Nahal Assaf Project.
(photo credit: KKL)
The ANZAC - Nahal Assaf project for soil conservation and for commemorating the New Zealand and Australian soldiers who fell in the battle to conquer the Negev from the Turks during the First World War was dedicated at a moving ceremony in the presence of the donors, who are members of the Gold Patrons Mission from Melbourne, Australia. The ceremony took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a week after the memorial day for the 730 soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who fell in various battles in the land of Israel during World War I.
This unique project in the Western Negev is situated at a station along the route of the outflanking maneuver that was executed by the New Zealand and Australian soldiers in 1917 and eventually led to the conquest and liberation of Beersheba and the Western Negev. The idea of creating the ANZAC Trail - Nahal Assaf site came up a few years ago, when there were security problems with getting to the ANZAC memorial in Be'eri Forest in the Western Negev. The memorial was moved to Nahal Assaf, which turned out to be an excellent decision on all levels. First of all, this is the historical location where a number of the battles between the Turks and the ANZAC forces took place. Second, the site is now a unique ecological project for land and water conservation and for dealing with the problem of erosion in the region. Third, the project serves as a study point and attracts visitors interested in history, and finally, the memorial site is located next to the Re'im army base and is used by the soldiers on duty and their families for their weekend meetings.
Ze'ev Kedem, director of KKL-JNF's Fundraising Division, described how unique this project is: "There are not many places on the route from north to the south where you can stop and learn about the region's history. It is very close to the main road and is very unique, because it combines both ecological aspects and also the ANZAC saga."
Joe Krycer, State Executive Director of JNF Victoria, Australia, spoke about the connection between the project, the ANZAC soldiers, the Holocaust victims and the symbolism of dedicating this project on Holocaust Remembrance Day: "As we gather here on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is a time for reflection, we also remember that this is a time in Israel when we look forward with a great deal of confidence and a great deal of mixed pride. Pride, that although there are those who would depict the Holocaust solely as a time of the victimization of the Jewish people, there were others who did everything possible to bring down the evil Nazi regime. Those people paved the way for the prospect of a country like Israel coming into existence. We owe them a great deal, and we must remember them with pride."
Colin Mandel, who together with his wife Gillian Mandel was a main sponsor of the project, spoke about its meaning for him: "This project is something that demonstrates and strengthens the relationship between Australia and Israel and perpetuates it in a way that my children and grandchildren will enjoy and feel comfortable with." Collin and his wife unveiled the commemoratory plaque of the Nahal Assaf project.
The Australian ambassador to Israel, H.E. Ms. Andrea Faulkner, talked about her general impression of JNF Australia's investment in various ecologically related projects throughout Israel: "The contribution JNF Australia makes to various projects in Israel is amazing. Everywhere I go, another project that testifies to their commitment is dedicated. I must say that I am extremely proud and pleased and want to thank you personally, and also to add that the Australian government sees this type of activity as an important element of the relationship between our two countries".
Ezra Pimental, the chairman of the Society for the Heritage of Word War I in Israel, who authored a number of books on the wars with the Turks, explained about the significance of the site in the past and also in the present: "This glorious maneuver had a profound impact on the course of the battle and on the course of the war. By capturing Beersheba, the road to Jerusalem was opened for General Allenby, along with the way to Samaria, Megido, Tiberius, and Damascus. It was also in synchronicity with the Balfour Declaration that supported a homeland for the Jews. The maneuver symbolized the ANZAC spirit. Berry Roger, the leader of the Australian Light Horse Riders, expressed this spirit in four simple words during his visit here in 2007: comradeship, perseverance, courage and sacrifice. Today, the same spirit also characterizes the Israeli military and the residents of this region who must contend with a security threat on a daily basis."
Zohar Zafon, KKL-JNF Southern Region Landscape Architect, noted that the point chosen is characterized by a number of problems related to desertification. Nahal Assaf, which is a small tributary of Nahal Habesor, also provides a one kilometer trail from which it is possible to see and learn about a number of the solutions KKL-JNF professionals have found to help them with land and water conservation in the region. "The tools we have for this struggle include storing runoff war by digging a separate channel for the water that flows parallel to the streambed, planting a forest for land stabilization, and controlled grazing that encourages certain plants and helps prevent fires."
Zohar Zafon was also responsible for the architectural design of the project. Next to the entrance to the project, whose architecture is quite unusual, he explained that when he made a preliminary trip to the region before designing the project, he was impressed by the emptiness and desolation of the site that the cavalrymen from Australia and New Zealand rested at: "Pictures of this spot from the archive show a lone man sitting under a tree next to a picnic table, and a horse drinking from the streambed. If you look at the site as it is today from a distance, it seems as if that desert desolation and emptiness still remains. The circular building is reminiscent of the watering trough that the cavalrymen needed for their horses. The trail and its shape remind one of the quiet way the water moves on the surface," he explained.
In another two weeks, the project will be completed, when a plaque detailing the various battles of the ANZAC soldiers will be installed. Ami Uliel, KKL-JNF Southern Region director, explained about what the project has to offer visitors: "When the opportunity presented itself, we recommended the project to JNF Australia, and we linked the story of the ANZAC to our forestry project. Today we are opening the project to the general public with great pride. It includes a bicycle trail, a walking path, and in the near future their will also be a road for motor vehicles that will make it possible to view this project from close up."
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