ANZAC 100 in Jerusalem – A United and Diverse City

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 11:46 AM

Israel's Australian guests meet with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and visit special sites in Jerusalem.

The fourth day of the ANZAC 100 mission from Australia and New Zealand began with a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in his office. During the day, the delegation visited the City of David as well as the Hadassah Hospital healing garden -created with the support of friends of JNF Australia - and the ANZAC cemetery, both of which are located on Mount Scopus. The day concluded with a moving event at Jerusalem’s Citadel, which is known as the Tower of David.

A Discussion with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

“Jerusalem is a unified and diverse city, and it will remain this way forever,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. He told the audience that Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city, with 900,000 residents from different religions and ethnicities.
“During the time of the bible, the land was divided between the various tribes, but Jerusalem belonged to everyone. I believe that at the present time, Jerusalem still belongs to everyone - Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, everyone sees it as their home.”
 
The mayor devoted the main part of the meeting to answering participants’ questions that dealt with pressing current issues. On the issue of the Western Wall egalitarian plaza, Barkat said: “This matter is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, because anything connected to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount is liable to have international repercussions. Status quo is a sacred term in Jerusalem. We stick to it even when it makes no sense whatsoever. I would guess that ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to decide.”
 
Another question dealt with the school curriculum of the city’s Arab population, and Barkat explained: “Arab students in Jerusalem have been using textbooks based on the Palestinian curricula since 1967. Over the past few years more and more of them have been moving to the Israeli curricula, which is also used by Israeli Arabs.”
 
On the issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox men to the Israeli army, he said: “The great majority of the ultra-Orthodox community does not identify with the demonstrations against the draft. All of the ultra-Orthodox agree that whoever is interested in studying Torah should be able to study, this is their first priority. The question is what to do with those who don’t want to or aren’t capable of studying all day.”
 
The mayor also related to the chances of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, which he wasn’t particularly optimistic about: “The problem is not on the Israeli side, but on the Palestinian side. Unfortunately, I don’t see any leader on the other side of the caliber of Anwar Sadat in Egypt or King Hussein in Jordan. I don’t think there’s any leader like them now. We have been fighting for over 70 years for our security and our ability to grow, and the current situation is not so bad. Jerusalem is one of the safest cities in the world, so you can feel as safe here as you do in Australia.”
 
In conclusion, the mayor expressed his gratitude to JNF Australia’s friends and guests, and said: “You helped us to create the Emek HaTzvaim (Gazelle Valley) urban park, one of the most beautiful sites in the city. In the past, there was a plan to build a residential neighborhood there, but the local residents wanted to make a small nature reserve right in the heart of the city. With your help, that’s exactly what we did.”
 
“It was fascinating to hear the very inspiring words that the mayor spoke,” said JNF Victoria CEO David Beder. “Jerusalem is the eternally beating heart of the state of Israel and of the Jewish people, and every visit here is a true experience.”

Living History in the City of David

After meeting the mayor, the group visited the City of David archeological park, where Jerusalem was first founded over 3000 years ago. Tour guide Asaf Solamon recounted how King David left the city of Hebron and established Jerusalem to be the capital of the tribes of Israel. Solamon pointed towards the Temple Mount, which is situated a few hundred meters away from the site, and said that “years later, David’s son, King Solomon, built the First Temple here, next to the City of David, on top of Mount Moriah. All the rest is our history. This hilltop became one of the most important sites in the world.”
 
As the group walked through the City of David, the ancient history of the Jewish capital and the bible came to life. The tour continued with a walk through the underground tunnel that was part of the city’s water supply system. It later became known as Warren’s Shaft, after the 19th century British Explorer Charles Warren who discovered it.
 
Abraham James from Sydney said that he and his wife Helen had already made the decision to come to Israel to mark the 100th year anniversary of the British victory in Palestine, about three years ago. “I have no doubt that the victory had an influence on later history and on the creation of the State of Israel. I am very happy that the ANZAC troops played a part in that. It is very significant for us, since we are both Jewish and Australian.”
 
Jeff Meyer from Victoria said that as a child of Holocaust survivors, every trip to Israel is an emotional experience, but this one was exceptionally unique. “Besides the important historical significance of this trip, I am also able to spend time with my daughter and her family, who are now living in Jerusalem. In a few days, my new wife Mish-elle and I will be celebrating our first wedding anniversary in the Holy Land. I feel blessed.”

Healing Garden at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus

The next stop was the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, where the group visited the Healing and Environmental Garden that is situated outside the Pediatric Department. The beautifully landscaped site provides a setting for young patients and their families to relax. It was developed with the support of friends of JNF Australia and includes green lawns, flowerbeds, a vegetable garden, medicinal herbs, a wooden promenade, an observation deck, a therapy shed, and a small amphitheater.
 
During an outdoor luncheon in the garden, Professor Eitan Kerem, the head of the Pediatric Department, explained how within a short time the area they were sitting had been transformed from the backyard of the hospital into a beautifully landscaped garden for healing and relaxation. “Someone from Australia came to me and told me about the healing gardens they have at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne,” Professor Kerem said. “He asked me if I would be also be interested in such a garden. Interested? I thought it was a fantastic idea, and that is how this all started.  Within about a year, this site was totally transformed.”
 
Ronit Fray was one of the people who witnessed the transformation. Her mother Dina Munzer was one of the major donors who had helped make the garden possible. “Mum was unable to make this trip, but she is following the garden’s progress with a great deal of interest. She is a big supporter of Israel, of Holocaust survivors and of children’s needs. We were both here at the groundbreaking ceremony when work began on the site.”

Memorial at the Jerusalem British War Cemetary

Afterwards, a memorial ceremony was held at the Jerusalem British War Cemetery on Mount Scopus, the final resting place of hundreds of ANZAC soldiers who lost their lives fighting in Palestine. The ceremony was moderated by KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol Andy Michelson, who said that over 2,500 British Commonwealth soldiers are buried there.  He handed branches of fresh rosemary to each member of the group in their memory, noting that “amongst the people buried here are 44 soldiers from Australia and 186 from New Zealand. The ANZAC monument commemorates the members of the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse Brigade who fell in Palestine.”
 
Judith Ahmat, an Australian of Aboriginal descent, recited a poem. Her grandfather was one of the hundreds of Aboriginal recruits who served with the Australian Light Horse Brigade. Judith said that while Aboriginal youngsters were exempt from military service, those who did volunteer were enthusiastically accepted, especially to the mounted units.
“They were exceptional warriors and amazing horsemen, who knew not only to ride well but also how to take care of the animals. They made a great contribution to the war effort”, she said.
 
Australian Russel Anderson, whose father fought with the British forces during the Siege of Tobruk in the Second World War, read a First World War memorial poem entitled “In Flanders Fields”. He was followed by JNF Australia supporter David Jacobs, who read a prose piece that had been written by an ANZAC combatant after burying his comrades in order to emblazon them in his memory.  

Reenacting History at the Tower of David

The day’s events came to a close at Jerusalem’s Citadel, also known as the Tower of David, which is where General Allenby, Commander in Chief of the British-ANZAC Egyptian Expeditionary Force, proclaimed martial law in Palestine and freedom of worship for all faiths on December 11, 1917. At the time, the honor guard included 110 troops from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, together with 50 ANZAC soldiers.
 
Tour participants of the tour reenacted General Allenby’s entrance into Jerusalem, who, in a gesture of respect for the Old City, dismounted from his horse and walked through Jaffa Gate towards the ancient citadel. Marching in single file and carrying old photographs of the actual 1917 event, the group mounted the steps of the balcony where Allenby had read the proclamation. Delegation member Bruce Goldman wore an old British Army uniform and played the part of General Allenby, reading the entire document to the group. Afterwards, the group visited the Citadel Museum, where they were met by Museum Director and Chief Curator Eilat Lieber. Lieber explained about the history of the site and displayed the actual keys of the city that had been handed to Allenby as the Ottoman Governor’s gesture of surrender. She then invited the group to watch the magnificent sound and light show that is projected on the walls of the ancient structure in the evening.
 
The major event of the 100th anniversary celebrations will be the inauguration of the ANZAC Memorial Center in Beersheva, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, October 31. JNF Australia National President Peter Smaller explained how it all started:
“As long as one can remember, KKL-JNF has been responsible for the ANZAC Trail, which stretches along a streambed from Gaza to Beersheba. About four years ago, Beersheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich called me and asked me if I would be interested in helping to establish an ANZAC Memorial Center to commemorate the Battle of Beersheba. I thought it a wonderful idea because we are JNF, we are Australian, we support Israel and we are grateful for the ANZAC victory. We will be opening the center next week in Beersheba in memory of the courageous ANZAC troops.”
 
Australian Military Historian Dr. Peter Pederson was the chief historical consultant for the 100th anniversary of the British conquest of Palestine and the Battle of Beersheba. “I worked with a wonderful Israeli team for over two years. When the opportunity to visit Israel with JNF Australia presented itself, I grabbed it. I had never been to Israel before, although it is obviously an amazing destination for a military historian. I am learning a lot on this trip. It was through KKL-JNF that I came to realize the secret of Israel’s strength. It’s about something called ‘unity’. People living in Israel work together, and the Jews of the Diaspora are united with Israel. Such unity and togetherness make a country undefeatable.”