A most memorable trip to Israel, 27-31 October 2004
The Junction Station: Wadi Sarar – Na’hal Soreq
Between the dates 27-31 October 2004, I made my second trip to Israel since the previous one in April 2000. My wife Maviş, who has always supported my efforts on the endless quest to research the history of Turkish aviation, joined me on this trip. This trip had a dual purpose.

First, to attend the second annual conference on World War I in the Negev (28-29 October 2004) and make a presentation at Midreshet Sde Boker, Interdisciplinary Center for Desert and Environmental Studies at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The second was to pay a special visit to the monument of the first Turkish aviators to loose their life in the line of duty, which is located at Ha’On on the east side of Lake Tiberias, just at the foot of the Golan Heights. About three years ago I had located the family members of these pilots and I arranged for them to accompany us to Israel during this trip so that they would be able to visit the sites where their great uncles had fallen. Ms. Aynur Önuçar, the second generation niece of the Turkish pilot Fethi Bey, who is the first martyr of Turkish aviation, was able to join us for the trip to Israel. Mrs. Feride Özkaldım, the second generation niece of another Turkish aviation martyr Nuri Bey, who like Fethi Bey lost his life in a crash that took place in Palestine, was also invited to join us. However, her other engagements prevented her from attending the trip.

The flight which took us from İstanbul to Tel-Aviv departed with an hours delay due to the tight security measures applied to all flights destined for Israel. In addition to our delayed arrival in Tel Aviv, the passport control on our arrival took much longer than expected and it was already dark when we arrived on the beach between Jaffa and Tel-Aviv.

The purpose of the trip to the beach was to visit the spot from which Nuri Bey made his fatal take-off on 11 March 1914, which cost him his life when he crashed very shortly after getting airborne. Dr. Dov Gavish, who had met us at the airport, gave information on how the exact spot of the event that had happened 90 years ago was discovered from a letter written at that date by one of the spectators that had watched Nuri Bey take-off from this sandy beach.

The area was surveyed, noting the landmarks that identify the location of Nuri Bey’s ill-fated take-off and the events surrounding his crash was discussed by comparing notes from various archive material. The darkness prevented us from taking any useful photos. That evening we enjoyed a dinner in Tel-Aviv, at which Dr. Yigal Sheffy from the Tel Aviv University joined us. Late in the night we arrived at the Belgium Guest House of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where we would stay for most our nights in Israel.

The next day (October 28th), after breakfast we paid a visit to home of Dr. Gavish and his lovely wife Haya. Then, the whole party traveled towards Negev in Dr. Gavish’s car. I would like to mention on a side note that during this trip in Israel we covered more than 1,000 kilometers in Dr. Gavish’s car; our many thanks to him for the safe rides we enjoyed. On our way we enjoyed the extensive knowledge of Dr. Gavish, who made us notice points of interest along the roadside related to Turkish history.

The first of our many short-road-side-stops during our trips in Israel happened at the Turkish station of Wadi Sarar (Na'hal Soreq) on the old Hejaz Railroad reaching from Jaffa to Jerusalem, known in military history books and documents as “The Junction Station”.
The old iron bridge crossing over Ofakim Wadi
At noon time we arrived at the Jewish National Fund's Gilat Nursery, where the first session of the conference was being held. We were given a warm welcome by the organizers of the conference. Here, we left some artifacts of Fethi Bey to Ms. Hannah Sivan, who had shown kind attention to all our needs even before we arrived for the conference. The artifacts were put on a temporary exhibit at the small War Museum of Midreshet Sde Boker.

After lunch, all participants in the conference formed a long convoy of vehicles for an interesting excursion to historical sites in the area. At these sites, the researchers who had specialized on these historical sites gave detailed information to the participants.

We visited the remnants of the wooden bridge on the British Railway constructed during WWI on the Besor Wadi. A section of the wooden bridge has been restored and it forms one of the points of interest in the Eshkol Park. Next we visited the old iron bridge crossing the Ofakim Wadi. Some of the rollers that support the span of the bridge on the tall columns are missing. The iron span that crosses over widely spaced columns without any supports at some points forms a very impressive sight.
The Ottoman outpost, one of the very first settlement points in the Negev
Before moving into Be’er Sheva we visited the old Ottoman outpost where one of the most interesting stories of WWI took place. The outpost was the very first settlement which the Ottomans established when they moved from the seashore into the Negev desert more than 100 years ago. It was near this outpost in the autumn of 1917 where the British intelligence officer Meinertzhagen dropped his haversack containing the documents that would deceive the German commander von Kressenstein to believe that Allenby’s next assault would be directed at Gazza instead of Be’er Sheva.
The old Beer Sheva train station on the Hejaz Railroad
Next stop was the old train station of Be’er Sheva on the Hejaz Railroad (Turkish Railway) that leads to Sinai. The station building will house the WWI Museum following an extensive restoration. The old station is located in the newly developing center of the town, surrounded by two very important historical sites.
L to R; Bülent Yılmazer, Maviş Yılmazer, Aynur Önuçar in front of the Turkish war memorial in Beer Sheva
The monument, inaugurated in 2002, to commemorate the Turkish soldiers that died here during WWI takes place on the east side of the station. I was invited by Mr. Ezra Pimentel, one of the organizers of the conference, to lay a wreath of flowers at the monument together with him.

After the ceremony, I was handed over the megaphone to say a few words to the participants. I mentioned how I had noticed with pity the lack of any Turkish war memorial in Israel during my visit four years ago. As well as pursuing the story of the forgotten monument of the Turkish aviators at Ha’On, I had also talked to the authorities in Turkey about this absence of any Turkish monument to honor those that lost their life at the Palestine Front. It was in 2002 when finally a monument to this effect was erected at Be’er Sheva, through the cooperation of the Be’er Sheva Municipality and Turkish authorities. I felt most honored with the opportunity to lay a wreath at the monument in presence of such a fine group of people. I expressed my deepest gratitude to the organizers of the conference and all the participants for their most kind hospitality.
The monument at the Beer Sheva War Cemetery
The “Beersheba War Cemetery” for the British and Anzac soldiers that lost their lives in Palestine during WWI is situated to the west side of the old station. A wreath of flowers was also laid down at the monument inside this cemetery, which was inaugurated in 1923.
A tombstone of one of the British officers buried at the Beer Sheva War Cemetery
It was interesting to notice on the grave stones that the British and Anzac soldiers who had also fought at the Gallipoli Front had lost their lives here.
L to R; Aynur Önuçar, Bülent Yılmazer, Dr. Dov Gavish during the presentation at Midreshet Sde Boker
A visit to the old Turkish railroad bridge in Be’er Sheva was the next stop on the excursion plan. However, as it was already dusk and we had to go on to Midreshet Sde Boker for dinner and the evening session of the conference. After a drive under light rain we arrived in time for the dinner. Then, we moved to the meeting hall to make our presentations.

The main topic of this year’s conference on WWI in the Negev was “The Train and Technological Innovations in the Campaign in Sinai and the Negev”. Aviation has always represented the leading edge of technology and it has even acted as the motive force in pushing forward the limits of technology since the date the Wright brothers accomplished the first powered sustained flight in December 1903. There were several presentations in the area of aviation during the conference.

On the second day of the conference, Ms. Rivka Yirmiash from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who also works with the Israel Airports Authority, presented her paper titled “Technological innovations in aviation in war in the Negev”. The other presentations in the area of aviation took place on the evening session of October 28th, which was chaired by Dr. Eyal Ginio from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In this session, the newly published book of Dr. Dov Gavish in the Hebrew language, “Man-Made Birds on Our Horizon - First Flights over Palestine 1913-1914” was introduced to the audience. Dr. Gavish had embarked on the project to research the first flights into Palestine in late 1970s with the participation of Dr. Zvi Shiloni. I have been exchanging information with Dr. Gavish on this subject since 1995. Having been introduced to his thorough knowledge on the subject, it was a great pleasure to see the cumulation of his efforts in print, even if I could not understand the language. Dr. Gavish made a presentation about the value of people's memoirs and the question of establishing chronology of events by old newspapers. Prior to Dr. Gavish, I presented my paper, “On the Path of the Forgotten Monument: Discovering the True Story of Turkish Aviation’s First Martyrs”.

The honorary guest of the conference, whose attendance was made possible through my joint efforts together with Dr. Gavish and the cooperation of the conference organizers, was Ms. Aynur Önuçar, the second generation niece of the first Turkish aviation martyr Fethi Bey.
The first Turkish aviators to lose their life in the line of duty were those that fell near Lake Tiberias (Yam Kinneret – Sea of Galilee) on 27 February 1914, while flying with great courage and self-sacrifice to complete the long distance flight from Istanbul to Alexandria for the glory of their country. In May 1914 a monument was built at the crash site of the first aviation martyrs, pilot Fethi Bey and his observer Sadık Bey. This monument which held a place of great importance in the history of Turkish aviation was forgotten and neglected for many years.
L to R; Dr. Eyal Ginio, Aynur Önuçar, Bülent Yılmazer and Mr. Ezra Pimentel during the presentation at Midreshet Sde Boker
When Yerach Paran moved to Ha’On in 1957, having an interest in the cultural background of his surroundings, he became aware of this monument. In 1992 Dr. Gavish supplied him detailed information about the monument. Then, Mr. Paran set to caretaking of the monument on his own initiative and continued to do so for many years without any outside support. The letters he wrote to the Turkish Embassy in Tel-Aviv, to get the Turkish authorities interested in this piece of their aviation heritage remained largely unanswered.
The monument at Ha’On, erected in May 1914 in memory of the first Turkish aviators to loose their life in the line of duty.
I was informed about the existence of the monument in 1995, while exchanging information with Dr. Gavish regarding the Turkish aviation activities in Palestine. Although I had informed the Historical Branch of Turkish Air Force about this monument, much to my grievance I could not get them interested. In April 2000, during my stay in Israel on the occasion of the Israeli-Turkish Military History Colloquium, I was able to visit the monument and meet Mr. Paran in person. On my return to Turkey I pursued the matter at the Turkish Air Force Command. A visit to the Chief of Department of Personnel proved very fruitful. Brigadier General Mustafa Çotuksöken showed genuine interest in my story regarding the forgotten monument. He immediately contacted the Turkish Air Attaché in Tel-Aviv and other related commanders. Thus, the monument was recognized once again as a corner stone in the proud history of Turkish aviation. In June 2000 a modest ceremony was performed in front of the monument, at which Mr. Paran received a special plaque and a letter of appreciation from the Turkish Air Force, thanking him for his generous efforts at preserving this monument.
Yerach Paran receiving the letter of appreciation and a plaque from the Turkish Air Attaché in June 2000
As much as the monument was neglected for many years, all that was written about this very important flight in the history of Turkish aviation, even those by the scholars, remained no more than “a story – a fictional narrative”. Even the scholars had not bothered to work on archive material to uncover the true account of this historic flight. Due to these false accounts, an article published in the Turkish media even went far enough to deny the martyrdom of one of the pilots that lost his life during this epic flight in 1914.

In my presentation, I mentioned about the research conducted on the Ottoman archive material available at the General Staff and Prime Ministry archives in Turkey, in an efforts to get this monument recognized by the Turkish authorities. At one point of this archive work, after a very long struggle we were able to get permission for Dr. Gavish to visit the archive of the Turkish General Staff containing Ottoman military documents. It was during my work at the archives with Dr. Gavish that we came to discover the most important documents related to the İstanbul-Alexandria flight in 1914. These were the crash investigation reports regarding the accident in which pilot Fethi Bey and his observer Sadık Bey lost their lives near Lake Tiberias.
A page from the first aircraft accident investigation report in the history of Turkish aviation.
In fact, this document was the very first aircraft accident investigation report in the history of Turkish aviation. This archive work and further exchange of information with Dr. Gavish made it possible for me to discover the fact based true story of the 1914 İstanbul-Alexandria flight.
The cover of Dr. Gavish’s book on the first flights to Palestine.
At the end of my presentation, I repeated my hopes that Dr. Gavish’s book would be translated and published in the English language in the near future so that a wider readership could enjoy the wealth of information between its covers.
Audience at the conference enjoying the “Hejaz Railroad” documentary film.
Although it had gotten late in the night, the audience stayed to watch the video of the Hejaz Railroad documentary produced by the Turkish documentary film company “Doku Film”. I had met the film procedures by sheer coincidence very shortly before departing for Israel. The producers of the film had desired to attend the conference also, but it was too late to get their visa in time. The videotape of the documentary was rushed to me at the very last moment before I left Turkey. The video was a very short English language version of their six hours long documentary film. The audience found the film highly commendable. The conference organizers thanked Mr. Mustafa Aksay and his colleagues at Doku Film for making the video available for viewing during the conference.
On morning of October 29th we watched the scenery of the Negev from the high point near the Keren Hayesod Interdisciplinary Education Center. We visited the grave site of Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, which lies next to the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute. Mr. Bezalel Cohen, the conference coordinator, presented to me the proceedings of the first annual conference about World War I in the Negev. Upon his suggestion I had our new and old friends sign the cover page of the book. We also paid one last visit to the War Museum and were guided through it by the curator Mr. Rami Haruvi. At present the eclectic collection of WWI artifacts found around the Gaza – Be'er Sheva region are on a temporary exhibit here. I hope I will be able to contribute something to the exhibition when the museum moves to its new and permanent residence at the old Hijaz Railroad station in Be’er Sheva.
One of the prominent sites in the Old Jerusalem, the “El Aqsa Mosque” to the left and the “Dome of the Rock” to the right.
Later we drove back to Jerusalem for sight seeing in this historical town. On our way we made one of those short-road-side-stops, this time at the remains of the Turkish railroad bridge near Asluj. Once at Jerusalem; on every step within the walls of old Jerusalem one comes up against a historical site. The prominent ones are easy to spot. We were most fortunate to enjoy the guidance of Dr. Gavish and his wife H during our tour of old Jerusalem. If it was not for their deep knowledge we would have most probably missed many of the not so prominent but none the less very interesting sites in and around Jerusalem.
For dinner we were joined by Mrs. Lina Fisher, a lady born in Turkey and settled in Israel after studying law in Paris! She was one of those rare people full of so much positive energy, that you feel like you are in the presence of a dear friend of many years.

On October 30th a separate and special visit was made to the monument of the first Turkish aviation martyrs at Ha’On. First we traveled to Nazareth to visit the German War Cemetery, which lies next to the “Ospedale Sacra Famiglia” (Italian Hospital of the Holy Family). Our host was Dr. Norbert Schwake M.D., who also supervises the war cemetery in addition to his duties at the hospital. He has been researching the history of the graves at the cemetery for many years and provided interesting information about the cemetery.
The main courtyard of the German War Cemetery and its bell tower at Nazareth.
The hospital, which was founded by the brothers from the Saint Giovanni Convent in 1882, was used as a field hospital by the German Forces fighting in Palestine as the ally of Ottoman Empire during WWI. In 1934 the plot of land next to the monk’s burial ground near the hospital was donated as the war cemetery for the German soldiers that lost their lives in the region. Money was raised by popular donations and after completion of the construction work the dedication ceremony was held in June 1935.
The happiness of new friendship forged in the office of Dr. Dalya Schwake. L to R: Maviş Yılmazer, Dr. Dalya Schwake, Aynur Önuçar, Dr. Norbert Schwake, Bülent Yılmazer, Dr. Dov Gavish
During our tour of the German War Cemetery we were accompanied by occasional light rain showers. But getting a little wet did not deter us from a most complete tour of the cemetery and the bell tower. A Turkish proverb says “the kind memory of a cup of coffee is worth 40 years”. The friendship forged by the coffee served at the office of Dr. Schwake’s wife, Dr. Dalya Schwake, will surely last for more than 40 years.
The graves of the Turkish aviation’s first martyrs, next to the tomb of Saladin in Damascus.
On the road from Nazareth to Lake Tiberias, we passed by Qarne Hittin, where Salah Ad-din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub (westernized to "Saladin"), defeated the Crusaders in 1187 (westernized to “Battle of Hattin”). Our passage through this historical site together with the niece of the first Turkish aviation martyr Fethi Bey was made more memorable by the coincidence that the first Turkish aviation martyrs lay next to the tomb of Saladin in the courtyard of Emeviyye Mosque (westernized to “Omayyad Mosque”) in Damascus.
The buildings at which the officers of FA 300 settled at Deganya.
On the south tip of Lake Tiberias we passed through the landing grounds of the German aviation unit “Fliegerabteilung 300 – Pasha” which was deployed here near the town of Samakh in December 1917. A short visit was paid to Jewish community of Deganya, which was dominated by the staff of the German air unit that settled here at the end of 1917.
The Samakh train station on the old Hejaz Railroad.
Traveling towards north on the east bank of Lake Tiberias our last stop before the monument was the Samakh train station on the old Hejaz Railroad. In February 1914 the bodies of the first Turkish aviation martyrs were loaded on a special train at this station and transported to Damascus, which was the capital of the Syrian Province of the Ottoman Empire in those days.

During WWI the Samakh Station was an important transportation hub on the branch of Hejaz Railroad leading down from Damascus and separating to east at Deraa to reach Haifa on the Mediterranean shore. Today, the station is in the most deplorable state. We hope the authorities will take the initiative to preserve this historically important site.
New and old friends in front of the Turkish pilot’s monument. L to R: Bülent Yılmazer, Aynur Önuçar, Dr. Norbert Schwake, Yael Paran, Dr. Dov Gavish, Maviş Yılmazer, Yerach Paran)
Mr. Yerach Paran, who was guiding a tour in Tel Aviv, joined us at Samakh Station. The meeting of the person who had taken care of the monument dedicated to the first Turkish aviation martyrs and the niece of the first Turkish aviation martyr Fethi Bey was a moment full of emotions. The emotions were most intense on our arrival at the location of the monument that was erected in May 1914 to commemorate the first martyrs of Turkish aviation. The first visit of a family member of one of the martyrs, 90 years after he lost his life at this site while flying for the glory of his country and honor of his countrymen, was made possible by our joint efforts with Dr. Gavish.
The surroundings of the monument had improved greatly since my previous visit four years ago. Mr. Paran had personally chosen and planted the red and white Beugainvillea flowers that decorate the place because they represent the colors of the Turkish flag. We bowed in silence in memory of the all aviators that lost their lives in the line of duty. After many photos and a recite of the epic flight by the Turkish aviators, we enjoyed the tea and cakes served by Mrs. Yael Paran in their house. Looking over the photos in Mr. Paran’s album, the long journey on the path of the forgotten monument which led to the rediscovery of the true story of one of the first flights over Palestine was recalled once again.

Early Sunday morning, on October 31st, we arrived at Tel-Aviv airport for our flight back to Turkey. The presence of Dr. Gavish and Ms. Yirmiash, who had taken the time to see us off, made it possible for us to pass through the security interrogation without too much hassle. We were back home after a flight in very clear weather, which provide the opportunity to observe the shores of Israel, Cyprus and Turkey and the Turkish territory below our path throughout the flight.

During this most memorable trip in Israel, we greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see old friends again and established new friendships. For me it was a second trip to lands that interest me so much because of its rich historical connection with Turkish aviation. This time I was well armed with knowledge in advance, to enjoy better the places we visited. For my wife Maviş, her first time in Israel, it was an opportunity for her to get a first hand impression of the lands for which she always had mixed feelings. The warm hospitality of our old and new friends in Israel dispelled any worries she had because of the unease in the region. She left the country with the fondest feelings. For Ms. Aynur Önuçar it was an unforgettable pilgrimage. She has cherished every moment of her trip through the sites at which her great uncle had lost his life in the line of duty ninety years ago. Our collective wish is everlasting peace among the people’s of the Middle-East who share a heritage in the common history of these lands.

Our kindest personal regards to everyone who made this trip most memorable …

Bülent Yılmazer