ANZAC 100 Mission Goes to the Golan Heights

Thursday, October 26, 2017 3:00 PM

Australians follow the footsteps of the Israeli combat soldiers on the Golan Heights.

The second day of the ANZAC Centenary Mission from Australia - here to trace the journey of the ANZAC troops in Ottoman Palestine - began with a tour following the footsteps of the Israeli combat troops on the Golan Heights. During the trip, the delegation members enjoyed the wonderful view and the fascinating talks about the region’s history.

View from Tel Azaziat

The tour began with a jeep trip on the trails of the Golan Heights to Tel Azaziat where the visitors were afforded a view of the residential communities below. As the group stood among the ruins of the old Syrian bunker, the guide, Gadi Elias, told them how the Syrian army had shelled the kibbutzim at the foot of the hill until the Six Day War, when combat troops from the Golani Brigade captured the hill, bringing calm to the area.
 
“I enjoyed the hike and was reminded of my time in the Australian Defence Force,” said Adrian Hepi, an Aboriginal Australian from Queensland. “When we’re here on the ground, we realize how terribly the Israeli communities suffered and how hard it was to capture the area. When we come back many years after the war, enjoying the sense of security and seeing how green and blooming it is here, we understand what determination and hard work can accomplish.”
 
On a trip in such a calm and lovely area as the Golan Heights, it is hard to imagine that a war is in progress on the Syrian side of the border, fairly close by. The echoes of gunfire can be heard on the Israeli side from time to time, and the Syrian refugees who come to Israel for medical treatment tell of the atrocities that are being committed in their country.

Heroic battles on the Golan Heights

The group continued to Emek Habacha (the Valley of Tears) - so called after it became the site of a major battle in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 - for a meeting with Avigdor Kahalani, who fought there during the war. Kahalani told the group about the battle, during which Syrian armored units and infantry troops, who outnumbered the Israelis significantly, tried to break into Israel through the Golan Heights, but were stopped by Israeli troops.
“I called out to the tank force: ‘We are brave Jewish combat troops. Follow me!’ I charged forward with the tank, and was glad to see that they were following me,” he said. “At the end of the day, we counted about fifty Syrian tanks in ruins. That was the last battle on the Golan Heights.”
 
The battle of Emek Habacha became a symbol of the Israeli troops’ determined stand against their enemies. Many visitors come to the area, including groups of Israeli teenagers about to enlist in the Israeli army. “I give the teenagers a flag of Israel at the end of every meeting to remind them that it is now their job to defend the country,” Kahalani said. At the end of his meeting with the Australian delegates, a group of approximately three hundred Israeli high-school pupils arrived to draw inspiration and motivation from the heroism of those who came before them.
 
“I have visited Israel many times, but this time was really special,” said Shirley Freedman of Melbourne. “The ANZAC trip awakens a sense of great pride, with the knowledge that combat soldiers from Australia helped to conquer the country. I come here each time both as an Australian and as a Jew. It is very touching to visit places where Jews lived thousands of years ago. They rode on camels; we ride in jeeps!”
 
In order to give a sweet taste to the day, the members of the group visited the De Karina chocolate production facility on Kibbutz Ein Zivan, where they not only enjoyed a tasting, but also got to prepare their own chocolate.
 
During their tour of the Golan Heights, the group crossed the Ashdot Ya’akov Bridge, the location of ANZAC’s last battle in Israel, which took place two days after they defeated the Turks in the Battle of Samakh (Tzemah) in the Jordan Valley. After their victory, they repaired the bridge that the Turks had demolished and pressed on toward Damascus.
 
Later on, the delegation members watched a presentation that the IDF gives to Israeli teenagers about to enlist. The various corps told of their work, and the troops spoke about their units. As the delegation members stood among the thousands of teenagers from all over Israel who had come to visit the site, they were impressed by the power of the Israeli army and its guiding values. This was also an opportunity to become acquainted with young soldiers and hear about their lives in Israel and in the army.

Connecting to Nature at Hula Lake Park

The Australian delegation left the action of the army behind and headed for some peace and quiet at Hula Lake Park. At least, that was what they thought they would be getting in such a lovely natural setting. But with 30,000 cranes around, peace and quiet are the last things one can expect.
 
Hula Lake Park has an extraordinary story. The Israeli government drained the Hula Valley swamps in the 1950s in order to develop new farmland. Many years later, it became clear that the drainage of the area had damaged the soil and the quality of the water in the Sea of Galilee. KKL-JNF was asked to re-create a smaller version of the lake in the early 1990s, and KKL-JNF has been developing the lake with assistance from its friends around the world ever since. Hula Lake Park, now Israel’s prime bird watching site and one of the leading such sites in the world, is a model of integration between nature, agriculture, and tourism.
 
The cranes are the main attraction here, of course; there are 30,000 of them at the lake at this time of year. Most of them are just passing by on their way from Europe to Africa, but some of them like it here and stay until spring.
 
The delegation members got into tractor-drawn safari wagons and headed out to watch the cranes, who come to eat corn and peanuts in the fields every morning and go back to the lake each evening to sleep - bed and breakfast, as Effi the guide put it. The sight of thousands of large cranes spreading their wings and flying, and the sound of their loud calls echoing through the valley, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for nature-lovers.
 
Since approximately three hundred species of birds and many species of mammals live in and around the lake, there is much to see there besides cranes. At any given time, one might see a female duck swimming on the surface of the water with her offspring, a nutria out for a stroll in the grass, a friendly water turtle, colorful bee-eaters, or a wild boar swimming across the pond.

Who were the ANZAC riders?

The Dubrovin Farm is a recreation of a farming village established in 1884 deep in the orchards of the Yesud ha-Ma’ala agricultural settlement, the first Jewish community to be founded in the Hula Valley. The members of the group toured the museum, which describes the beginning of settlement in the valley, and listened a talk about the history of the area.
 
At the end of the day, the group attended a lecture by the Australian military historian Dr. Peter Pedersen, former head of research at the Australian War Memorial and the author of ANZACS on the Western Front: The Australian War Memorial Battlefield Guide.
 
“The ANZAC combat troops impressed the people who fought alongside them and those who fought against them. They were considered among the best of the British army,” Pedersen said. “They left Australia in 1914 and did not return until the end of the war in 1918 - assuming that they survived.”
 
Dr. Pedersen said that Australia’s character - its democratic government, educational system, drive for adventure, and pride in the country - was what made the combat soldiers what they were. “‘Stand by your mate’ was their motto. For them it was a supreme value, above all else,” he said.
 
Before their fight to capture the Land of Israel, the British troops had lost three major battles against the Turks: the notorious disaster in Gallipoli and two others in Gaza. In a brilliant deceptive move, mounted ANZAC troops set out as if to charge Gaza and suddenly continued directly to Beersheba. Taking the Turks by surprise, the ANZAC troops took the city and the water sources around it, opening the way for the British to capture Jerusalem and the entire country.
 
“As we tour in Israel, we should use our imaginations and reflect on the deeds of the ANZAC combat soldiers so that we can appreciate what they did even a century later,” Dr. Pedersen said.