Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

ANZAC day in Israel

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The ANZAC Day memorial ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem saw an unusually high turnout last week. The respectful, yet modest, annual commemoration traditionally gathers, and caters to, mostly official Australian and New-Zealand representatives and diplomats from their Embassies, expatriates and the occasional tourist from "Down Under".

This year, it was reported that approximately 300 people attended the ceremony, with a very impressive presence of diplomats and dignitaries. Military attaches from the United Kingdom and Canada, the United States, Turkey, France and India came to show their respects. Also present were representatives of the Israeli Foreign Ministry - including the incoming Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Shmuel Ben Shmuel - of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and even of the United Nations Troop Supervision Organisation and of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO)- including especially from the Australian and New Zealand contingents with the latter peacekeeping force.

Jewish communal organisations such as the Jewish National Fund and the Australian Zionist Federation were also represented, along with Zionist youth groups including Habonim Dror, Netzer, Hashomer Hatzair, Bnei Akiva, Hineni, Betar, AUJS as well as business and sporting associations such as the Maccabi Sports Leadership Program. Representatives of ex-service organisations, the Israel-Britain and the Commonwealth Association, the society for the Heritage of World War I and the Gallipoli Association attended the ceremony as well. The impressive attendance by Jewish Australian youth was a particularly heartening reminder of the loyalty and patriotic spirit of young Australians, including Jewish Australians, and the respect and national pride they express towards their Australian heritage even when they are abroad.

Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner noted that "The Middle East is no stranger to Australian servicemen and women." They took part in the battle of Gallipoli in Turkey and the Palestine campaign in World War I, the North Africa campaign of World War II, peacekeeping missions in the region, and recently in counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, she noted. Faulkner added that these events mean that "Our histories are forever intertwined."

In a true spirit of shared fate, the ANZAC Day ceremonies in Israel incorporate both Christian and Jewish elements, to include and acknowledge that Jewish soldiers are also buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

The Jewish service and prayer for the dead (kaddish) was led by Australian Rabbi Raymond Apple, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of the Sydney Great Synagogue and formerly senior rabbi of the Australian Defence Forces - who now lives in Israel. During the service, Apple, who embodies the link between Australian Jews both to Australia and Israel, mentioned the proximity of the dates of the Israeli memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism - Yom Ha-Zikaron- and ANZAC Day:

"What society lost with these young men [Australian and New Zealand soldiers] was a concentration of identity, energy, enterprise, courage, vision and achievement," he said. He then reminded the audience that just over a week ago Israelis remembered and showed their respect to their own fallen young men and women, who died "during a struggle that is tragically not yet over."

It remains unclear what has brought about such a record-high attendance this year. The Jerusalem Post coverage of the ceremony noted that it "looked like a dress rehearsal for the 2015 ANZAC Day Centenary." Perhaps. It is nonetheless easy to understand the appeal of the ANZAC heritage and tradition both for diplomats and professionals, civil society and community organisations. The message of ANZAC - of fairness and honesty, both in peace time and in battle, of respect for your rival and of working, and at times even fighting, for peace - still resonate with many, especially in such a troubled region as the Middle East.

In her speech, Faulkner expressed another important sentiment. She emphasised that Australia strove for, and achieved, peace with all of its former foes, and acknowledged the sacrifice of both its allies and its rivals: "We remember with great respect the fallen of all the countries who are represented here today," she said, referring both to Western and Commonwealth partners, and respected former adversaries, such as Turkey.

Faulkner shared with her audience how moved she felt by the words written by Kemal Ataturk, the commander of the Turkish forces, on the memorial to the allied soldiers at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli: "Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace." She added that: "As in Turkey, where thousands of Australians and New Zealanders gathered on Thursday morning, fallen soldiers buried in Israel are also resting in friendly soil".

Finally, Faulkner highlighted the role of Australian forces in promoting and endorsing peace around the world: "We remember that the mission of our forces around the world is to make and maintain peace in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in South Sudan and in the Solomon Islands," she said, expressing hope that "peace and goodwill can flow from even the fiercest of conflicts" - sentiments sure to resonate not only with her listeners, but with many others in the conflict-ridden region as well.

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