ANZAC 100: Journey’s End

Tuesday, November 07, 2017 1:04 PM

From the British conquest of the country to the establishment of the state

After a two-week tour of Israel in the footsteps of the ANZAC soldiers, the JNF Australia Centenary Mission concluded its journey on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, coming full circle from the capture of Beersheba to the establishment of the State of Israel.
“We have hiked in the ANZAC’s footsteps for the past ten days, honoring the soldiers’ heroism and sacrifice,” said Dan Springer, CEO of JNF Australia. “In addition to the battles and the victories, we celebrate the legacy of friendship that ANZAC left us, and we will keep that legacy going in the future.”

KKL-JNF House: Walls of History

The tour began in the historic KKL-JNF House, the Tel Aviv building from which KKL-JNF managed its land purchases in Israel. The building was the seat of the National Council, the group that served as the liaison between the Jewish community and the British Mandate authorities.
 
This is where the first temporary government met just before the State of Israel declared independence. “Although we did not yet have a government or a state, we already had eleven parties,” said Dr. Aryeh Ben, the director of the museum, to the amusement of those present. The declaration of Israel’s independence was originally planned to be held in KKL-JNF House, but when the news was leaked to the press, the space turned out to be too small for all the people who wished to attend.
 
Part of the building serves as a museum that shows KKL-JNF’s contribution to Israel. The museum’s exhibits include historic items, photographs, maps, and documents. The meeting room, including the original table and chairs where David Ben-Gurion and the other delegates sat, has been re-created on the second floor. The museum also contains a stamp exhibit, a collection of blue boxes from all over the world, and sound and light shows.

Independence Hall: A State Is Born

From there, the Australian delegation proceeded to Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, where David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. One of the first buildings in Tel Aviv, it contains a permanent exhibit on the declaration of the state, the Declaration of Independence, and the history of the Jewish people in its own country.
 
“We remember our fallen soldiers here in the museum every day, and we should remember the ANZAC soldiers who fought in the Land of Israel in the same manner,” Tzeira Ostrovsky, Independence Hall’s operations manager, told the guests.
 
The items exhibited in the hall have been carefully reproduced. The names of the people who attended the ceremony of the state’s declaration are listed on the dais. Above the dais is a portrait of Herzl with Israeli flags on either side. The building housed an art gallery at the time when independence was declared. Reproductions of the artworks that were displayed on the day that the State of Israel was declared adorn the walls.
 
The delegation members listened to the original recording of David Ben-Gurion’s declaration speech. They also listened to a recording of the vote in the United Nations, in which Australia was the first country to vote in favor of the partition and the establishment of a Jewish state. They watched a film about the construction of Tel Aviv and the establishment of the state, and heard a lecture from Itzik Dror, the coordinator of educational programming. “The war in Europe almost destroyed the Jewish people, but we were given hope in 1947,” Dror said.
 
The delegation got a surprise visit from actors playing the characters of the time, such as Chaim Weizmann, Golda Meir, and members of the Jewish community, who told about their experiences.
The delegation members sang Hatikva together with the recording of the state’s leaders singing it as the fledgling state declared independence. Some had tears in their eyes. At the end of their visit, they signed a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Commemorating the Victims of the Maccabiah Disaster

In the July 1997 Maccabiah bridge disaster, four members of the Australian delegation to the Maccabiah Games were killed and 69 athletes wounded. As the Australian athletes were marching across the temporary bridge built over the Yarkon River for the opening ceremony, the bridge collapsed, throwing them into the river’s heavily polluted waters.
 
Friends of JNF Australia have taken it upon themselves to rehabilitate the Yarkon River ever since. A commemorative area in memory of the four delegation members who were killed - Gregory Small, Yetty Bennett, Elizabeth Sawicki, and Warren Zines- was established at the site of the collapse, and the delegation members held a memorial ceremony for them there.
 
Elaine and Peter Smaller had marched with the Australian athletes in those Maccabiah Games twenty years ago. “The terrible sights from that event come back to me over and over,” Elaine said. “I also remember the wonderful people who jumped into the water, without a thought for themselves, to save the lives of others.”
 
Lisa Borowick, daughter of delegation member Rachel Kalman, was a member of that delegation to the games. Rachel remembered the agonizing five hours she went through with no news of what had happened to Lisa. Lisa, who was fortunately unharmed, had been running from one hospital to the next to find out what had happened to her friends.
 
Galil Itzhaki, the Israeli tour guide who has accompanied the ANZAC delegation, marched in the games twenty years ago as a member of the Maccabi Tzair youth movement. “We have held a ceremony at each Maccabiah games in memory of those who perished ever since, and we promise that such a thing will never happen again,” he said.
 
The ceremony concluded with the El Malei Rahamim prayer and the recitation of the Kaddish by delegation member David Adler.
 
Fairly close by stands a monument commemorating the soldiers of the British army who fought in World War I, located at the point where they had crossed the Yarkon River, after which they had taken the Turkish troops by surprise, and pushed them northward.

The Museum of Natural History: Research and Education

Tel Aviv University is located just several hundred meters from HaYarkon Park. Friends of JNF Australia are partners in the establishment of its Museum of Natural History. The museum, which is in the final stages of construction, will exhibit Israeli nature collections when it opens, and will be a focal point for research, teaching, and education for the general public.
 
In the museum’s conference hall, the delegation members attended a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. “After a hundred years, we can say that we are making progress, and I believe that a splendid future is in store for us,” said Tel Aviv University Rector Yaron Oz.
 
“We are going through an intense time as part of the centenary of the capture of Beersheba,” said Chris Cannan, Australia’s Ambassador to Israel. “Even after all these years, Australia remains a proud and true friend of Israel.”
 
Peter Smaller, National President of JNF Australia, referred in his remarks to the deep friendship between JNF Australia and Tel Aviv University. “We are full of appreciation for the University’s work, and are sure that we will continue to make our connection closer,” he said.
 
Professor Israel Gershoni of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University gave a lecture on the influence of the Balfour Declaration on the Arab-Israeli conflict. “The Jews will continue to remember the Balfour Declaration positively, and the Palestinians negatively, as long as the conflict goes on,” he said.
 
Doctoral candidate Hagit Krik spoke about the Mandate era from the British perspective. She said that many people had been excited about the capture of the Holy Land by a Christian country, to the point where some called the Land of Israel a “Christmas gift.” Disappointment came later with the sight of the country and the complex struggles with the Jewish and Arab inhabitants.
 
At the end of the lectures, Professor Tamar Dayan invited everyone to see the museum exhibits that had been completed, with a variety of stuffed and mounted animals, touchscreens with information, and fascinating nature films.

The Concluding Event: The Israel We Love

After eleven full and fascinating days, the journey had come to an end. The delegation members viewed a slideshow of their journey in the ANZAC’s footsteps, from the Golan Heights to Beersheba and everything in between. They watched a short film describing their journey and summed up their experiences in their own words.
 
Etty Ayalon warmly thanked the Israeli team that coordinated the trip, and gave them a gift: an ANZAC certificate for each team member.
 
Dr. Pia Brous: “It was fascinating to learn about the state’s history.”
 
David Adler: “We learned a lot about ANZAC’s great victories. Now our challenge is to increase awareness of these accomplishments in Australia.”
 
Mish-elle Korn: “This kind of journey is the best way to become familiar with Israel and get to places that we ordinarily would not get to. I made wonderful friends here.”
 
Russell Anderson: “I joined mostly for the celebration in Beersheba, but along the way I learned a lot about ANZAC’s contribution to the State of Israel. JNF has many reasons to be proud of their work.”
 
Shirley Freedman: “I have visited Israel many times, but this time was really special.”
 
Paul Levinger: “We started as a group of foreigners, and along the way we shared moments of joy and tears. We brought Australia and Israel closer, and we must always keep that.”
 
Jeffrey Appel: “I thought that I had seen everything there was to see in Israel, but this time I got to see new aspects of the country.”
 
David Hardy: “I was glad of the opportunity to tour with the aboriginal Australians. It took us a hundred years to recognize their contribution.”
 
Brian Lieber: “Now I know that KKL-JNF is much more than just trees.”
 
Leah Friedlander: “KKL-JNF’s challenge is to establish groups of young activists.”
 
Tony Effgen: “I feel that the trip changed our lives.”
 
Brian Burston: “It was interesting to learn about KKL-JNF’s activities. I am going back to Australia with good things to say about Israel.”
 
Yossi Eshed: “Over the past several days, I felt like an Australian representing the group to Israelis, and not like an Israeli representing the group to Australians. They heard your strange accent and asked what was up. When I explained who you were, the people listening felt inspired.”
 
Stephen Cordell: “I am full of appreciation not only for what we experienced in Israel, but also for the process that we went through beforehand.”
 
Shaul Samara: “We experienced eleven wonderful days.”
 
Helen Shardey: “We will not forget the contribution of KKL-JNF’s people, who work behind the scenes and make sure that everything works.”
 
Assaf Salomon, tour guide: “I am glad I had the opportunity to take part in this historic journey. Thank you for connecting me to the Australian spirit.”
 
Dan Springer: “All of the great events that we experienced would have been worthless without the wonderful people who were part of the delegation.”
 
Peter Smaller: “All of those involved made an effort as a group. I thank all the delegation members, who allowed us to show them the Israel we love.”