Visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan to Israel and OPT

Ambassador’s Message, 24 February 2015

In the life of an Embassy a visit by a member of the Government is an important event, second only to a state visit by the President.  Visits by members of the Government are critical to maintaining bilateral relations.  They signal that the relationship matters and they provide direction and energy into the portfolio for which the Minister is responsible.  There is an added significance when it comes to visits of the Minister for Foreign Affairs given his or her preeminent role in diplomatic relations.

We at the Embassy were delighted then to host the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., on his first official visit to Israel last week.  He and his delegation of officials from Headquarters had just come from Lebanon where the Minister had visited our troops serving with UNIFIL in south Lebanon.  In Israel, he had a substantive exchange of views with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, toured Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in the Memorial Hall there, visited Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva (employing over 400 in Ireland), discussed current issues with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog and met with key contacts of the Embassy at a reception at the Residence.

The Minister’s programme also included a visit to the OPT organized by our colleagues in the Representative Office Ramallah.  The Minister met with President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah, laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, and toured Bethlehem and other sites in the West Bank.

The Minister and party visited Gaza to see conditions there and meet with officials of UNRWA and UN OCHA who are providing vital services and humanitarian relief.  It was certainly sobering for the delegation to see how little progress had been made in reconstruction.  The Minister’s main impression was the hopelessness of the people, something that needs to be addressed he felt by political dialogue within Gaza and by unblocking the flow of goods into and out of Gaza so the economy can start to grow.  The party also visited a Moshav outside Gaza to hear views and stories from its perspective of life lived with the threat of rockets and tunnels.

The Jordanian part of the visit regrettably had to be cancelled because of the snowstorm and related travel difficulties so the Minister did not have the chance to meet contacts there and visit Syrian refugee camps.  Departing instead from Ben Gurion we ran into Quartet Representative Tony Blair which allowed for the Minister and Mr. Blair to exchange notes on the crisis in Gaza and on the prospects for the MEPP.

These were the highlights of a visit that was workman-like, balanced and focused on key issues.  Along the way were a range of meetings and encounters with officials and others who gave insights and analyses into the situation here that are critical to fully understanding the complex dynamics and powerful forces at work.  As the programme rolled along, it was also really productive to spend time with the new Secretary General at the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Niall Burgess, and colleagues from Headquarters working on the Middle East, examining ways in which we can best use our resources in this area.

A personal highlight for Mary and me was the reception for the Minister at the Residence in Tel Aviv where he had the chance to meet our contacts from business, culture, peace building and from the Irish community.  A special thanks to Mary and David Lee from the Embassy for all their hard work on the visit: I would also like to pay tribute to the officials from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs whose professionalism and courtesy made everything run smoothly, especially when dealing with the usual feature of every visit – the unexpected!

The Minister’s interview with the Irish Times on his visit is here

You can find some photos and links from the Minister’s visit on the Embassy’s website at

Best wishes,


Eamonn McKee


Tel Aviv

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News from Ireland as Spring Beckons, Ambassador’s Message, 11th February 2015

My colleagues and I in the Irish diplomatic service are the swallows of St Patrick’s Day, necessarily planning ahead for the celebration of our National Day.  I thought this article in the New York Times was a delightful preview of the coverage of Ireland that comes with March 17th.  Initially I feared that it would be twee reportage of quaint rural Ireland with twinkly-eyed natives.  In fact it captures the new and old Ireland, the impact of social media in rural matchmaking, the accommodation of gay rights and reflections on an Ireland where “lol” can still mean “lots of land” when it comes to finding a romantic partner:

It seems apt too to remark at this time of year that there is a spring to the Irish economy.  The European Commission is predicting 3.5% GDP growth in Ireland in 2015, possibly the strongest in the EU.  Since 2012, an extra 80,000 people are at work and unemployment has fallen from 15.1% to 10.6%.

This is some achievement against a background of austerity at home and either sluggish growth or real deflation across the EU, our largest trading partner: press report here

The government has set a new target of full employment by 2018. Measures in place include regional enterprise strategies with competitive funding initiatives of up to €25million; a new SURE tax incentive for start-ups; a National Talent Drive, including a 60% increase in the number of ICT graduates by 2018; Enterprise Ireland to support exports by Irish companies, expected to hit a record €19 billion during 2015.

What unites these initiatives is that they are all focused on the real economy.  Ireland has progressed far in sorting out our banks, though at a heavy price to our taxpayers.  We have also taken steps to ensure that banks are there to serve the economy, not the other way around.  The focus on the real economy – jobs, exports, innovation, and productivity – is the only way to generate sustained growth which is turn is the only way to lower debt-GDP ratios and keep the national finances on track.

One hundred year commemorations are now fully in train, though 1915 in Ireland was a quiet year compared to what had happened just prior with the passage of the Home Rule Act in 1912 and the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914.  One major event however happened just off the coast of Ireland: a commemoration on 1 February last in Cobh, Co Cork remembered the sinking of the Lusitania one hundred years ago by a German U-Boat, killing 1,198 on board:

Yeats 2015 ( is a celebration of our greatest national poet.  This Op Ed by Adrian Paterson (University College Galway) from the Irish Times captures his greatness and significance  As Paterson writes: “However we think of Yeats, poetic achievement must be at the heart of any commemoration. But Yeats was more than a poet. He was a cultural revolutionary who became a cultural entrepreneur. He began things, co-founding the Abbey Theatre, the Irish Literary Society and, with his talented family, the Cuala Press, producing designs and books from a single hand-press in Dublin.”

The writing tradition remains as vibrant as ever in Ireland.  At a reception on Thursday, 29 January Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, announced that the Arts Council has selected Anne Enright as the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction (www. )  She will hold the post for three years.

Irish literature has extended our cultural reach across the generations and the globe.  Irish diplomats are acutely aware of this rich dimension and it is a source of great pride to us when serving abroad.  A key element in our outreach has been the partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ireland Literature Exchange which has been going on now for twenty-one years.  The Irish Literary Exchange promotes the translation of Irish works through grants, bursaries and outreach ( ).

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan marked this collaboration with a reception at Iveagh House where he noted that “From small beginnings in 1994, the organisation’s output has grown from a modest 12 works of Irish literature in its first year of activity to an impressive current total of 1,650 books in 55 languages.” (link here ).

Our newly minted Laureate Anne Enright attended the event and wrote about Irish writing in translation in this wonderfully meditative piece here  As she concluded “I think it is good for Irish readers to have a group of writers who come home to them with the smell of fresh air still trapped in their coats, who write for the whole world, starting here.”

Best wishes,


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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Remembering the Holocaust: Ambassador’s Message, 6 February 2015

Though it’s freezing in Ireland at the moment, the delightful weather here in Tel Aviv tells us that spring is not far off.  Even in Ireland the days are getting longer and the cold snap is really winter’s reluctant goodbye. 

In Israel, spring is preceded by remembrance of the Holocaust.  In the slight chill of January here, it seems appropriate that we remember those lost and indeed those who survived the Shoah.  If you check out our new Embassy website ( you’ll find my tweets and links to a number of interesting articles on the Holocaust.  Here is the link to the story of how an Irish documentary led to the arrest of a former Nazi guard stationed at Bergen-Belsen and Gross-Rosen Concentration Camps:

On International Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January, Irish Ambassadors around the world attended commemorative events.  Our Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan attended the commemoration in Auschwitz, the brutal cold a faint hint of what it must have been like there in winter for the starving and ill-clad victims of Nazi cruelty and genocide: coverage here

Here in Israel I attended a morning event held at the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies in Natanya, north of Tel Aviv.  The speakers included Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein and HE Ms Vivian Bercovici, Ambassador of Canada.  As the generation of survivors dwindles now and in the years ahead, the theme was the second generation of Holocaust survivors.  Ambassador Bercovici for example is one such and she gave a moving and powerful speech about her perceptions since childhood of the Holocaust; the lack of relatives, family mementos, the knowledge of a terrible event in the recent past that had resulted in her being raised in Canada.  The event concluded with guests laying a white rose in and around the standing stones in the memorial hall.  Music was provided by the young and evocative Moran Choir.

The evening event was held at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.  Speakers included Prime Minister Netanyahu, Thomas Geve, Buchenwald survivor, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the MEPP, and Dr Iael Nidam-Orvieto, Director, International Institute for Holocaust Research.  We began at an exhibition: “The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-47”.   Mr Geve reflected with direct and simple charm on his memories, at times resisting the curator’s opinion that his art was important.  His strongest memories were the arrival of the Americans, which he thought of as friends not soldiers and his wonder at seeing ordinary civilian life when he left the camp.

We then moved to the Yad Vashem Synagogue where Dr Nidam-Orvieto spoke eloquently of the research she has undertaken on the letters of survivors.  During their time in the camps, the survivors focused solely on staying alive, repressing their emotional response, she said.  After the war, the survivors had to face the emotional impact of what they had endured, aswell as the loss of family.  Over time, however, the word ‘happiness’ creeps into their letters, a metric she thought of their eventual adjustment to their delivery and the life they could now expect to live.

So even as we recalled the unfathomable crime of the Holocaust, we could acknowledge that the survivors were more than survivors, that they embraced life again, even if it was life lived with great loss and sorrow.  And it was that embrace of life that revived them, gave them the energy to start new lives around the world, most symbolically in Israel where they found a refuge and place where it is never quite winter.

Shabbat Shalom,


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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Of Christmas Truces and Peace Deals: Ambassador’s Message, 31 December 2014

On the brink of Christmas, peace building in Northern Ireland received a major boost with agreement between the parties on how to resolve outstanding issues on the budget, parades and dealing with the past. Minister Flanagan and his team worked hard with the parties and their British counterparts to bring this about.

As the Minister said, “On one of the darkest days in the bleak mid-winter we have forged a broad agreement that will undoubtedly give rise to brighter days in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland.”

After twenty-six hours of continuous negotiations, the Irish Times summarized the deal thus:


Key proposals include:

  • The creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to inquire into killings during the Troubles;
  • A commission to enable people to privately learn how their loved ones were killed;
  • The creation of an oral history archive where experiences of the conflict could be shared;
  • A commission to report on flags within 18 months of being established;
  • Devolving responsibility for parades from the Parades Commission to the Northern Assembly;
  • Slimming the size of the Northern Assembly from 108 to 90 members by the time of the 2021 Assembly elections;
  • Reducing the number of Executive departments from 12 to 9 by the time of the 2016 Assembly elections;
  • The potential to create a formal opposition at Stormont.

This deal builds on a succession of negotiations and benchmark agreements, for a peace process is a living system of adjustments as conflict and mistrust is gradually replaced by concord and cooperation. The origins of this very dynamic diplomacy can be traced back to the early 1980s. The private story is being revealed thanks to the release of British and Irish archives under the thirty-year rule. Arguably it begins with the relationship between Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

What the record shows of their relationship is explored here; …

This was of course about more than personalities. It was in effect a strategic shift whereby Dublin and London began, tenuously but necessarily, to find common ground in trying to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland. President Reagan, leveraging his own relationship with PM Thatcher, gave an important impetus to the negotiations in nudging her forward. After a decade of violence, Britain and Ireland now embarked on more or less continuous negotiations that led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the ceasefires in 1994, the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and each successive agreement, down to the Christmas deal this year.

The first great diplomatic breakthrough was the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, negotiated by Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, his government and senior officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs. It was a major achievement: In forging a structured and agenda-driven relationship between London and Dublin which began to tackle many of the underlying causes of the conflict, the AIA laid the essential groundwork for the peace process and the1998 Good Friday Agreement. The archival material from both Irish and British sources being released under the thirty-year rule makes for fascinating reading; examples of the coverage are here: … …

For more coverage, go the ‘State Papers’ section of the Irish Times here;

Of course the roots of the conflict go back deep into British and Irish history. Looking back just one hundred years, against the backdrop of the Home Rule Act, the European war offered for unionists an opportunity to prove they were vital to Britain just as nationalists saw it as an opportunity to prove that they deserved a state of their own. There was too a more widespread notion abroad, tragically innocent, that the European war would be a short, even romantic opportunity for beleaguered manhood, displaced by machines and sensing the assertion of women to rights and equality, to reassert martial prowess. Ironically, the war would prove the destructive capacity of machines to kill vast numbers of even the most heroic of men while women were called upon to do man’s work at home, boosting their confidence and their claims.

These developments lay in the future as soldiers settled down for their first Christmas in the trenches. That Christmas one hundred years ago saw the famous truce between troops in the British and German armies facing each other along the Western Front. To mark its anniversary, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese gave a lecture at Iveagh House, the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Against the background of her own pioneering peace building efforts as President, she explores the truce’s meaning, particularly for Irishmen serving with the British Army, and its implications for peace building in Ireland.

You can read her speech, thoughtful and significant, here; …

For Ireland, expectations that the war would be a proving ground for both traditions were doubly trumped; by a war far removed from heroic expectations, one that became in fact a gross caesura with all that had gone before; and by the Easter Rising in 1916.

Thanks to the 2014 Christmas Deal, the Northern Ireland peace process moves forward. As we look back one hundred years, and thirty years and now with this latest achievement, we can be reassured that our complex dialogue with our shared past continues to be a positive one for the present and the future as we encounter the coming anniversaries and commemorations.

On a more festive note, and perhaps because I am not a big New Year reveler, I found traditional Irish wariness about the New Year appealing. I enjoyed this charming piece from the Irish Times on Irish New Year traditions here;

Every best wish to you and yours for 2015.


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

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Season’s Greetings, Ambassador’s Message 17 December 2014

The Israel Ireland Friendship League hosted its annual Hannukkah lighting yesterday evening in the Shamrock Bar, Netanyah. Thanks to the Chairman of the League, the indefatigable Malcolm Gafson, for organizing the event. It’s great to meet our Irish Jewish community and hear their stories, often of childhood in Dublin and making Aliya here and raising their families.

In my remarks, I recalled that Hannukkah’s roots lie in the great victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek army that had destroyed the Temple and tried to wipe out Judaism. And that it was the recovery of this martial prowess after two thousand years by the Jewish Legion under Longfordman Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson during WWI that laid a critical foundation stone for the creation of modern Israel.

In the audience last night was the daughter of Michael Flanagan, an Irishman in the British Army who “donated” a clutch of British tanks to the Haganah at the end of WWII, thus establishing the IDF’s first armoured unit.

Another story I shared came courtesy of Murray Greenfield who I met at the recent Jerusalem Post Conference: An Irishman, Hugh McDonald, left his legal studies at Harvard to volunteer on the vessel Hatikva in 1947, part of a clandestine fleet determined to break the British blockade and deliver Shoah survivors to Palestine. Hugh painted a Shamrock under the Magen David on one of Hatikva’s funnels. (Murray, with Joseph M. Hochstein, wrote the history of this endeavor in The Jews’ Secret Fleet, Gefen Publishing House.)

Maerton Davis and his wife Beth, stalwarts too of the Friendship League, kindly gave me a monograph of the story of his family (originally Davidowitsch) and that of the Kisners, from their Shtetl in Latvia to Dublin. This is a great way to preserve oral family histories. (From Dankere to Dublin by Beatrice Sofaer-Bennett.)

Other stories have inevitably been lost but we can recover many. If you are aware of any, please let me know.

Coming as a diplomat to Israel, I was promised an interesting time. As the year winds down for us, I can look back on a talks’ process, its climax and collapse, a war and the calling of a general election. It will be fascinating to observe this election, even now as the parties here morph and evolve before our eyes, quite a contrast to the fixity of parties in Ireland since our own independence.

Back in Ireland, we continue to make economic progress, after many years of tough decisions and impositions on our public. In the end, early exits from the bailout and the confirmation of our financial reputation are invaluable: in the short run by lowering our bond yields and helping to ease the burden of servicing the national debt; and in the longer run by encouraging economic confidence and inward investment. Growth rates in Ireland are ahead of the Eurozone average, domestic demand has ticked up but real progress will depend greatly on renewed growth and demand in Europe.

Finally, I want to say goodbye to the Deputy Head of Mission and great colleague Julian Clare and his wife Siobhan. They arrived with Mary and me and they have been a pleasure to work with and to get to know over the past year and a half. They and their lovely family of three daughters are heading back to Ireland thanks to Julian’s promotion. Thanks for everything and the very best of luck.

I am heading back to Ireland myself to spend Christmas there with my family. Tel Aviv really doesn’t do Christmas so I expect to be hit by a Yuletide avalanche on arrival in Dublin of lights, decorations and carol singing, not to mention the odd hot toddy to ward off the cold. We in Ireland take our Christmas fun and festivities very seriously!

Happy Hannukkah, merry Christmas and have a great New Year.


Eamonn McKee


Tel Aviv

PS Our new website is being rolled and while it is not fully complete yet, you can follow my twitter account there, including for example a photo of the shamrock on the Hatikva, courtesy of Murray. Website here


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Col. Patterson Rests Now in Israel

This morning I attended the ceremonious re-interment of Col. John Henry Patterson and his wife Frances.  The event was the culmination of efforts by his grandson Alan Patterson to fulfill his grandfather’s wish to be buried alongside his Jewish Legion veterans in Israel. Guests included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon and Minister for Tourism Uzi Landau, my colleague the British Ambassador Matthew Gould, members of the Knesset, and representatives of the armed forces and the Jabotinsky Institute, key supporters of the event.   After the re-interment at Moshav Avichail, we adjourned to the auditorium of the Beit Hagedudim Museum for a wonderfully evocative programme of music, recital and song.  Alan Patterson spoke engagingly of his commitment to the reinternment and his grandfather’s influence in the pre-state evolution of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke eloquently and movingly, clearly from the heart, of Patterson.  He asserted emphatically that Patterson was the “godfather” of the Israeli army.  Jews had had a great reputation in ancient times as fierce fighters and defenders against aggressors but this martial prowess was lost through two thousand years of wandering.  It was Patterson who instilled discipline in the Jews under his command.  And critically he instilled confidence that Jewish fighting units could distinguish themselves in battle.  Like Herzl’s commitment’s to the Zionist state and Patterson’s to a Jewish army, both notions were initially rediculed.  Yet Patterson had proved a point that Jews could and would defend themselves, fighting valiantly in the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns.  The Prime Minister spoke too of Patterson’s close relationship with his family, recounted below.  He said that his presence, along with that of his wife Sarah, was repaying a debt of honour owed to Patterson by his family and by Israel.

It is interesting to reflect that if Patterson made his contribution to the formation of Israel through his profession as a British soldier, it was Irish guerrilla fighters like Michael Collins and Tom Barry who inspired the early Zionists to take up the fight through irregular actions during the Mandate period.  Ireland had defied an Empire and won; Zionists could do the same.

In the blog below, I recount Patterson’s life, seeing in its motivation and aspiration a parallel with that other great figure of this region and this era, T.E. Lawrence.

Patterson of Ballymahon, Zionist Hero Comes Home

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson was re-interred in Israel on 4 December. While not well known in Israel and fast being forgotten elsewhere, certainly compared to that avatar of the British adventurer in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, Patterson made an early and significant contribution to the Zionist cause. Indeed in some critical ways, both he and Lawrence shared common impulses that underlay their remarkably picaresque lives in the service of others.

Patterson’s birthplace was Ballymahon, Co Longford, son of an Anglo-Irish Protestant father and an Irish Catholic mother. The year of his birth, 1867, also witnessed the sporadic Fenian Rising that fizzled out ineffectually. Though it would be the last incidence of insurrection by Irish republicans until the Easter Rising of 1916, the Anglo-Irish lived insecurely with ominous signs on the horizon about their future. Demands by tenant farmers for rights and proprietorship, backed up by political campaigns and nocturnal violence encouraged a series of land Acts that weakened the gentry’s hold. More ominously still, Gladstone became a convert to Home Rule for Ireland in 1886.

Patterson’s mixed heritage may have given a personal edge to this sense of uncertainty, lending a certain air of mystery, even alienation that was to surround him all his life. Unlike so many scions of this class, Patterson did not join the British Army as a cadet but as a groom for a cavalry unit, working his way up through the non-commissioned and, over the years, commissioned ranks.

Patterson’s first claim to fame came when he was hired by the East Africa Company to oversee the construction of a railway in Tsavo in present-day Kenya. Local workers were preyed on by man-eating lions, sparking both real and superstitious fears, and posing a threat to the whole project. Having learned big-cat hunting skills while on service in India, Patterson eventually tracked down and killed the two male lions, manifestly huge beasts as evidenced by the trophy photographs. Patterson’s account of this, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, was published to much acclaim and fascination in 1907, becoming a best seller (and eventually a number of films, including the 1996 film The Ghost and the Darkness, with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer).

In the meantime, Patterson fought in the Boer War under General Allenby, winning the DSO and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was also involved in a scandal which drew Ernest Hemingway’s attention to his colourful life: the suggestion of an affair with the wife of a fellow soldier who died from a gunshot wound while they were all on safari. The cocktail of big-game hunting, sexual pursuit and contested machismo forms the basis for his story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Patterson is the inspiration for the safari guide Robert Wilson, a hunter of big game, and women if the opportunity presented itself, taciturn but manifestly philosophical in a manly, rough hewn way. Being Hemingway, the prose is pruned and compressed but a psychological portrait emerges of Wilson which may not have been too far removed from Patterson; courageous, skilled, cool under pressure, tough, self-sufficient, detached.

Patterson, a committed unionist, was drawn back to Ireland during the Home Rule crisis of 1913-1914 where he took command of a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force. However Patterson’s destiny lay neither in Africa nor even in Ireland but rather in the Levant. That Patterson did not stay to participate in the revolutionary tumult of his native Ireland but opted for the allure of the Middle East and the adventures of fighting the Ottomans says much about his inclinations and interests.

As the Ottoman Empire crumbled during the onset and course of World War I, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor formed the Zion Mule Corp in 1915 as approved by General Maxwell. Their intention was to help the British wrest control of the Levant from the Turks and stake their claim to the creation of the state of Israel. Having served in Flanders in 1914, Patterson travelled to Egypt where he met with and was evidently impressed by the young and determined Zionists. Jabotinsky made a marked impression on him as did his idea for a Jewish Legion, both as a symbol of resurgent Jewish nationalism (the first Jewish fighting unit for two thousand years) and as a statement of intent to form a nation state..

The Corps fought gallantly at Gallipoli under Patterson’s command (recounted in his With the Zionists at Gallipoli (1916). Patterson wrote: ‘I have here, fighting under my orders, a purely Jewish unit. As far as I know, this is the first time in the Christian era that such a thing has happened.’ (Quoted by Zeev V. Maizlin, in the Jerusalem Post, link here

After a stint back in Ireland where he commanded the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers and fifth Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Patterson went to England where he formed and trained the Jewish 38th Fusiliers, part of what was to become known as the Jewish Legion, the sobriquet of five Jewish battalions in the British Army.

According to one account, “in February of 1918, Patterson proudly led soldiers of the 38th Fusiliers Battalion, one of the components of the Legion, in a parade in the Whitechapel Road, before they were shipped off to Palestine. They met a tumultuous and joyous reception among the Jews of London, as well as generating amazement among other bystanders….” Patterson fought with his battalion in campaigns in Palestine, notably recorded in his memoirs With the Judaeans in Palestine (1922).

Throughout his time with the Jewish Legion, Patterson encountered and resisted anti-Semitism in the British Army, an experience that came to alienate him further from his erstwhile colleagues and increase his sense of identity as one of uncertainty and flux. Increasingly, he came to admire his Jewish comrades. He was becoming a fervent advocate for the creation of the State of Israel, forming life-long friendships with Zionist leaders, including Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu. (Netanyhu would name one of his sons Yonatan in Patterson’s honour: Yonatan died in the famed Entebbe raid and his younger brother Benjamin would become Prime Minister.)

After the war, Patterson helped lay the foundations for what would become the Israeli defence forces. From his adopted home in America, he would advocate for the cause of the Jewish people and was at the forefront of efforts there to save Jews from the Holocaust. He died in California in 1947, a year short of the creation of the State of Israel.

Patterson in many ways was the Judean counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia. Patterson and Lawrence shared a common origin in both having Anglo-Irish fathers. Lawrence’s father was Thomas Chapman, born not far from Patterson’s Ballymahon. Chapman absconded from his first wife and family with the family governess, Sarah Lawrence, to Wales where T.E was born and given his mother’s surname. Both men shared ambiguous or hybridized identity and an outsider status. Both were soldiers and scholars, innate researchers as well as searchers. Both appeared to be compelled to search for inner meaning and outsized causes, Lawrence in Arab studies and Arab nationalism, Patterson in Hebrew and biblical studies and ultimately Zionism.

Patterson lived a life in tumultuous times and his wanderings progressively created a life that became a veritable palimpsest of the times and places in which he lived, stretching from Ireland, to the heart of Africa and the shores of the Mediterranean; a man of Ireland and yet not Irish per se, Anglo-Irish and not quite British enough, ambitious and independent, a tough disciplinarian and spiritual, worldly and erudite. Above all, his experience of life never dulled his capacity to strive – not for himself but for others. It is a deeply appealing quality that he shares with Lawrence (and which distinguishes him from the fictional Wilson).

Ultimately Patterson would find a sense of belonging with his Jewish comrades, outsiders like himself, looking to fashion their own home and indeed their own identity through the Zionist cause. If there is one place for Patterson to finally rest, it is surely here in Israel.

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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News Round-up from Ireland & Israel, Ambassador’s Message 28 November

It was great to launch our Irish Film Week to such a well attended opening reception and I understand that attendances were strong during the week.  I want to thank Cinematheque for their outstanding support.  It is a great outfit and a vital voice for cinema in Israel as a medium for art and insight.  We are looking forward to working with them for next year’s Irish film week.  Culture is one of the great bridges between Ireland and Israel and we at the Embassy are keen to develop it.

I attended two briefings this week.  The first was given by Bob Turner, Operations Director for UNRWA in Gaza.  He painted a grim picture of the situation there, with serious problems with water supplies and electricity (only available eight hours on, eight hours off).  It is particularly tough for the 17,000 families who lost their homes.  There has been some improvement on the movement of goods but nothing near the scale required to visibly improve matters.  To add to their woes, the recent rains have led to serious flooding in parts.  It was International Children’s Day on 21st November and UNRWA reminded us that children comprise half the population of Gaza.

The second was the annual diplomatic briefing by Peace Now, particularly its Settlement Watch experts. In its description of the multifaceted and continuous nature of settlements in the West Bank, it underscored why Ireland, the EU and the US are alarmed at the process and the obstacle it presents to the MEPP.  For a very good exposition of our position on the current situation regarding both the MEPP and the situation in Gaza, I would highly recommend Minister Flanagan’s speech to the Seanad here

I would also recommend that you read the Minister’s joint Op Ed with his Finnish counterpart Minister Erkki Tuomioja on the need to inject energy into the MEPP and for the EU to prioritize it, here .  As they argue, “Putting an end to the conflict would bring huge benefits for Israelis and Palestinians and have a transformative effect on the entire region. It would open the way to the normalisation of relations between the Arab states and Israel, as envisaged in the Arab Peace Initiative. It would remove the excuse many use to stoke other conflicts in the wider Middle East and help bring more stability to a troubled region.”

In terms of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the talks to resolve the impasse over some key issues continue.  Minister Flanagan gave his assessment in an interview with the Irish Times here

Despite the persistence of conflict, global casualties generated by wars are at an historic low, and have been for some time.  We are, counter-intuitively, living through an era of peace. This is in stark contrast to the twentieth century which not only saw two world wars but tens of millions die as a result of ideological movements led by evil men, notably in Germany, Russia and China.

As with other instances of mass murder, sometimes the magnitude of the Shoah can overwhelm human comprehension and when it does stories can help grasp the horror.  Yad Vashem ( regularly publish ‘untold stories’ such as this one from Duniłowicze, Poland (today Dunilavichy , Belarus ).  A brief history of the Jewish presence in the town concludes, “between November 21 and 23, 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. The majority of its inmates were shot. Those who had hidden in bunkers were killed by hand grenades, while others were burned to death in houses in the ghetto. At that time a total of 812 (or, according to another source, 979) Jews from Duniłowicze were murdered.”

There has been much comment and discussion in Ireland on our relationship with World War I which actually demonstrates that we are coming to terms with its complicated legacy for us.  Many of the Irish men who enrolled in the British Army did so at the urging of national leader John Redmond.  However, the 1916 Rising caused a paradigm shift in the Irish nationalist narrative which rendered, in the perspective of the time, their sacrifice irrelevant, even embarrassing.  The National Library of Ireland has opened an exhibition exploring how individual Irish people responded to World War I.  By looking at these personal stories, the exhibition captures the complexity of the relationship between Ireland and the war.  Some details here

On a similar theme, and if you are interested in modern Irish history, I reviewed Ronan Fanning’s Fatal Path, British Government and Irish Revolution 1910-1922 on my blog here

Whether you are part of the great narrative of the Irish Diaspora and have left home, or have made aliya and come home, you might enjoy this short piece in the Financial Times on an Irish émigré’s return to Dublin, where he found a place that was both familiar and changed, .


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador, Tel Aviv

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