ANZAC 100 - History along the ANZAC Trail in Israel’s South

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 3:31 PM

The ANZAC Centenary mission embarks on the ANZAC Trail in the Negev, whose sites brought the epic 1917 Battle of Beersheba to life.

The eighth day of the ANZAC journey took place in Israel’s southern region. Travelling in an air-conditioned bus is obviously less difficult than how the soldiers travelled one hundred years ago, but the connection to the ANZAC fighters came to life wherever the delegation stopped. The JNF Australia delegation visited central sites along the ANZAC trail in southern Israel that KKL-JNF developed in order to make this historical epic, so crucial to Israel’s eventual establishment, common knowledge.

Golda Park: Preparing to Charge

The group’s first stop was at Golda Park, south of Beersheva. This is where all the ANZAC troops assembled in anticipation of attacking Beersheva. Over the course of one night, they rode more than 40 kilometers and charged the city and other strategic points in the vicinity.
The Well House (Beit Habe’er)  was renovated as a museum, which includes the ancient cistern that the ANZAC light horse riders camped next to, along with explanatory signs, maps and historical pictures that tell the story of the conquest of Beersheva. The site was built by KKL-JNF in partnership with its friends in Australia and New Zealand.
Golda Park is a true desert oasis, with lawns, trees and shaded corners for relaxing. The playground equipment in the park was installed with the help of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia.
Shirley Freedman of Melbourne is a member of the council. “It’s very important for me to be involved in projects for the benefit of the Negev,” she said. “It’s an amazing feeling to travel around Israel and see so many projects that we are involved in.”

Ramat HaNegev Research and Development Station: Desert Agriculture

The blooming agriculture in the Negev has been made possible thanks to research and development stations that KKL-JNF helps support. At the Ramat Hanegev R&D station, which was the delegation’s next stop, they met Eran Doron, head of the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council, who said: “We see the desert as having an advantage in terms of agriculture and energy. From the days of Ben Gurion until now, we see the desert as an opportunity for creating, realizing dreams and making the wilderness bloom.”
Yitzhak Moshe, KKL-JNF Southern Region Deputy Director and Chairman of the R&D, explained to the guests how a hot and dry desert can be turned in a prosperous agricultural region. “KKL-JNF provides the farmers with the knowledge necessary for developing agriculture,” he said.
Average rainfall in this region is less than 70 mm annually. At the R&D, research studies, experiments and surveys are conducted with the aim of developing growing methods that are suitable for the region’s unique ecological conditions. Efficient usage of water, developing crops that can be irrigated with brackish water, growing high-quality produce, and making agricultural fields of endeavor profitable – these are some of the challenges that the R&D faces.
R&D DirectorTziyon Shemer emphasized that the direct link between the researchers and local farmers is critical for success. A movie shown to the guests depicted the connection between the farmers and the R&D team that accompany them.
Local farmers are not the only ones who benefit from this knowledge. Farmers from different countries come for supplementary courses and receive tools that can be useful back in their home countries. The desertification processes that many countries in the world are experiencing make KKL-JNF knowledge very important for them.
Of course, theoretical explanations are never enough, so the guests went for a tour of the greenhouses and were very impressed by the beautiful fruits and vegetables that are miraculously growing on the desert sand dunes, and they didn’t forget to taste them either! 
Among the members of the delegation was Russel Anderson, a farmer from Nowergub, a small town north of Perth, who grows cherry tomatoes. “It’s fascinating to see the very advanced agriculture in Israel,” he said. “It’s surprising and impressive to see how agriculture can thrive here in the desert.”

Ashalim: A Solar Energy Center

Near the community of Ashalim, a power plant for producing green energy has been built. The plant combines three types of processes for producing energy: a thermo-solar power plant, a photovoltaic power plant and electricity production from biogas. This project decreases environmental pollution, limits energy input, lessens the strategic dependence on external energy sources and promotes innovative technologies.
Uri Yogev from the center’s staff led the group on a tour of site where this significant project is located.

Uja al-Hafir: The Bridge that was Bombed

Nitzana is an ancient Nabatean town, one of three Nabatean towns in the Negev, which has important remains from Byzantine times. The beginnings of this town originated in the third century BCE, and it reached its peak during the Byzantine Era. There are three churches from that time at the site. After the Arab conquest, the town went into decline until it was finally abandoned.
In anticipation of World War I, some of the ancient buildings were destroyed by the Turkish government, which built a regional administrative center named Uja al-Hafir. All that mainly remains of the Turkish railroad station built here during World War I is the water tower. At the footsteps of the tel there a number of water cisterns.
This site has special significance for ANZAC history. In May 1917, the ANZAC soldiers went on a mission with strategic importance: to blow up the Turkish bridge. Their mission was successful, and the supply lines of the Ottoman army were cut off. The remains of the bridge are clearly evident to this day, and the members of the group passed by it on their travels.

Nitzana: Desert Education

Not far from here is the Nitzana Educational Village, a green oasis in the heart of the desert. Many groups of children and youth from all over Israel come here for a variety of educational activities, with emphasis on Zionism, ecology, nature, the environment and familiarity with the desert. KKL-JNF is partner to developing this site, with the help of its friends from all over the world, including France.
David Palmah, the director of the Educational Village, took the guests for a tour of Nitzana, introducing them to a number of people who live in the village, and who represent some of the content and values that the village represents: groups of Bedouin students from the Negev; young new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union; Ahmed Jerebiah, in charge of the dormitory; Isa Izam, a teacher of Arabic; Rina Pilifov, who produces honey from eucalyptus trees; Mati Berkovitch, who grows tomatoes in brackish water; 18 year-old Irena, a new immigrant from Russia; 28 year-old Victoria, who participates in a program for extreme desert sport; Yulia and Anna, who immigrated from Uzbekistan and are now counselors for new immigrants; and David, a French Christian who leads volunteers from France and Switzerland who are building a biblical-style park.
Yonatan Kishenevsky, the founder of the Derech Eretz mechina (pre-army preparatory program), spoke with the members of the delegation and told them that his goal is to help youth be the best possible citizens that they can be. “The challenge of our generation is to create a tolerant and vibrant society, based on people who accept each other as they are and who love their country,” he said.
The Kishenevsky family originally came from Melbourne, and many of the members of the delegation knew some of their family members. JNF Australia recently began supporting this program.
“Youth from all over Israel are a microcosm of Israeli society. We believe that if we can create here a family that studies, volunteers and works together, we will give hope to expanding this circle to all of Israeli society,” Kishenevsky emphasized.
Some of the local young people joined him and talked about their decision to join the preparatory program before enlisting in elite units in the Israeli Army. “This is an incredible opportunity, and joining the preparatory program was the best decision we ever made,” the young people said. At the end of the meeting, everyone made toasts to each other.

Allenby Park: The Heritage of the Beersheva Conquerors

In the heart of the old city of Beersheva, not far from the British War Cemetery where the ANZAC fighters are buried, is Allenby Park. This green and well-manicured garden has explanatory signs about the ANZAC and Battle of Beersheba heritage, shaded corners for resting, landscaping, and a statue of General Edmund Allenby in the middle.
The park was renovated with the support of JNF Australia. Among the donors who made the upgrade of this park possible are Peter and Elaine Smaller, and Michael and Rosemary Tuch.
“Allenby was a true hero, and we saw this park as an opportunity to preserve the ANZAC heritage as well as a contribution to the residents of Beersheva,” said Smaller.
The day continued with the opening of an exhibition of contemporary Australian art at the Negev Museum. From there, the group continued for a performance of the opera Nabucco, which was made possible thanks to a contribution of Peter Smaller. “When I heard that the Israeli opera had never performed in Beersheva, I thought it was important to make that happen,” Smaller said.
The opera performance took place at the amphitheater in Beersheba River Park (Park Nahal Beersheva). KKL-JNF has been a major partner to developing the park, and with the help of its friends from around the world, neglected and polluted area was transformed into a beautiful and green gem. Besides enhancing the environment, the park has been a catalyst for change in the residents’ quality of life, the city’s leisure culture and the local economy.
Peter Smaller spoke briefly at the opening of the performance and he said that “we as Australians feel wonderful in Beersheva, and I hope you will all enjoy the performance tonight.” And in fact, the Beersheva locals, who arrived in droves for the performance, enjoyed a lovely evening of music, proof that even in the Negev, it’s possible to enjoy high-quality cultural performances.