Australian governor general to arrive for first visit by head of state Sunday

Jeffrey's visit will include meetings with Peres, Olmert, Livni and Netanyahu.

Kevin Rudd 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kevin Rudd 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Australian Governor General Maj.-Gen. Michael Jeffery is due to arrive in Israel today, Sunday, for a week-long visit. He is the first Australian head of state to include Israel in his travel itinerary, although two Israeli heads of state, Presidents Chaim Herzog and Moshe Katsav, have visited Australia. Sir Zelman Cowan, one of two Jewish Australian governors general, did not visit Israel during his five-year term from 1977-1982, although he does have a strong link with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sir Isaac Isaacs was governor general long before the state of Israel came into being and died three months prior to its creation. Historically, Australia and Israel have had a very good relationship, although there have been a few glitches along the way. One involved a suspected Mossad agent inside the Israel embassy in Canberra. Another was an unfortunate remark by an Israel ambassador who was subsequently recalled, and there remains Australia's refusal to give El Al landing rights while armed security personnel are on board. However, relations between Israel and Australia are at a level that enabled the recent passing of a bipartisan motion in parliament congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Israel a "robust democracy" and said it represented a cause for hope. While one of the highlights of Jeffrey's visit will be the dedication of the Park of the Australian Soldier in Beersheba and the unveiling of the life-size Australian Light Horse Memorial sculpted by Peter Corlett, the visit is definitely one of state, Australian Ambassador James Larsen told The Jerusalem Post. "He's looking forward to it very much, because it will show the real strength of bilateral relations between the state of Israel and Australia." Larsen added that Jeffrey's visit will include meetings with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. In addition, Jeffrey is scheduled to visit Yad Vashem and attend the official Holocaust memorial ceremony there. He will also make a point of going to the Weizmann Institute and the Volcani Institute to speak to scientists about technology, agriculture, dry land farming and water conservation, in which he is extremely interested, and the Bachan Water Reclamation Facility in Emek Hefer, near Netanya, which is an Australian Jewish National Fund project. Australia, which suffers from drought, is very interested in Israel's water technologies and water-saving devices, which accounts for the enormous success of Netafim drip irrigation Down Under. Australia played a pivotal role in the establishment of the state of Israel and its admission to the United Nations. Australian statesman Herbert Vere Evatt, as chairman of the United Nations ad hoc committee on then-Palestine, influenced the passing of the resolution on the partition of Palestine, with Australia's being the first "yes" vote. Given Jeffrey's extensive military background, he is ideally suited to perform the dedication ceremony in Beersheba. A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, he went into the Infantry and served in Malaya, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, where he was awarded the Military Cross and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He retired from the Army in 1993 to become Governor of Western Australia. The Park of the Australian Soldier, a project of the Pratt Foundation, which supports a wide range of projects in Israel, has two purposes. The first is to honor the soldiers of the 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment who fought so bravely against the Turks in World War I and paved the way for the subsequent conquest of Jerusalem by the British forces. The historic battle was reenacted on October 31, 2007, on the 90th anniversary of the heroic charge by the Light Horse Brigade. The park's second purpose is to provide a recreational facility for children with developmental disabilities. Modeled on lines similar to those of the recreational park created by Beit Izzie Shapiro in Ra'anana, the park contains uniquely designed equipment that caters to the children's special needs. The dedication ceremony comes three days after ANZAC Day, which marks the 93rd anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops along the hostile shore of the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. The day is commemorated annually in Israel - usually at a dawn ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem. There are 774 Australian soldiers buried in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Israel - 545 from World War I and 229 from World War II. Turkish diplomats and military personnel have participated in ANZAC Day ceremonies for many years, proving that former enemies can make peace and become friends. In fact, a tribute to the ANZACs and the soldiers of all the allied forces written by Turkish leader Kamal Attaturk, who commanded the Turkish forces at Gallipoli in 1915, is inscribed on the ANZAC memorial in Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. At Friday's ANZAC Day ceremony, Larsen recalled the courage and supreme sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand men and women "so often very young and full of promise who have died mostly far from their own homes in the service of their countries." He noted that Australian and New Zealand personnel were currently contributing to security between Israel and her neighbors by serving in UNTSO (United Nations Troop Supervision Organization) and the MFO (Multinational Forces and Observers).