A Memorial View

>> Memorial and Forest ANZAC, nearby Be'eri

Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) participated in the failed attack on Ottoman-held Gaza in February 1917. In the 1960s, delegates of the Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL) in Australia initiated the grand-scale commemorative project in Israel to honor ANZAC’s contribution to the imperial war effort in British Mandate Palestine in the two Worlds Wars: The ANZAC Memorial and Forest near the border with the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. The Australian Prime Minister Harold Hot sponsored the commemorative project that the JNF-Australia financed. The memorial site was dedicated on April 24th, 1968, a day before ANZAC Day.​

By: Prof. Ma'oz Azaryahu, head of the Herzl Institute for the Studies of Zionism at the University of Haifa.​

The ANZAC Memorial (PHG\1076154)

The ANZAC Memorial (PHG\1076154)

The commemoration of ANZAC is ingrained in the national memory of Australia and New Zealand. The ANZAC-mounted division participated in the battle for Gaza in March 1917, which ended in failure. In October 1917, ANZAC forces participated in the conquest of Beer Sheba. In March 1961, delegates of The Jewish National Fund of Israel in Sydney, Australia, suggested erecting a memorial site in Israel comprising a forest and a monument near the border to the Gaza Strip to commemorate the ANZAC forces that fought in British Mandate Palestine during the two World Wars. This memorial was supposed to supplant the monument in Port Said, destroyed by the Egyptians in the wake of the 1956 war.

Planting trees, groves, and forests as a Zionist commemorative practice began at the beginning of the 20th century. Alongside trees planted in memory of individuals, entire forests were planted to commemorate notable leaders, e.g., Herzl Forest, Balfour Forest, the Defender’s Forest (Yaar HaMeginim), and the Martyrs’ Forest (Yaar HaKdoshim). The planting of these commemorative forests served as a way to combine afforestation, memorialization, and fundraising. At the beginning of 1962, it was suggested that the ANZAC troops be commemorated through an "ANZAC Memorial and Forest" as a large-scale project. The location was to be next to a hill near Kibbutz Be'eri, which oversees the city of Gaza and the Mediterranean and is positioned south of the Ali-Muntar Hill that the ANZAC forces attacked in March 1917. The memorial site was to be erected south of Simchoni Forest, which was planted in 1958 near Kibbutz Kfar Aza in memory of Major General Asaf Simchoni and the fallen soldiers of the 1956 campaign. Kibbutz Nahal Oz unsuccessfully petitioned against the proposed plan to plant a forest there, arguing that the location would impede the development of sheep or cattle husbandry in the Kibbutz.


Correspondence regarding the first plans to plant the ANZAC Forest, 1962 (KKL5\25946)

"On a beautiful hill overlooking Gaza" - correspondence regarding the first plans to plant the ANZAC Forest, 1962 (KKL5\25946)

A map of the ANZAC Memorial Forest area near the Gaza Strip border

A map of the ANZAC Memorial Forest area near the Gaza Strip border, including the Israeli settlements in the area, the 1960s (KL20M\476\5)

The architect Yedidia Eisenstadt, who designed many watch towers in JNF forests, planned the memorial. The memorial combines a watch tower and a memorial structure in the shape of the letter A, the initial letter of the word ANZAC. At the northern part of the memorial, there is a vantage point shaped like a torch, offering a view of the surroundings. With its evident Australian connection, the Eucalyptus Forest was meant to sprawl from west and south of the Kibbutz and reach the Gaza Strip border, then under Egypt's control. The plan was sent to Sydney and approved in 1965.

A plan for a memorial including an observation tower (KL20M\484\3)

A plan for a memorial including an observation tower, from a perspective view (KL20M\484\3)

The erection of the ANZAC Memorial and Forest kicked into high gear at the end of 1966. The JNF (KKL) in Australia hoped this memorial project would promote the prestige of the foundation. In December of that year, Harold Holt, then Prime Minister of Australia, decided to sponsor the project in Israel. Shortly after Harold Holt passed away, a decision was made to plant a grove in his memory at the ANZAC Forest. In February 1967, a press release in Australia heralded the beginning of fundraising for a project that involved planting 100,000 eucalyptus trees in an area of 2500 acres. The JNF expected to raise $200,000: $2 per tree.

A letter of gratitude by Harrold Holt, Australian PM, March 1967 (KKL5.29729)

A letter of gratitude by Harrold Holt, Australian PM, to Levy Eshkol, Israel's PM, for erecting ANZAC Memorial and forest, March 1967 (KKL5.29729)

The dedication ceremony was supposed to take place in May 1967, and the site's inauguration was planned for April 1968, a day before ANZAC Day. However, fundraising in Australia was delayed, and the dedication ceremony was canceled in lieu of the tense situation in Israel. This was the period immediately before the Six-Day War, and the Israeli Army ordered the cancellation of the event due to the vicinity of the site to the Gaza border.

  ANZAC Memorial – an invitation to the dedication ceremony (KKL5\30839)​

    ANZAC Memorial – an invitation to the dedication ceremony (KKL5\30839)

An invitation to the ANZAC Memorial dedication ceremony (KKL5\29729)

An invitation to the ANZAC Memorial dedication ceremony, “south of the Gaza Strip”, (KKL5\29729) planned for May 1967 but was postponed due to security considerations.

The memorial site was eventually inaugurated on April 24th, 1968. It was raining that morning, and the guests were waiting in Kibbutz Be’eri. The rain stopped at noon, and the ceremony was held despite the mud. It was attended by delegations from Australia and New Zealand and by JNF officials. The Israeli government was represented by Yosef Sapir, minister without portfolio. Dignitaries from the surrounding towns and kibbutzim were also invited. Remarkably, even before its official inauguration, the site had become a place of pilgrimage for ANZAC veterans who came to visit the battlefields and the Commonwealth military cemeteries in Israel.​

By the 1970s, the ANZAC Forest had been integrated into the area known today as Be'eri Forest. Historical markers were erected at the site, telling the story of ANZAC and its legacy in this area. The Be'eri Forest is famously known for its carpets of red anemones that grow in winter and have become a popular destination for hikers and cyclists. The red anemones remind one of the poppy, the memorial flower prominently featured on 11th November, the memorial day for the fallen of the British Empire.

 After the Six-Day War, it seemed as though the border was erased, but not the hostility. In July 1969, a bomb exploded in the ANZAC Memorial. As a result, two JNF employees were injured, and the structure was damaged. After Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Be'eri Forest was in the area now known as the "Gaza Envelope". JNF's forests nearby were set on fire by incendiary kites and balloons sent by Palestinians. On September 23rd, 2023, an incendiary balloon ignited a fire within Be'eri Forest. Two weeks later, the forest became the center of a much larger catastrophe.

 Published on 5.5.2024