Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

I missed ANZAC day

I Missed ANZAC Day

This is the first year since for a long time that I have not observed ANZAC Day. It was on Shabbat. I missed it.

ANZAC Day is April 25th. It is the day that Australians and New Zealanders honour those who fought on behalf of their countries, to defend their values. It is a day of commemoration for those who lost their lives and a day of celebration for those who returned alive.

Usually in Israel, there are a number of ceremonies for Australian expats to mark ANZAC Day. This year, the ceremonies were all cancelled. In Australia, too, the marches and large dawn ceremonies were all cancelled. Instead, people stood at their own front doors and the Last Post was sounded out by lone buglers on balconies and in back gardens.

Australia’s wars are nothing like Israel’s. All of Australia’s wars have been overseas: it could be said that we fought other people’s wars; but we made them our own.

The choice of date for ANZAC Day says a lot about Australia. April 25th was not a day of a huge victory or of liberation. It was a day of a terrible defeat: the date that the Turkish forces at Gallipoli in 1915 inflicted a dreadful toll on the forces of the British Empire, of which Australia and New Zealand were a part, who were invading. The invasion was a farce, poorly planned and awfully executed. But the ordinary soldiers were remarkably brave.

The pride of the Australian Jewish community is Sir John Monash, who took part in Gallipoli and went on to become one of Australia’s military heroes – indeed, he is accredited as being the only Jew outside Israel to command an army. Leonard Maurice Keysor became Australia’s first Jewish Victoria Cross winner at Gallipoli. There is a strong Israeli connection. The Zion Mule Corps was engaged in the ensuing battles. Thirteen lost their lives.

As a child, I remember seeing some of the original ANZACS marching proudly with their medals. Gradually, their children and then their grandchildren took their places in the parades. And their ranks were swelled by other veterans – of World War Two, of Korea, of Vietnam and then of Iraq.

What we remember about the ANZACS was their idealism and optimism – and their naivety. What we admire about Australia’s soldiers in subsequent wars is that they went DESPITE the legacy of the ANZACS.

This is not to say that there were not periods of national doubt. In the 1970s, there was a serious question as to whether the population really wanted ANZAC Day to be the key date in the nation’s civil calendar. There was a great deal of soul-searching about war and about honouring those who make war or participate in war. Vietnam was terribly unpopular and Vietnam veterans suffered in public opinion and treatment similarly to the American experience. Some refused to march in the early years of their deployment, not wanting to remember and not wanting to be remembered. But they have been rehabilitated and welcomed into the ranks of other military heroes.

Australians, myself among them, have come to appreciate that the soldiers themselves were not the war-makers. At worst, they were themselves victims of war and at best, upholders of the Australian way of life that was threatened from afar by anti-democratic or tyrannical armies. Sometimes, they fought simply to defend others, knowing that the threat was not at Australia’s doorstep. In other cases, they were convinced that there was a real danger to the continent itself.

Although I maintain the mixed feelings from my teenage years – I do not want to glorify war and certainly believe that Australia has been dragged into conflicts that were questionable in their morality – I recognise the heroism of those who fought. I am able to make the difference between the politicians who might make a bad decision to go to war and the soldier who carries out his instructions in good faith. If I want to be outraged at injustices perpetrated by Australia, it should not be directed against our soldiers, who deserve our gratitude and respect. The time and place for questioning is not ANZAC Day.

Having both a husband and son who have served this country  – my husband in the Air-Force and my son in a tank division – has gone a long way towards restoring my respect for soldiers. My husband went into the army along with all his peers. There was never any question about it. My son could have stayed in Australia and avoided being drafted at all but his sense of duty brought him here. It is highly doubtful whether there would be any circumstance that would have made him a soldier in the Australian army; there was nothing that could have stopped him signing up here.

My principled, moral husband and son both could have chosen non-combat roles but instead they chose how and for how long to serve in combat units of the IDF and did so with dignity and humanity. Both my husband and son would have preferred not to have to fight. Both found themselves in real combat. Both knew with certainty that fighting was the moral alternative, while continuing to believe in peace.

Tonight, on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and victims of terrorism, I feel strongly that it is not for me to judge if any particular war or military action was a good idea. It is my job to remember and to honour. I share the sadness of the many lives lost and count my blessings that my immediate family are not among them.

Like most Israelis, tonight we watched the ceremony at the kotel on television. We listened to the instructions and went to our balcony to sing Hatikvah, the national anthem. Then, I watched the ceremony for Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families and their rally (virtual, this year) for peace.

I cried many times. I cried because of the losses and for the bereaved families. I cried because of the beauty of the words spoken and the songs that accompanied the ceremonies.

I cried because it is so much more complicated living here than anywhere else.

I am sad to have missed ANZAC Day. There, it is just a matter of respect.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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