Northern Ireland Friends of Israel

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Treating Trauma in Northern Ireland and Israel

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 29/09/2014

“One of the most moving experiences of my life”, says Northern Ireland Assembly member, Michael Copeland MLA about his recent visit to Israel. Michael brought with him a small group of sufferers and counsellors dealing with Post Traumatic stress disorder to see the world-famous Trauma centres of Israel at work. Early diagnosis and a dedication to turn negatives into positives were two lessons the group brought back home with them. Michael says, “we met a tremendous cross section of the kaleidoscope which is Israeli society, including Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Arabs who are Israeli citizens, Bedouins, Muslims and Christians”. You can read an interview with Michael and group members here. Our photo shows Michael with the former Mayor of Sderot, David Bouskilla, during the latter’s visit to Stormont when the conversation quickly turned to trauma treatment in both countries.

Michael Copeland and Mayor Sderot

Michael Copeland, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, recalls a recent protest near his office in Belfast during Operation Protective Edge. “There was civil disorder, with people waving Palestinian and Israeli flags.” He also recalls how Israeli goods were removed from stores, one of many vignettes of how the conflict played itself out in Europe. “The world’s press does not do Israel great justice,” Copeland notes.

He is one of a group of four Northern Irish who visited Israel two weeks ago. They were brought together under the auspices of Faces of Israel, a non-profit that brings different groups to Israel to allow them the opportunity to see the country up close. For this group, the main focus was addressing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Copeland, the only man in the group, seemed like an informal leader. A straight talker who enjoys a smoke, he is a Protestant Unionist politician for Belfast East and a former lieutenant of the Ulster Defense Regiment – he knows a thing or two about conflicts. “I still carry a firearm back home,” he notes.

In 2005, a peace treaty was signed by the British and the Northern Irish to end hostilities and terrorism, yet scars – both outward and invisible – remained on both sides, and almost a decade later, citizens of Northern Ireland are still searching for ways to cope with the trauma cause by, what was affectionately known as, “The Troubles.”

The most interesting issue that is raised when comparing and contrasting Northern Ireland and Israel, is whether the two conflicts have much in common. In the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and renewed hope of peace in both places, the countries seemed to be heading in the same direction with the signing of the Oslo Accords in Israel and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

As we now know, the Irish Republican Army did decommission its weapons, a process that began in 1999 and lasted through 2009. The diametric opposite happened in Israel, as the second Intifada broke out in 2000. In conversations with the visitors it was clear that the rosy picture painted of peace in Northern Ireland is not entirely clear.

“I feel there are parallels with the Irish community. [Here] it is missiles being fired, back home they planted bombs in certain buildings and would call and tell you,” explained [Siobhan], a clinical consultant for a hotline for sufferers of acute PTSD, who is from the Catholic community. The other members of the delegation were Protestants.

“In the period of the Troubles we knew the areas to avoid. They fired at families, women and children,” recalls [Clare], a nursing sister and a former officer in the Royal Army Nursing Corp. “The very fact that you need a bomb shelter here is shocking,” she added.

[Tina] was just a child during The Troubles, the period of violence in N. Ireland lasting through the 1990s, and she recalls there were fences around her house that the police and army told her not to go to. Her father worked in the security services for the British. “I was four in 1969 when The Troubles began [and those in the security forces] were marked people. We lived in fear of people coming to kill my dad. I remember him checking his car for indications that a bomb had been planted underneath it. Until my dad died, my friends didn’t know what he did.” [Siobhan’s] uncle was shot, and a friend murdered by a Loyalist pro-British paramilitary.

PTSD sufferers in Ireland come in many forms, from domestic violence, to those whose disorder is related to armed conflict. For Copeland, one of his main interests is in how Israel treats PTSD. “I was a former officer in the British army and there were a large number of sufferers from PTSD and Complex PTSD. During the course of conversations [back home] we realized that Sderot is a center of excellence [in this issue] and I assembled a number of people who were interested in how our state fails to diagnose [it].” Among those he brought were Tina, Siobhan, and Alana, who describes herself as a survivor of PTSD.

Interestingly, Copeland has an Israeli back story. “My grandma was born three doors from [former president] Chaim Herzog.” His uncle served in the Irish Guards, a British infantry regiment recruited in Northern Ireland which was deployed to Palestine after the Second World War. Copeland tells the story of how his uncle was at the King David Hotel in 1946 when “history and he coincided,” in the bombing of the hotel that year and his uncle was lightly wounded. In addition, “my own regiment had people who had been here in the Mandate or in the Palestine police.”

Copeland had a long interest in seeing the archaeological and historical background of Israel. He was struck by “the walls of Jerusalem, and to see so many complex variants of religions, all of which are intermingled in the same place; seemingly coexisting and protected by the laws of the state. We met Arab-Israelis and Orthodox and secular.

And on every single occasion, we have not been treated just as guests, but as friends.”

The group’s travels was a mix of visiting Israel health centers that deal with PTSD and seeing historical sites such as Masada. They were impacted by both experiences. Clare noted that, “It is exciting for me to see the trauma centers. I know that I want to see me [and my experience] in them. So I know when I speak with another person that I know what they are going through.”

Copeland asserts that one of the issues they have faced in Northern Ireland is a lack of early diagnoses of this disorder. “Initial diagnosis at an early state is key. The lessons I’ve learned working with people with PTSD is about how the state should treat people who have a condition that is evident.”

Sioban agrees. “It was interesting to see the similarities in Sderot with how people work at home and how they cope with trauma here and they never give up and [they put forward] a message of hope and of keeping going. I am a counselor and very interested in how people therapeutically work here I would like to be able to bring back with me  the knowledge I found here.”

Tina was also struck by what she saw in Sderot. “I have been so impressed with the level of awareness and recognition of PTSD that we have witnessed here in Israel, and the overall focus on community, positivity, and preventative approaches in the culture of treatment here. Israeli society is a brilliant phoenix rising from the fire.”

They were interested to see how many public art projects there were in Sderot – which ranges from brightly painted bomb shelters to sculptures fashioned out of old mortar shells and kassams. The group commented that turning negative symbols into something positive, like art, is a form of therapy to help alleviate PTSD.

Although their friends back home often see Israel through the prism of conflict reported in the media, they were fascinated to see that the reality is different on the ground.

“I didn’t come with preconceived ideas, the way the media has portrayed the country has been negative and I wanted to come with a fresh mind,” Clare says. “The people we met, they are kind and generous with their time. It was inspirational.

They have bags of energy.

My reason for coming was that I feel [for] the treatment of patients with trauma, I wanted to learn because I heard Israel is a center of excellence and [what] these guys [showed us] were over and above any treatment I would have expected. It was inspirational.”

Copeland, who sees the situation up close as a politician with a constituency to answer to, argues that the issue of peace is actually an “absence of violence” rather than true peace. “[Protestant] Unionism thought the settlement was final and the [Catholic] Republicans thought it is a process and it is destabilizing the government. The real barriers are not peace walls, it is in the hearts and minds of people. If you are doing well financially then you are doing okay with others, and the same for the poor.” The fact is they noted that there are more “peace walls,” physical barriers, that divide neighborhoods today than when peace was established.

When contrasting with Israel they noted that the visible differences of Arab and Jewish neighborhoods is more striking. “Back home it is hard to tell, except for a football [soccer] shirt or how someone pierces their ear,” notes Copeland. Tina notes that youth are still taught to be divided in Ireland. “They repeat attitudes of the past. They were not alive during The Troubles, they hear it from their community.”

The murals glorifying violence, showing men with rifles in balaclavas, that were such a symbol of the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries, are still visible. “The flags and murals are intimidating, the mural tells you whose area it is. So you know to keep your wits about you,” recalls Tina. In Northern Ireland the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays itself out in a local way, with Protestants tending to support Israel and Catholics seeing their struggle in the Palestinians. It isn’t a surprise that in the 1970s some IRA members got to know the PLO and the groups formed a bond.

When asked if there is a lesson for Israel, the delegation was not enthusiastic. “Peace is trumpeted the most, by those who did the least,” Copeland argues. “I think we could learn from here, because people here are very positive and they take negative issues and make them positive,” says Tina. Siobhan said that seeing the hardships Israelis face makes her more thankful for what they have back home.

“The buzzword today is ‘equality,’ until everyone is equal, no one is equal,” Copeland says. “We started a journey in our country,” Clare concurs. They all think it is a work in progress.

At the end of the day, as the sun sets on the Dan Panorama Hotel where the group was staying in Jerusalem, and we moved out to the veranda for a cigarette, the group relaxed and debated how they felt about the trip so far. “When we go back we can say we have seen a lot of things,” said Tina. “It was mostly ignorance [what we have back home], I expected to come to a conflict, but it is a beautiful country.”

Copeland has taken away a very pro-Israel message. “Israel is a western democracy that happens to be geographically in the Middle East and the nations around Israel who complain about human rights don’t extend human rights to their citizens… Any state under attack has a duty to defend its citizens within the confines of the laws of war.” The others nod in agreement. “What we have seen here has been very emotional, and the people we have met have been very inspiring. The fact that Israelis don’t give up in the face of their trauma[s] has given me a lot of hope for what we can accomplish in Northern Ireland too,” says Siobhan.

(adapted from Jerusalem Post, Seth J. Frantzman)

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The Herzogs of North Belfast – say no to deleting our unique Jewish heritage in North Belfast

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 14/08/2014

Sarah Herzog 1899-1979 –  185 Cliftonpark Avenue (marked by a blue plaque as the birthplace of Chaim Herzog, president of Israel).

In August 2014 the plaque was removed from the building following a spate of anti-Semitic attacks.






If she’s remembered at all in Belfast, it’s as the mother of Chaim Herzog, president of Israel, born on Cliftonpark Avenue in 1918. But Sarah Herzog was an important personality in her own right.
Her son, Chaim, described her as “clearly the dominant individual at home. She was very pretty and gracious and, although petite, almost regal in her demeanour. Wherever her home was, it was a centre of grace and culture and, later, in Israel, a magnet for the Jewish community from around the world.”
Sarah Herzog was a prominent figure in the development of the leading geriatric and psychiatric hospital in the Middle East, which is named after her – the Sarah Herzog Memorial hospital in Jerusalem.  She would head the women’s division of a political party. She was awarded two honorary doctorates and was an accomplished speaker – in English and in Hebrew.
Sarah’s communal responsibilities were to begin in Belfast when in 1917 – still in her teens – she married the Belfast rabbi, Isaac Herzog. It was in Belfast where she first assumed the title of rebbetzin, the designation of a rabbi’s wife, and took on pastoral and charitable responsibilities. Born in Riga (Latvia) in 1899, to a distinguished rabbinical family, she was brought up in London. Her husband was destined to become the first chief rabbi of the Irish Free State and then, from 1936, chief rabbi of the Holy Land.
In 1977, Sarah Herzog became the founding president of World Emunah, a Jewish women’s organisation which today has 180,000 women as members from almost 30 different countries. As she had been widowed for almost 20 years by that time, Sarah didn’t owe this appointment to the status of her husband.
Emunah is one of the largest social providers in Israel, and has helped absorb Holocaust survivors and over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Emunah’s many projects include two named after Sarah:  Neve Sarah Herzog, in Bnei Brak, which brings educational and employment opportunities to religious Jewish women; and the Sarah Herzog Children’s Home in Afula, in northern Israel, which provides a residential home to over 90 children who are unable to live with their families.
In the years that she lived in Belfast (1917-1919), Sarah Herzog’s principal task was to bring order to the home of the rabbi. Isaac was an outstanding Jewish scholar, but very unworldly. The community paid him a weekly salary in cash on a Friday morning. He was often left peniless by the onset of the Sabbath on Friday evening. His generosity attracted every hard up case, from within and outside the Jewish community. Never refusing anyone, the rabbi was left unable to pay his own rent. Following marriage, it was at Sarah’s insistance he was paid by cheque and all charitable cheques had to be signed by both of them!
On the morning he was sworn in as president of Israel in 1983, Chaim crossed Jerusalem to pray at the graves of his father and mother, and reflected: ” my mother continued on as a grande dame, even as she lost her husband and her younger son. She was fully in charge of her senses and clever to the very end. She had been offered – several times – the opportunity to run for the Knesset (Israeli parliament)…She devoted her life to Israel – starting schools, helping immigrants and setting up the largest mental and geriatric hospital in the Middle East. As I stood by their graves, I so wished they could have witnessed this day.”  Sarah Herzog’s remarkable record of communal activism flourished in later life in Israel, but the seeds were sown as a young rabbi’s wife in north Belfast.

Steven Jaffe

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Stop the Missiles – over 11,000 missile attacks on Israel since 2005

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 17/07/2014

we believe

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Northern Ireland Friends of Israel – welcome to our Website!

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 07/07/2014

Shalom from Northern Ireland Friends of Israel!

Launched in March 2009, over 650 supporters have joined our mailing list and over 6,500 people have attended our events!

Our aim is to foster strong ties between Northern Ireland and Israel and promote understanding between the peoples of both countries.

Belfast___060509_073 First and Deputy First Ministers

We were honoured to host the ambassador of Israel, HE Ron Prosor, in Belfast (seen above, meeting First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness).

We wish to promote positive engagement with all those who seek a just and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours.

NIFI is on Facebook

Please click on the headings in blue to look at the following:

About: our Mission Statement launched in May 2009.

Israel news in Northern Ireland - “two wee countries separated by a continent!”, amazing stories of strengthening cultural, economic and political connections between Northern Ireland and Israel, provided by NIFI supporters.

NIFI events: our events 

Boycott protest

NIFI in the news: links to media reports about NIFI.

NIFI Football auction - NIFI raises over £1,000 in an auction of signed football shirts in aid of cross community football in Northern Ireland and Israel.

Boycott: Why the Boycott Israel movement in Northern Ireland is wrong in principle and wrong in practice.

For more stories and articles, please scroll below

and to be placed on our mailing list please contact us at

Todah Rabbah! Many thanks for your support,

Andrew Shaw and Steven Jaffe (London), co chairs, NI Friends of Israel.

Members contributions are their own and may not in all cases reflect the views of the organisition. Articles published are owned by the person who wrote them and are not the views of the site’s editors, contributors, or other commenters.

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Why I stand with Israel

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 04/07/2014

Secular, liberal and staunch defender of Israel: Belfast-born academic and writer Denis MacEoin sets out why he stands with Israel.
Denis Maceoin
The Boycott Israel movement will always be ineffective among right-thinking people. This is because it is racist and unjust.Israel is far from being the greatest offender in the world in human rights. Countries like Iran, China, North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and others have seriously bad human rights records. Yet the UN Human Rights Committee never condemns them but incessantly rebukes Israel.

Israel actually has a good record when it comes to rights for women, gay men and women, capital punishment, racial and religious minorities, free speech, and even the impeachment of former political leaders.

It arrests Jewish racists, it provides its Arab citizens with full voting rights and service in parliament or in courts (including the Supreme Court) as judges, Arab students take up 20% of places in universities, it uses Arabic as one of its two official languages. It has gay pride parades. It treats Palestinians in its hospitals and gives heart transplants to Palestinian children (through Save a Child’s Heart).

It sends aid teams to countries round the world after major disasters. It provides agricultural expertise throughout Africa.

It creates world-class medicines and medical instruments. It is, frankly, a more multicultural country than any of its neighbours in any direction.

Not one of Israel’s enemies can show anything even remotely resembling the human rights record of Israel. They are too busy persecuting Christians and Baha’is, Shi’is and Sunnis. They preach hate and incite or carry out violence against Israeli civilians.

So why on earth would anyone of fair mind and good heart boycott Israel and not those countries that promote violence and persecute and indulge in honour killings with impunity, and treat their women as second-class persons, and regard the killing of Jews with pride and celebration, and laud the exploits of mass murderers, and teach their children to kill?

Why do Boycotters never tell us the context within which Israelis actions must be set. I do not defend all the Israelis do, but I understand most of it. Israel is surrounded by vicious enemies who have trapped themselves in repeated refusals of peace, who seek the elimination of Israel (and make no secret of it), who use terrorism to further the aims of jihad, who are brazenly antisemitic in a fashion very close indeed to the antisemitism of the Nazis, who are wholly at odds with the democratic and human rights of the modern West, who have invaded (or tried to invade) Israel on 3 occasions and have come close to committing genocide on a people who inhabit their land rightfully under international law, and who have shown themselves to be wholly corrupt and incapable of governing their failed states.

The occupation of the West Bank is fully legal under UN resolution 242, and a majority of Israelis are only too eager to pull out of it entirely. But that can only happen when the Palestinians put life before death, make peace, recognize Israel, and renounce violence. When Israel pulled put of Gaza lock stock and barrel in 2005, Hamas took over and fires rockets into Israel almost every day.

Why don’t the Boycotters boycott Hamas?

Why can’t they see that Israel is fighting to survive against massive odds, that the rest of the Middle East is collapsing into greater and greater chaos, and that Israel is the only champion of democracy, human decency, dignity, and human rights in the region?

There has never been a more demented and hypocritical position than international anti-Israelism and the morally devoid “BDS” movement. If the Muslim states and jihadist movements ever destroy Israel, don’t worry, they will come for you next, and supporting BDS or pro-Palestinian rallies won’t save you from jihadi vengeance.


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For the families of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 03/07/2014

Dignified vigil at Belfast City Hall last night (Wednesday 2 July): over 70 NIFI supporters gather to stand with the families of the three Israeli teens. Candles lit and psalms recited in memory of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad, and a fourth candle lit for all innocent people who have lost their lives in the conflict and for a peaceful future for the children of the region. Psalms read in Hebrew and English. Thanks to all who supported this impressive event.
City Hall 2014 candlelighting
city hall vigil 6city hall vigil 14 Neilcity hall vigil 2

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Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 01/07/2014

All at NIFI are deeply saddened to hear the news that Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were not found alive.

Three boys

We would like to thank all people in Northern Ireland who prayed for their safe return to their families or who otherwise showed their support.
We would like to thank the sitting MPs at Westminster who signed the Early Day Motion demanding their immediate release.
Our thoughts are with the families.
Baruch Dayan Emet – Blessed is the true Judge (the traditional Jewish response to bad news).

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Message from Belfast – Bring back our Boys

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 25/06/2014

Gilad, Eyal, and Naphtali were on their way home to spend Shabbat with family and friends. They never made it there, instead they are now in the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

Bring back our boys

Over 160 NIFI supporters at an event in Belfast on Sunday evening said: Bring back our boys!

Top photo shows Mayor of North Down, Cllr Peter Martin, with London-based NIFI co chair, Steven Jaffe.

Bring back our boys

Sderot bring back boys 2

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Re-writing the 6 Day War

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 23/06/2014

Excellent letter published in yesterday’s Irish News by Andrew Shaw


Eugene Parte claims (17/06/14) that the 1967 Arab – Israel war was not a “war in the accepted sense” and that “Israel was not threatened by the Arab States”. Now I am all for freedom of speech and thought, but when it comes to ignorance of the facts or an attempt to rewrite history then I must challenge Mr Parte.

six day war
Israel struck back at Arab intimidation and threats on June 6th 1967 with breath taking skill and pin point accuracy. For months the surrounding Arab States had threatened and cajoled the Jewish State. There had been both verbal threats as well as incursions into Israeli territory.
On May 27th Egyptian President Nasser declared on state radio: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight”. The same day the Egyptians blocked and mined the Straits of Tiiran – instantly denying Israel access to its southern most port of Eilat.
On May 30th Cairo declared that Israel “will either be strangled to death, or it will perish by the power of the Arab forces”. So Mr Parte, there was no threat from the Arabs in 1967? Israel made it all up? Read the facts for your self, don’t ignore them.

6 day war map
Further, Mr Parte claims that “Israel was not threatened by the Arab States as they knew that Israel had the capacity to destroy them”. Once again let’s look at the facts. Israel faced over 2,500 enemy tanks on it’s borders with 800 tanks to defend itself. In the air Israel had 300 combat aircraft, the Arabs had 680.
So, whatever reason Mr Parte had in submitting his recent letter, it was not in the furtherance of factual historical comment. Perhaps it was just another attempt to denigrate the legitimacy of the State of Israel?

Andrew J Shaw

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Visit to Israel – perspectives from the Bible

Posted by nifriendsofisrael on 29/05/2014

What does visiting the land of Israel mean for a Christian visitor? NIFI supporter, Chris Perver, shares his thoughts from a recent trip – glimpses into the Biblical past and into the future.

Chris Perver


Members of NIFI may have different reasons for supporting Israel. For
many Jewish people, the land of Israel is home, and represents the
fulfilment of an unbreakable promise made by God to the forefathers of
the nation.

Galilee Chris perver


As a Christian, the land of Israel and the Jewish people
also hold a very special place in my heart.

Birds Israel Chris Perver

For it is through the Jewish
people that God chose to reveal Himself to the world, and to restore
man’s broken relationship with his Creator (Isaiah 49:6). It is through
the Jewish people that God gave us the Scriptures, both the Tanach and
the New Testament. And it is through the Jewish people that the promised
Messiah would come. Today the Jewish people are coming back to the land
that God gave to their fathers, fulfilling prophecies that were written
in the Bible over two thousand years ago. Yet the Bible speaks of so
much more that is to take place concerning the nation of Israel. This is
why I love Israel and the Jewish people.

Read the rest of this entry »

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