ANZAC Day, April 25, is one of the most important days in the calendar of Australians and New Zealanders, marking the anniversary of the fateful dawn landing on the beaches of Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand troops in 1915.

This was the first major action by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps with the aim of opening up the Dardanelles to the allied forces. Resistance on the part of the Turks was fierce, and there were heavy casualties on both sides.

At the conclusion of an eight-month campaign, more than 8,000 Australian soldiers and 2,721 New Zealanders had lost their lives.

It is customary for Australian and New Zealand diplomats to hold commemorative services for the ANZACs in the countries in which they served, and to pay tribute not only to them but to Australian and New Zealand Forces wherever they have served and died since.

The ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem looked like a dress rehearsal for the 2015 ANZAC Day Centenary.

Never in living memory had there been so large an attendance of diplomats; military attaches from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Turkey, France and India; representatives of ex-service organizations, Zionist youth, business and sporting organizations, Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, the Society for the Heritage of World War I, the Gallipoli Association, the United Nations Troop Supervision Organization, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) and the Australian Zionist Federation, along with Australian and New Zealand expatriates living in Israel, and Australian and New Zealand tourists.

There were at least 300 people in attendance.

Never, on ANZAC Day, had there been so many wreaths placed at the catafalque – a total of 27 – in a strikingly colorful panoply of floral tributes.

MFO soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand contingents formed the catafalque party and stood stiffly to attention for some 40 minutes under the relentless Jerusalem sun.

“The Middle East is no stranger to Australian servicemen and women,” said Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, who noted that since the battle of Gallipoli and “the critical role of Australian troops in the success of the Palestine campaign in World War I – which is marked every year in Beersheba on October 31 – our soldiers have been intimately involved in campaigns and peacekeeping in the region. Our histories are forever intertwined.”

People come together on ANZAC Day, she said, to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand men and women who have given their lives in service to their countries.

Those gathered in Jerusalem were joining Australians and New Zealanders around the globe who also gather at cemeteries, memorials, former battlefields and in simply quiet places in order to remember, she said, adding that Australian leaders were participating in ceremonies on the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, the Hellfire Pass in Thailand, at Villers-Breronneux in France and on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.

Although the ceremony in Israel was taking place in Jerusalem, Faulkner emphasized that all Australians, New Zealanders and other Commonwealth soldiers who lay at rest in Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries in Israel and the Palestinian territories were being remembered, as well as those killed in recent deployments.

She noted that 39 Australian and 10 New Zealand soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan.

Faulkner also gave thought to the wounded “who suffered long after the end of conflict.”

Australia long ago made peace with former enemies, and also honors the fallen among their soldiers.

“We remember with great respect the fallen of all the countries who are represented here today,” she said.

Australia has never fought a war on its own soil. It is a nation genetically committed to helping the underdog, and has fought several times on foreign soil to get rid of tyranny and to bring peace.

“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,” said Faulkner, adding that peace and goodwill can flow from even the fiercest of conflicts.

She had been very moved she said by the words written on the memorial to the allied soldiers at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, the commander of the victorious Turkish forces in the battle on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

“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.”

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, she said.

ANZAC Day ceremonies in Israel are always ecumenical, with appropriate readings divided between Christian and Jewish clergy.

Because Jewish soldiers are also buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, two Australian Rabbis living in Israel, Rabbi Raymond Apple assisted by Rabbi Edward Belfer, conduct a service after the official ceremony and recite kaddish in that section of the cemetery in which most of the Jewish soldiers are buried.

Apple, who is chief rabbi emeritus of the Sydney Great Synagogue and was formerly the senior rabbi of the Australian Defense Forces, said that in the upcoming Torah reading Moses was instructed to count the Israelite people in accordance with their armies. The age for service according to the Torah, was 20 plus. The soldiers buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery were more or less the same age, and had the world ahead of them, said Apple. They were young men who went into the unknown.

“What society lost with these young men was a concentration of identity, energy, enterprise, courage, vision and achievement,” said Apple, observing that a little over a week earlier, Israel had mourned the loss of so many of the nation’s young people “during a struggle that is tragically not yet over.”

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