It has come time to say goodbye to Israel. My family and I are to return to Ireland tomorrow because I have had the honour of being appointed Director General of the Trade and Promotion Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is a fantastic opportunity and I am delighted to have the chance to engage in this vital area. In the normal course diplomatic postings are of four years duration but it happens from time to time in one’s career that Headquarters has other ideas!
We have enjoyed our two year stay here and we have learned an awful lot. We have been thrilled to set foot in Bethlehem, the Negev, Masada, Galilee, and countless towns and villages, but above all in Jerusalem where it seems that heaven and earth are bound closer than anywhere else. It was exciting to explore and uncover aspects of Irish Israel relations from the past, such as the key roles played in Israel’s history by such Irish figures as Col. Henry Patterson and Mike Flanagan. More contemporary highlights included the visits of Ministers Shatter, Coveney, Lynch and of course the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan last February.
And in my two years here, I have experienced the start of the Kerry peace talks, the collapse of those talks, the war in Gaza, the end of a government, elections and the start of a new government. For a diplomatic posting of any length that’s plenty!
Cultural highlights included our own reading of Joyce’s Ulysses at the Residence for last year’s Bloomsday and the production of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape this year.
More discreetly, we engaged with peace builders and NGOs who patiently build the foundations for Israel’s peaceful future. As we learned in Northern Ireland, this work is often unseen and thankless but ultimately vital.
All the preparatory reading about Israel cannot substitute for living here. I leave profoundly impressed with all that Israel has achieved in such a short span of time – in state building, militarily, economically and socially.
Of all the places I have visited, none have impressed me more than Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. In its moral clarity, in its accounting of what happened that is both respectful of its victims and of the facts, in its architecture that is both labyrinthine and cathedral-like, it inspires an awe that deepens rather than dissipates on each visit.
And then there is the Occupation. I profoundly share the Irish Government’s position that it must end. Only in the realisation of self-determination can both Israelis and Palestinians reach their full potential as distinct communities of people. Only in separate and sovereign self-determination can both live as two cooperative neighbours, governed by democracy, law and mutual respect.
We have very happy memories of time spent with the Israel Ireland League and count many of its members as friends, including the irreplaceable and effervescent chairman, Malcolm Gafson. Diplomatic colleagues were not only knowledgeable guides but some have become good friends. We encountered remarkable people involved in peace building, the arts and academia. And we’ll never forget the thrill of walking into our garden and simply picking lemons, oranges, kumquats, and mangos from our trees!
I would like to say a special thanks to Mary my wife and my children. My kids have followed me to the US, Korea and Israel. In New York we lived through 9/11. They listened in Seoul to CNN warn of an imminent attack from North Korea in April 2012 and stood in the Residence’s bomb-shelter last summer as Iron Dome very audibly did its work in the skies nearby. More than that, they adjusted to life in new societies and new schools. Mary is the other working half of this partnership and was very much captain of the Residence. She worked briefly too in the Embassy providing vital assistance when it was needed.
I would like to pay a special tribute to David Lee, who began as my PA and is now our office manager; he has been the epitome of courtesy, commitment, enthusiasm and above all integrity, a quality that I have come to value more and more. We are now supported in the office by Joseph Sa’ad, a great addition as driver/office secretary. I would like to thank too all those who responded to my messages from time to time.
There is disappointment at not having two more years here, a thrill about the new job and excitement about going home after six years abroad. The Embassy here will be in good hands under the leadership of Ambassador designate Alison Kelly, my friend and colleague, and the new Deputy Head of Mission, Tim Reilly.
I wish you the very best.
Shabbat Shalom and farewell,
Ambassador, Tel Aviv