By Daphne Anson
Here’s something from the historical archives, the writer of it being a young Jewish woman named Rachel Gordon (née Shalit; 1883-1972; see also here), a future teacher of French in Rehovot who at the time lived in Rishon le Zion, founded in 1882 by chalutzim from the Tsarist Empire.
I would like to have posted it in commemoration of Anzac Day recently, but better late than never. First, some background. During World War One, Kia Ora Cooee was the official, monthly, magazine for Australian and New Zealand troops serving in Egypt, Palestine, Salonika and what was then known as Mesopotamia.
Its 15 September 1918 issue (from which this image, left, of a Digger comes) carried a grateful letter from Rachel Gordon to the Aussies who liberated Eretz Israel from the Turks.
Rachel’s letter was printed as an article entitled The New Palestine. Here it is, below in italics, with no further comment from me:
Sitting in the evening of our Fasting Day on our balcony, in the glory of our eastern moonlight, I am able to see everything that is happening in the street below. I try to collect my thoughts and remember Fasting Days that have gone and our present one. When preparing our future life we always remember the past, and that is how I feel at the present moment.
Many memories come into my mind this evening, of many Fasting Davs that have passed; but I seem to know only about the horrible events this day represents as we were taught such by our teacher in the school.
Long, long ago we had a small land, so small that it was like a fly on the globe, but quite large to contain all our people. In those days we had our kings, our judges, and our prophets, like all other nations; we had our grand Temple in which to pray to God, to bless our King and his people. In those days our people were happy.
But then came the time when the wolves that watch with hungry eyes the weak lamb came forth one day and tore it to pieces. Our Temple was burnt; our lands were looted; our people were murdered, and everything of value was taken from them. That was long, long ago. But our people still live with the remembrance of the past represented in this Fasting Day, and bright hopes for the future under our new regime.
Watching now the street below, one sees, besides her own people, British soldiers, and observes the happy way in which they all mingle together and regard each other as all of the one calling, the call of liberty and justice. I watch all the present life, thinking we must hope now, because these British men bring such hopes into our homes and cheer us up.
How long have they been here? One, two, three? Ah! yes, I remember very well, it is seven months since we were freed from the Turkish masters, and all this time the new dawn is fast approaching. Seven months is a long time, but very little, even nothing, when the birth of a new nation is at hand. But can you find anything that is too hard for the British Government ?
‘Tis very difficult to put right the mistakes which others have made, and to look after minor things whilst occupied with larger ones. But all this is, it seems, not too hard for the British Government. Hearing every day the guns, we cannot forget even for one moment that the war is not yet finished; but looking in all the ranks of life below and seeing the great change that has taken place in these few months,we can see plainly that it is the beginning of a great new life.
Returning to that period of Turkish mastery, one can hardly realise the freedom we enjov when comparing it with those years of slavery. It seems only a short while since we had to repeatedly pay that “backsheech” so often demanded from us.
And now we need not to be afraid when we see a policeman coming, because we do not have to hide everything we have of value. There was nothing the Turks did not need. Every day new orders would be issued. More “backsheech” was demanded, horses taken from us, all being required to hand over their horses without pretext.
It was impossible to hide them as the stables would be searched, and all other places where they might be hidden. At other times, cows, donkeys, carriages, bags, boxes, tins, etc., would be taken, and to protest would bring disaster on the home. Work in the gardens was done under extreme difficulties without the animals, therefore we were only able to grow a little fruit with so much suffering; and they would even then rob us of that.
But what is the difference now? In the winter when we must plough in the gardens, and we have not our own horses to work with, the British Government came to help us; they lent us horses to do the necessary work in the gardens; they brought kerosene for the pumping motors in the orange gardens.
Before, we could not do anything, because we thought that in the middle of our work they (the Turks) would come and disarrange everything. So we always found obstacles in our way. Seeing to-day the happy homes around us, it is hard to imagine the suffering they have passed through. When we proposed to build bridges, and roads for the benefit of our horses between the colonies and the large towns, the Turks would demand enormous sums of “backsheech”.
But the British Government have done all this without being asked. Everywhere new roads and railways have come into being. Under the Turkish rule all money received in gold for our fruits from other countries was taken from us and paper money given in exchange, with the large loss on our part. When the British came into our village we were able to change our money without loss and no difference was made between gold and paper.
The chief motive of the Turkish Government was to ruin us and neglect our country, while the British Government have done all in their power to help us to develop our trade and country. We are now free to bear our flag through the streets and sing our national songs, which were forbidden under the Turkish military law. A poor man can travel now from one place to another on his donkey, and not be afraid of wandering tribes. Everywhere the reign of the British Government is showing its effect on the country.
I remember when I was at school I learned that the Prophet said long ago, that in the end of the days in which the wolf lived together with the lamb, etc: Now I understand what was meant by these words, that a strong Government would come one day and overthrow the wolves and look after the weak lamb.
I am writing to vou soldier boys to try and express my feelings to-night towards you; and though your homes are many miles away, you came here and brought with you hopes for us all.
God bless you all, and my one wish is that you will return to your families so patiently waiting for you. And now victory and happiness to the British and their Allies.