ANZAC 100: How the ANZACs Secured the Land of Israel’s Central Region

Monday, November 06, 2017 10:11 AM

JNF Australia ANZAC Centenary Mission sees ANZAC history come alive in Rishon LeZion, Nes Ziona and Rehovot.

The tenth day of the JNF Australia ANZAC Centenary Mission took place in Israel’s central region, with visits to the towns of Rishon LeZion, Nes Ziona and Rehovot. The ANZAC conquests in this region on their way north strengthened the control of the British forces in the region and ensured transportation on the Ramle-Jaffa route. The members of the delegation visited a number of important local sites in these cities, and ended the day at the Rosh Tzippor Birdwatching Center in the heart of Tel Aviv. 

The Liberation of Rishon LeZion

The day began with an exhibition at the Rishon LeZion Museum entitled “Liberation, Tidings and Hope”, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Rishon LeZion by the ANZAC forces.
“This exhibition is not about war, but rather about the people who lived here and what they went through under Ottoman and British rule,” said Yonah Shapira, the curator of the exhibition. “We are telling the personal stories of the inhabitants of Rishon LeZion.”
The Battle of Ayoun Kara, which took place within Rishon LeZion’s municipal boundaries, was extensively depicted. This battle brought an end to Ottoman rule of the town. The exhibition concludes by noting the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a sign of hope for the future.
The artistic part of the exhibit is based on drawings by Rivka Holden, a New Zealand artist, that describe the experience of the battle based on the memories of her grandfather, who fought there as part of the ANZAC forces.
The Rishon LeZion Museum, which tells the story of the city’s history, is housed in structures dating back to when the town was first founded. There are a number of different exhibitions that emphasize Rishon LeZion’s pioneering role in creating Israel’s national symbols – the flag and the national anthem, Hebrew education, the rebirth of the Hebrew language, culture, agriculture and industry, from the time of their very beginnings.

The New Zealand Cavalry in Nes Ziona

The next stop was the memorial in honor of the ANZAC soldiers from New Zealand, which was erected at the Nes Ziona educational complex. The memorial, which commemorates the fallen of the Battle of Ayoun Kara, depicts light horse riders bearing flags and the names of the fallen inscribed in stone.
The memorial is located on a hill in the educational complex. The street that leads to the hill, which is adjacent to a school, is named “The New Zealand Cavalry Ascent”. Another memorial was built in a shopping center west of Rishon LeZion, in the region where the decisive battle took place.
The battle between the mounted New Zealand division and the Eighth Army of the Ottoman Empire Army took place on November 14, 1917. The officers in charge of the forces were from New Zealand rather than from Britain, which was unusual. The combined attack of the ANZAC forces included flanking maneuvers from the west and the east, along with a head-on charge.
The determining moment of the battle was when a division of mounted rifle riders dismounted their horses about 200 meters from the commanding Turkish position, charging it on foot. After a harsh bayonets battle, the New Zealand forces overran the Turkish positions. 50 soldiers from New Zealand were killed in the battle. Ramle-Lod was conquered the next day, and one day later, the New Zealand light riders also conquered Jaffa.

In the Footsteps of the Pioneers in Rehovot

The Australian Light Horse battalion that conquered Rehovot established its headquarters in a building that currently serves as the De Shalit High School. The building also served as the home of ANZAC Commander General Henry Shoval. The impressive historical structure was built in 1910 by Eliezer Solotzkin, who immigrated to Israel from Australia before the war.
The members of the delegation were warmly greeted by the high school students, who waved Israeli and Australian flags in their honor. A student wearing the ANZAC uniform received the group, and if not for his Blundstone boots, which are very popular in Israel, it would have been hard to tell that this was a teenager growing up in Israel 2017. On second thought, since the boots are actually an Australian trademark, they might actually have been part of the getup.
The ceremony that took place at the school was conducted by KKL-JNF representative Elisha Mizrahi and Revital Bar Yosef, Upper Division School Principal. “The historical story of this site gives strength to us all,” said Avi Kish, the school principal. “We are proud to be the successors of the pioneers. Together, we all represent the connection between the people of Israel and its land, and between all the parts of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad.”
“In the world media, Israel is depicted as a place where it’s dangerous to live and visit, and now, here you are to discover the real Israel,” said Rehovot Mayor Rahamim Malul to his guests.
Tania Hammer, who comes from the Solotzkin family, was born in Australia and recently immigrated to Israel. She told the guests and the students that her ancestors made the long voyage in a ship from Australia to Israel in order to help build the land. “Our family represents progress, courage and education,” she said.
Students studying music moved the guests with their song. At the end, the school students guided the delegation members through a historical exhibit of the photographs of Frank Harley, the official ANZAC photographer. This was a unique opportunity for a firsthand encounter with Israeli youth.
Before leaving, the members of the delegation made sure to have a group picture taken on the Solotzkin School steps, which was reminiscent of the famous ANZAC picture taken on the same spot.

Birdwatching in the Heart of Tel Aviv

The day concluded at the new Rosh Tzipor Birdwatching Center at Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv. The center includes an artificial lake, constructed green wetlands, a winter pond, water canals and diverse vegetation. The various habitats attract various types of birds.
“A lot of water flowed through the Yarkon River until we were able to successfully complete this project,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai at a ceremony that took place at the site. “Our Australian partners have helped us a great deal in saving the Yarkon and developing the surroundings.”
A number of observation points and open classrooms were built around the lake that make it possible to learn about the life of the birds without disturbing their rest.
“The Yarkon River has special significance for us as Australians,” JNF Australia National President Peter Smaller emphasized. “We are happy that this site will serve no only the birds, but also the local residents.”
“This a place to relax for people looking for a bit of quiet in the city bustle,” said KKL-JNF Director General Amnon Ben Ami. “The site combines the expertise and knowledge that we have accumulated with the desire not to disturb nature.”
The creation of the park was made possible thanks to friends of JNF Australia, including Frances and Stanley Ferster, whose son, Ron Ferster, participated in the ceremony. “We have created a place where birds can enjoy safety during their long migrations,” Ferster said. “I hope to come back here with my children to see the park prospering and all of Israel flowering.”
Additional donors to the project include Geoff and Valmai Morris, who contributed together with their friends Debbie and John Schaffer. Jane Radny, Geoff and Valmae’s daughter, participated at the event. “I am proud to know that we have played a part in creating a place of peace and quiet,” she said. She and her husband Norbert had taken part the day before in the re-enactment of the ANZAC charge in Beersheva. “I felt a great sense of pride to be Australian and to wear the ANZAC uniform,” she remarked.
Iris Han, Director General of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, noted that over the past few years, interest in birdwatching has increased in Israel. “It’s important to make nature accessible and also to integrate it into urban spaces,” she said. “Our hope is to create a place here that will be teeming with people and birds.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, all of the participants went on a tour of the park, guided by KKL-JNF Chief Ornithologist Yaron Charka. He explained that Israel is located on one of the most important migration routes between Asia, Africa and Europe, and he also emphasized just how important it is to protect birds in Israel.