Australia Today

The Anzacs’ History In Palestine and the Push to Update School Curriculums

The Teachers and School Staff Palestine group has called for the “Anzac mythology” to be “dismantled”.

Growing up in Australia, Anzac Day usually means chewy oat biscuits, poppy pins, excursions, trumpets and pretending to fathom what war was like 100 years ago after your teachers tell you to reflect on soldiers’ service and sacrifice during the minute’s silence.

But this year, a collective of pro-Palestine school teachers in Victoria is challenging the ways our World War I soldiers are remembered and what aspects of our military history have long been left out of classrooms. 


The Teachers and School Staff for Palestine group has this week called for the “Anzac mythology” to be “dismantled” to make way for “rigorous, critical and empowering education” around campaigns and massacres in Palestine during WWI.

“We won't be used to convey myths that serve to normalise militarism, we won't use teaching and learning material designed to gloss over the violent imprint that Australia has left in Palestine,” Lucy Honan, a Teachers and School Staff for Palestine member and secondary history teacher, told VICE. 

“Students should have an opportunity to question the official legend that Anzacs were sacrificing their lives for freedom, and think critically about Australia's commitment to the imperialist powers that lay the ground for the creation of Israel, and think about the consequences of this for Palestinians.”

In recent months, the group has organised solidarity actions in schools, campaigned to remove STEM programs sponsored by weapons manufacturers from schools and published teaching materials including a booklet about Anzac campaigns in Palestine that lay the foundation for the creation of Israel.


The teaching materials were compiled by the group through weeks of research, in response to “a dearth of teaching resources about the Anzacs in Palestine,” Honan said.

“Our students want answers. What is happening in Gaza and why, who is implicated – and why are we being told we can't talk about it at school?”

Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll warned state school teachers late last year not to be political or participate in pro-Palestinian advocacy in schools and said such action was “inflammatory, it's divisive and only sows more seeds of disharmony in our community”.

Honan said she wasn’t surprised by these warnings but that they were contradictory.

“Because we refused to be neutral about the genocide in Gaza, we have been accused by politicians and the Education Department of being too political,” she said.

“And yet, the agenda of militarism and unthinking nationalism in our schools is overwhelming.”

Teachers and School Staff for Palestine hope their resources will help and encourage teachers to think more critically about their history curriculums and allow students the opportunity to question what they are taught and why.

“Let teachers teach honestly,” she said.

“Teachers must be empowered and supported to teach about Palestine.”

What did the Anzacs do in Palestine? 

In 1917, the ANZACs invaded Palestine to fight the Ottoman Army and, after the third Battle of Gaza on October 31, successfully took control of the land and the people in the name of the British Empire.

The final battle of Gaza also included the Allied attack on Beersheba, which had a majority Palestinian Arab population and was captured from the Ottoman Empire. 


The Sarafand al-’Amar massacre

The following year, the three brigades of the Anzac Mounted Division remained camped in Palestine waiting for demobilisation, when one Anzac was shot and killed.

The troops suspected Palestinians from the town of Sarafand al-’Amar were responsible and a group surrounded the town to demand justice. Their revenge was recorded as a massacre of dozens of peopleas many as 137 – who were bludgeoned and stabbed to death. The Anzacs then burned the town and nearby camps until the remaining residents were imprisoned or had fled and the town was destroyed. 

The creation of Israel 

After the British Empire withdrew in 1947, it handed over what it called the “problem of Palestine” to the United Nations, ending the British Mandate and establishing the State of Israel. This was when the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, known as Al Nakba (the catastrophe) began.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly thanked Anzac soldiers for their service and for paving the way for the creation of the “State of Israel”.

“Anzac soldiers are part of the history and memory of Israel... and had not the Australians and New Zealanders overthrown Ottoman rule in Palestine and Syria, the Balfour Declaration would have remained mere ink on paper,” he said on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beersheba, attended by the then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.


Turnbull also spoke at the event and said “the battle has become part of our history, part of our psyche”.

“Had the Ottoman rule in Palestine and Syria not been overthrown by the Australians and the New Zealanders, the Balfour Declaration would have been empty words.

“[The battle] secured the victory that did not create the state of Israel, but enabled its creation,” Turnbull said.

Aleksandra Bliszczyk is the Deputy Editor of VICE Australia. Follow her on Instagram.

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