Thursday, October 29, 2009

92 Years to the Battle for Beersheva

In November, Beersheva will be commemorating 92 years since the "Battle of Beersheba". On October 31, 1917, General Edmund Allenby led a campaign to break the Turkish defensive line in Gaza. Gaza was trouble for Eretz Yisrael even back then during World War I. The charge of the Australian Fourth Light Horse Brigade was a major part of that battle. Australian and British forces overran and captured the last remaining Turkish trenches, and secured the surviving wells at Beersheva.
Voices visited Beersheva and looked a bit into some of the military history of the city. First stop - the mammoth Monument to the Negev Brigade, designed by Dani Karavan in memory of the members of the Palmach Negev Brigade who fell defending the Jewish People against the Egyptian onslaught and Arab irregulars between 1947 and 1949. High on a hill overlooking the city of Beersheva, the memorial is a work of art studied by Israel's art and design students. My daughter had to learn all about it for her Design Bagrut.
Completed in 1968 after five years of construction, the monument is a concrete structure with 18 different elements that were symbolic and connected to the Palmach and the War of Independence. Battle plans are carved into the cement. A domed structure contains the names of the 245 fighters who fell in the diffent battles for the Negev. A perforated tower represents the watchtowers shelled by Arab gunfire. A cement "pipeline" recalls the water system of the Negev, which the Palmach defended with their lives. Inside one of the structures is an engraving of a telegram the Palmach sent to Central Command in the heat of battle. Outside of the structure is an engraving of the Palmach badge, as well as diary passages from the soldiers. The memorial has an electronic guide box that tells the story of the place. It is well-worth the visit.
Next, we went forward a bit in time and traveled to the Israel Air Force Museum in Hazerim, southwest of Beersheva. As we picnicked outside the park, colorful Air Force fighter jets flew over head.
The museum has a tremendous collection of airplanes and helicopters that were flown over the past 70 years in defense of the Jewish People. It details the history of the Air Force, from Pre-Statehood until today. The aircraft are lined up according to the era in which they flew, and the museum is a truly impressive site. The most exciting feature at the Air Force Museum is the jumbo jet used to fly the commanders of the Entebbe Raid to Uganda, and later Ethiopian Olim to Israel during Operation Solomon.
My favorite jets were those captured from the enemy by the Israeli Army, fixed and flown by the Air Force. The IAF left the former-country's emblem on the planes, and added the Magen David (Shield of David). Great!
We walked through Beersheva's Old City and drove through its new neighborhoods that sported high ultra-modern tower apartment buildings. We visited the sprawling Ben Gurion University and passed Soroka Hospital. We even took photos by the signs declaring Beersheva a sister-city to Seattle (home of the Boeing AIRCRAFT company).
Beersheva, the Capital of the Negev, is as strategic a site for Israel today as it was 92 years ago. Chazak chazak - be strong - and mazel tov!

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