Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sacred hills: Masada and Gallipoli

Anzac Day. I've often been moved by the fact that, behind the sense of national identity of both Israel and Australia, there are sacred hills submerged in morbidity: Masada and Gallipoli.

At Masada, there's a contrast between the majesty of Herod’s fortress and the grim circumstances of the collective suicide of the zealots when they learned that their resistance to the Romans was doomed. Today, a visitor at Masada might imagine a magnificent white stone palace under the dense blue sky, like the Acropolis in Athens: a place where people would come to celebrate life, not to die. But places are built for one purpose and then used for another. For Jews, the symbol of Masada is, not the plowshare, but the sword. The zealots thought they had God on their side, but they were victims who ended up having to kill one another, transforming Masada into a death camp. Today, when Israeli jets fly over Masada, they dip their wings in respect. If Australian jets were to fly over Gallipoli, they would no doubt behave similarly, for it is our national shrine.

A few days ago, French TV aired the famous recently-found 45 seconds of moving Gallipoli images (moving in many senses), believed to have been shot by the American war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett [1881-1931]. I grabbed my camera and took the following still shot on my home TV, since I don't know whether these moving images are available on the web.

Australian soldiers are waiting there on the beach in a terrible tightly-packed macabre throng, ready to be blown to death. An observer, today, is reminded of later images of crowds of condemned Jews disembarking from death trains at Auschwitz.

[Click here to listen to Eric Bogle singing The band played Waltzing Matilda.]

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