In the early winter of 1918, the wheat, barley and sesame fields of Sarafand al-Kharab lay fallow. Oranges, figs, almonds and olives had been harvested, the summer honey stored. At night the goats and sheep were brought into the warmth of the adobe brick houses.
On the moonless night of 9th December, as in typical Palestinian villages, smells of the sparse dinner were fading in the air, bellies barely full, the villagers, subsistence farmers and shepherds and their families, slept soundly except perhaps for a restless child here and there, a mother breastfeeding her baby, a few coughs tapping the night’s stillness.
Suddenly the village, roused by angry foreign voices, was cordoned off by lamps held by wrathful soldiers from the nearby army camp.
The next morning, 10th December, officers from the ANZAC Mounted Division questioned the village sheikh and demanded he hand over the murderer of one of their soldiers; a young New Zealand Trooper Leslie Lowry had been sleeping with his kit bag for a pillow woke when he felt the bag was tugged from under his head. He chased the alleged thief who turned and shot Lowry in the chest. The alarm was raised and Lowry died before the doctor arrived.
Confused, and still in the grip of the cordon, the chief and fearful villagers were unable to comply.
That night, hundreds of enraged New Zealander, Australian and Scottish soldiers set upon the village separating the women and children then viciously attacked the men folk with bayonets, clubs, chains and sticks and set alight the village and the nearby Bedouin camp. Situated on a rise overlooking the coastal plain, the flames, vying with screams of rage of agony of horror, were seen from IMD HQ a half mile away.
After an orgy of blood,137 (or more) innocent village men (innocent fathers, innocent brothers, innocent husbands, innocent uncles, innocent cousins, innocent friends) lay dead among the smoke and glowing ashes or thrown in the village well; the distraught and grief-ravaged women were newly widowed, children fatherless, all homeless….
and the soldiers had vanished into the darkness of a military cover-up.
No one from the ANZAC Mounted Division was prosecuted for the atrocity as the soldiers, standing as one, didn’t cooperate with the bland inquiry, denying participation and later some, from the 3rd Light Horse Regiment’s C Squadron, were ordered never to talk about it. (Paul Daley, Beersheba: A journey through Australia’s forgotten war,p. 277)
Cover-ups are a reprehensible part and parcel of military history and testimonies collected on Australian Military History of the Early 20th Century: Desert Column siteare tainted with fundamental lies and racist justifications that have become the prototype for subsequent historical and newspaper accounts of the Sarafand Massacre.
The killer’s footsteps that led to the collective punishment of Sarafand villagers
Despite there being no witnesses to the shooting of Lowry and no one saw the killer run to Sarafand, all accounts report that the footsteps of the killer were followed and led directly to the village.
In fact, no footsteps could have been followed from the camp as the Palestinian terrain is too rocky. This is substantiated by the Uri Zackhem film, Tracing all that remains of the destroyed village of Sarafand al Kharab, Palestine. Also, Private AS Mulhall, who was on active duty in the camp stated, “There [were] no sand hills within three miles of the spot where Lowry was shot.”
Furthermore, on checking the NASA, Phases of the Moon, 1901- 2000, the night of 9 December, 1918 fell in the new moon to beginning of first quarter Dec 3-Dec 11, which means that it was a moonless night. In rural areas and in a world sans electricity, a moonless night is literally pitch black to the point one cannot see a foot ahead.
Nevertheless, the Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal who was called to the camp that night ordered a plaster impression of a fantasy footprint, “Later in the afternoon I sent Lieutenant Fyfe to obtain footprint impressions made of plaster of Paris, which he has done. The specimens taken are those of the man’s left foot.”
Did the perpetrator hop to Sarafand?
The discrepant number of Sarafand victims
The casualty figures of the Sarafand massacre range from 5-137 but as there was a cover-up the number of dead will likely be higher.
Typically a cover-up provides the minimum number of victims: Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal reported he saw only 5 dead and 5 wounded and “saw no soldier committing an offence to warrant his arrest”; Briscoe Moore offered “38 natives”; Terry Kinlock stated “30 and 40 Arab men had been beaten to death or badly injured.” However, Tasmanian Ted O’Brien confessed to 120 dead and ex-NSW Mounted policeman, AS Mulhall testified, “I counted 137 dead within the village. It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered.”
The Commander-in-chief, General Allenby’s severe dressing down of the division provides insight into the gravity and extent of the atrocity:
‘Allenby’s biographer, Lawrence James, writes that a ‘furious’ Allenby said the men were ‘murderers and cowards and by killing the Bedouin had taken away the good name of Anzac- in fact it was a worse atrocity than any the Turks had committed.’ (Daley p.265)
Allenby then immediately removed the division to Rafah and withdrew recommendations for all gallantry awards.
Continued in Part 2.
Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.