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Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, TVNZ Sunday November 22, 2009: "Day of Shame"
Topic: BatzP - Surafend

Surafend, the massacre

Palestine, 10 December 1918

TVNZ Sunday November 22, 2009 : "Day of Shame" 

 

 

On Sunday evening, 22 November 2009, in its magazine program "Sunday" TVNZ screened a most extraordinary story called "Day of Shame". By their own program description: "It was a war crime, an atrocity committed by New Zealand troops. They walked into a village and systematically murdered as many as 130 unarmed, innocent civilians. No-one was ever held to account, and the stain on our proud military history was brushed aside with a 500 pound pay-off. SUNDAY has tracked down a survivor and they demand New Zealand faces its past."

Currently, the full show may be accessed at:

TVNZ SUNDAY "Day of Shame"

 

Generally, the sentiments expressed in the story were powerful and very human. It brought two families who shared a historical event together. Both families were victims of what happened at Surafend, one a New Zealander and another an Israeli Arab. It was a moving encounter as the program aimed to reconcile the loss felt by these two different families. As a social piece, it was very engrossing and personal.

The historical backdrop to the story was the Surafend Massacre. It was here that the story fell apart. Poor research made for inadequate history. In addition, claims were made that were demonstrably untrue. 

This item deals only with that aspect of the story.

 

Claim 1

That the letter written by Mulhall and held by the National Archives of Australia makes the claim that 137 villages were killed.

 

Mulhall letter claim

[Click on picture for the Sunday extract.]

 

The commentary states:

... but no less than 137. Trooper Ambrose Mulhall's account is preserved in Australian archives.

"It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered"

 

The Mulhall letter from the National Archives of Australia is used as the backdrop to this segment and clearly given the impression that it was quoted from to establish the claim.

Prior to this story being aired on New Zealand television, in early July 2009, the Mulhall Account was placed on this site with a full transcription of the letter. The cursive handwriting was difficult to read at the time and still remains that way, thus requiring a transcript that is still incomplete due to illegibility. As a companion for cross checking purposes, the Full original Mulhall Letter was also made available for anyone seeking this information.

From the available information the following questions may be asked.

Does this letter make the claim of 137 bodies counted at Surfend?

A reading of the letter held by the National Archives of Australia indicates that the answer is no.

Is the comment "It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered" in the letter held by the National Archives of Australia?

No.

Hence the commentary, inclusive of the graphics, on the Sunday segment does not match with the document that the program alleged contained that information.

So where does this claim originate?

The only known source for this commentary on Sunday comes from Paul Daley’s book, Beersheba, published in July 2009 at pages 281 - 282. Here there is a letter transcribed which allegedly was written by Mulhall on 12 September 1936 to Colonel Bell. We see only a typed copy of the transcription so we are unable to authenticate the provenance of the letter. Daley alleges that the original this particular letter is held by a certain Mr Douglas Wyatt of Tasmania. It turns out that this is the man who interviewed 3511 Private Edward Harold O'Brien (see the interview Ted O'Brien Account) in 1988, whose testimony forms lynchpin of Daley's conclusions that conclusively proved Australian participation at Surafend.

Here is the extract from Daley's book.

 

Transcript of Mulhall's letter in Paul Daley’s book, Beersheba, p. 281

 

The transcription:

Dear Sir,

I desire to inquire from you relative to certain facts concerning the Bedouin massacre Palestine Dec. 1918. In communications recently Sir Henry Gullett said that you Colonel Bell presided over a Court Martial concering the Bedouin massacre, I know of no such inquiry of any kind held into this affair. If such were the case would you be good enough to inform me (1) What was the nature of the inquiry. (2) When were the persons tried next.

I fail to see how you coul.d possibly be connected in the trial of them seeing that you were one of us whom Allenby charged with being a lot of cold blooded murderers and coweards.

You were there on parade that Sunday morning when Allenby made that criminal attack on us. I saw you there, you were standing in front of the 3rd ... Regiment and this is what Allenby said: "You who were not there know who were and know all about it but you are not game ot come forward and say so. You are a lot of cold-blooded murderers and cowards."

Are you aware that I had full particulars of the Bedouin massacre at the time but neither myself or anyone else had an opportunity to bring them forward. I was at the village at 7AM the morning following the massacre and I was astounded to see the numbers who had their heads bashed in by the use of blunt instruments. Being an experienced man in the detection of crim, I might say I resigned from the NSW Mounted Police to go to the war. I counted 137 dead within the village. It was a most gruesome sight the manner in which their heads were bashed and battered. The first thing I asked, why should soldiers use blunt instruments to do to death their victims when each soldier had rifle and ammunition. At this stage I was under ...

 

Let us assume for the moment that the letter is authentic. The evidence in the letter is contradicted by the testimony of O'Brien. In the letter held by the National Archives of Australia Mulhall states:

The Australians were not present there that night, they did not know there was any trouble taking place in the village that night. I was engaged for some days in these investigations and I say definitely."

In other words,  according to the testimoney of Mulhall, no Australian's participated in the massacre and he makes a definite assertion to this claim citing his three days work investigating the crime - one might add that these investigations were conducted without any official sanction but on Mulhall's own personal initiative.

In contrast O'Brien clearly alleges that Australians did take part and in his interview he confesses that he was one of them - Ted O'Brien Account.

[Douglas Wyatt] What did you actually do?  Did you go in and wreck the village?

[Edward Harold O'Brien] Oh, absolutely.  Yes.  It didn't matter.  There was cows and ducks and geese:  there were kids.  But men:  they all went for the men with the bayonet and they got it.

The O'Brien - Mulhall claims on this matter of Australian participation are totally contradictory. Here is the conceptual conundrum: once part of a piece of testimony has been contradicted, the balance of the testimony also is tainted as no certainty can be held for any part of that claim. Prima facae, it is or it isn't accurate. If part of it isn't accurate or tainted by contradictory testimony, then each aspect of the testimony needs to be verified by independent third party sources before being accepted as accurate testimony. Neither the O'Brien or Mulhall claims can be taken at face value and both require corroborating testimony before being accepted as accurate. One cannot cherry pick testimony according to whim. And yet this is what TVNZ have done without actually authenticating their claim with independent sources. Indeed, the TVNZ claims have the appearance of cherry picked sensationalism rather than an earnest attempt to get to the truth. While they are entitled to do this, by doing so, they are not entitled to have this claim treated seriously.

The result of this claim is that:

1. The Mulhall letter held by the National Archives of Australia makes none of the claims screened on the Sunday Program.

2. The Sunday Program uses a different source to that quoted, thus misleading the viewers.

3. The evidence upon which it did rely was tainted and thus unreliable.

 

Claim 2

That the thief came from Nes Tsiona.

 

The Nes Tsiona claim

[Click on picture for the Sunday extract.] 

 

The commentary states: 

Yes. I think it was a mistake because he was from Nes Tsiona not from Surafend.

This is a most extraordinary claim, both ethnically and politically, which should have been investigated prior to airing it. A cursive examination would have pointed the way.

Firstly, the physical identification of Nes Tsiona in relation to Surafend is important to place this claim in context. Below is a map displaying the location of Nes Tsiona. It is close to Surafend, Nes Tsiona being a few kilometres south west.

Nes Tsiona (Nes Ziona)

 

Nes Tsiona in relation to Surafend.
 
[See the full map: Regional Map]
 

 

On the above map, Nes Ziona is underlined in white. At the bottom right hand side of the underlining is a Star of David, the symbol of Judaism. This map was drafted in 1917 to detail the localities in Palestine for the British Army. In a complex ethnic maze, Jewish settlements needed differentiating as they were considered to be friendly.

If the thief came from Nes Tsiona, it raises the following very important conceptual question: why would a Jewish thief run to Surafend, an Arab village, with the certain knowledge that he would be lynched if he entered that village? It makes no sense. In addition, the cap found on the scene was that used by the Arabs and not the Jews. The claim that the thief came from Nes Tsiona is clearly absurd in a historical sense. Here Ockhams Razor needs to be applied - the simplest answer is usually the correct answer.

There is an alternative place that might have been referred to -  Wadi Hanein was also known as the Arab Nes Tsiona. If this is the place the man was referring to, then again there is a problem as Wadi el Hanein was a Jewish village with the Arab village being founded in the late 1920's, thus making the comment asynchronic and so not a possible solution.

However, if we delve deeper into the comment, we see it as a contemporary political statement - it was the Jews who were at the heart of his over 90 years of misery. The Jews were the thieves and the Arabs beaten up as a consequence. It appears to be an apocryphal tale of detailing the subtext of Arab-Israeli perceptions regarding their often toxic relationship. Consequently, on this reading it cannot be taken as a serious claim.

The result of this claim is that:

1. Nes Tsiona was a Jewish village.

2. It makes no sense that a Jewish thief would wear an Arab hat and run to an Arab village.

3. Arab Nes Tsiona was not established until about a decade after the Surafend Massacre.

 

Conclusion

With the enormous research budget allotted by NZTV to this story, it is difficult to understand the reason for these fundamental and very basic errors exposed in the program. Folks with access to the Internet can assess the veracity of the claims without the benefit of a research team and appropriate budget. One can only conclude that either the research team was just not up to the task and hence the very loose and sloppy research, or there was another agenda being pursued. Only the authors and producers of the program can give that answer. In the meantime, this program must be seen as flawed history and thus unreliable in content.

 

Note: A copy of this item has been despatched to the Sunday Program staff for comment. They have also been given the offer of right of reply and their response will be published in full as it is received.

 

Further Reading:

Surafend

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Surafend, the massacre, Palestine, 10 December 1918, TVNZ Sunday November 22, 2009: "Day of Shame"

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 14 June 2010 6:51 PM EADT

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