘restorationists’ were Anglican leaders – with influence in government circles.
By the turn of the twentieth century Turkey was seeking a European ally, other than Britain, France or Russia. That ally was Germany. This relationship culminated in late 1914 with Turkey choosing to join with the German/Austro-Hungarian Alliance in the First World War. And this occurred at the very time that the first convoy of Anzac troops was making its way towards the Eastern Mediterranean.
This Turkish-German alliance was dangerous for the Allied cause, especially for Britain’s Russian ally. By late 1914 Russian troops were encountering difficulties against these forces and sought help from their allies.
The British and French then began planning to take supplies to Russia. However to do this they first had to get through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus under the very guns of Constantinople itself. This would require a military campaign and they would need to capture those very same regions from the Turks.
By early 1915 the newly-arrived Australian and New Zealand soldiers became part of this plan, being called upon to fight alongside British, French and Indian troops, and a few Zionist soldiers from Palestine (who had been ousted by the Turks), to capture at the first instance, the Dardanelles Peninsular.
Herein lies the beginning point of what culminated in October 1917 with the issuing of the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s promise of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. And this beginning point was the forthcoming Gallipoli campaign – which also just happened to be the beginning of our Anzac tradition, and in the words of the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, the beginning of Australian nationhood.
All of these political considerations, however, were far from the minds and attention of the young Anzac soldiers as they stormed the beaches of Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and as they fought for survival during the following eight months.
The military campaign at Gallipoli was a failure. In December 1915 the Anzac troops were withdrawn back to Egypt, to be rested and then to be sent on to France. Many Turkish troops at Gallipoli were also withdrawn, and their main goal now was the capture or destruction of the Suez Canal.
On that crucial day British infantry attacked Beersheba from the south and west and gained their positions. Most of the casualties on this crucial day were by the British infantry. Then New Zealanders captured the strategic ancient Beersheba, Tel es Saba in the mid afternoon. Later that afternoon up to 800 Australian light horsemen of the 4th Light Horse Brigade courageously charged in from the east and completed the victory which had been set up by the rest of the EEF soldiers earlier in the day.
Meanwhile in far away London, the British War Cabinet debated the political future of the land of Israel pending its capture. At almost the same time as the final victory was won on the ground at Beersheba, the War Cabinet almost unanimously agreed to the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Was all this coincidental or was there some hand guiding, almost simultaneously, soldiers on the ground and politicians in the meeting room?
Crombie then discusses further developments, including the Second World War and the establishment of Israel in 1948. He then concludes this way:
It is apparent from this brief analysis that there has been an amazing dynamic between the Anzac soldiers of both world wars and the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Surely this aspect must be one of the most interesting, if not significant, of our many achievements during these conflicts.
It is perhaps incumbent in these days for our country to give due consideration to this dynamic, and to ensure we don’t squander what those brave soldiers achieved, both on the battlefield and in their social interaction with the Jewish population.
Unfortunately our government has not always been supportive of Israel since it gained nationhood in 1948. Some would say that Israel often makes it difficult to support it. This may be true on occasion. However, we as a sovereign nation need to consider the incredible forces opposing the very existence of tiny Israel, forces which our country has never had to face, except in part from the Japanese threat during World War Two.
The Islamic world, for example, basically doesn’t just want to see Israel pushed back to its pre-1948 borders. With a few exceptions, they refuse to recognize Israel’s very right to exist. The issue therefore is not Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem. They see the very existence of Israel as a threat.
We need to be diligent, firstly on the home front, against any forces which would want to take away our treasured freedoms of speech and behaviour – and our Judeo-Christian heritage. And secondly we need to give attention to the world front. And one of our main priorities should be the safety and integrity of Israel.
Now this does not mean that we agree with every policy of the Israeli Government. They make mistakes, just like ours does. Which of us agrees with every decision and policy of our own Government? The main difference, though, is that we are not surrounded by entities which want to destroy us. And even if we were, we have a large mass of water which protects us from such entities, and a large land mass to melt into if the need arises.
Israel does not have either. Israel could be fitted some 360 times into Australia! So, as Hitler had a goal of world-wide domination, and within that goal to destroy the Jewish people, we today need to be mindful of other entities which may have a similar double-edged goal.
In conclusion, therefore, it could almost be said that Israel is our front line today. If Israel falls, we may very well feel the brunt of an assault similar to, and perhaps even worse than, the regimes that we fought and prevailed against during both World Wars.
I encourage you to read the full article, linked to below. Happy Anzac Day.