Today, April 25, is Anzac Day, originally honoring the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli, on the shores of Turkey (then Ottoman Empire) during World War I in 1915.
Ninety-nine years later, however, this day has come to commemorate all Australians and New Zealanders who served and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
Today, the spirit of ANZAC has become synonymous with bravery, courage, sacrifice and that ultimate of Australian values, “mateship.”
Much as Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars leaves an indelible mark on the collective psyche of the Israeli public, Anzac Day forms a core part of the national Australian identity.
Anzac Day this year falls just 10 days before Israel’s Remembrance Day.
The Australian Embassy will hold its traditional Anzac Day service on Friday, at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Mount Scopus, Jerusalem.
The commemoration will be held in the presence of Australia’s Ambassador H.E. Dave Sharma, and the head of mission of the New Zealand Consulate, Gad Propper. Attendees will include officials of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, officials from the Israel Defense Forces, senior diplomats and defense attachés from other embassies, including that of Turkey, and Australian expatriates living in Israel and youth on programs in the country.
Speaking exclusively to The Jerusalem Post ahead of the commemoration, Ambassador Sharma said that “Anzac Day commemorates an episode in Australian history that is both solemn and stirring. The Gallipoli campaign took over 8,000 Australian lives, but it also forged a sense of self and independence for a young nation. In Australian minds today, Anzac Day evokes values that we aspire to still: honor, friendship, courage and loyalty.”
More than 2,000 Jewish Australians also fought as part of the ANZACs in World War I, including Sir John Monash, a Jewish-Australian, who by the war’s end became commander of the Australian Corps and afterwards was one of the founders of the Zionist Federation of Australia.
Today, more than 3,000 Australians are serving overseas in United Nations and multinational operations, including in this region with the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, and with the UN Truce Supervision Organization in southern Lebanon, on the Golan Heights and in Sinai. The Australian Army and the IDF enjoy close relations, especially in the field of strategic intelligence.
This year marks the beginning of the “Centenary of Service” between 2014 and 2018, marking a number of milestone events for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, including the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign next year, and in 2017, the 100th anniversary of the Australian Lighthorse Charge at Beersheba.
The roots of the Australia-Israel alliance can be traced back to the Battle of Beersheba, one of pivotal battles of the First World War.
Beersheba anchored the left end of the Ottoman defensive line that stretched from Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. As a result of the successful campaign by the ANZACs, its fall opened the way to outflank the Gaza-Beersheba Line, and ultimately helped turn the tide of World War I and led to the end of Ottoman rule in the region, helping to forge the bond of friendship between Australia and Israel.
The victory paved the way for British Gen.
Edmund Allenby to take control of Jerusalem from the Ottomans in December 1917.
“Australian troops played a critical role in the Palestine Campaign, which provided the strategic context for the seminal Balfour Declaration,” Sharma said. “Anzac Day marks a particularly poignant moment in Australia’s participation in the First World War,” a war which “saw the reshaping of the Middle East and precipitated the subsequent founding of the modern State of Israel.”
Arsen Ostrovsky is a freelance journalist who made aliya from Australia in 2012.