Ulster-born Anglican Friends report on Israel visit

Two Ulster-born NIFI supporters, who now live in England, Simon McIlwaine and Steve Nimmons, have just returned from a study tour of Israel.

The trip was organised by the Zionist Federation. Both are leading members of Anglican Friends of Israel (AFI), Simon as a founding member and Steve as AFI’s Director of Community Affairs. Steve played a key role in bringing the Anne Frank + You exhibition to the Province in 2010, which was visited by thousands of schoolchildren and adults in Strabane, Newtownabbey and Belfast.

 Here Simon and Steve reflect on their visit.

Our tour focussed on the diversity that is Israel today, with an emphasis on the educational and cultural richness that characterises Israeli society, but which rarely features in the news.

 For both of us an unexpected highlight was the visit to Bar-Ilan University, which fosters both a commitment to traditional religious values and cutting-edge work in the medical and life sciences. The work of the University benefits all, regardless of race or creed.  Both of us felt very strongly that our philanthropic impulses as Christians have been re-energised by our visit to Israel. Simon says, “I was particularly impressed with the Community Mental Health Clinic run at Bar Ilan which caters for those sectors of Israeli society which would struggle to pay for private psychiatric services. I would love to see University departments providing similar services in the UK”. 

Of course issues of security also featured on our trip and another highlight was the guided tour of the Green Line by IDF Colonel (Ret’d) Miri Eisen. It was sobering for us to be reminded that  the pre 1967 lines leave Israel less than 9 miles wide at its narrowest point. Prior to the Six Day War, the Jordanians and the fedayeen terrorists controlled  the hills overlooking the plains of central Israel. To complicate matters, the Palestinian city of Qalqilyah  (population 40,000) lies on the Green Line, and in recent times there have been attacks from Qalqilyah against Israeli neighbourhoods. All this puts into stark relief the Palestinian demand at the UN to “return to the Green Lines” without offering any land swaps or security guarantees. Unless you visit, you cannot see exactly what this would mean for Israel.

Seeing the terrain with your own eyes  makes it abundantly clear that any proposals for the redrawing of the boundaries need to take these security realities into account. In addition, the so-called “settlements” we hear so much about are often  normal dormitory towns whose residents want to, and are entitled to, live in peace. The sad reality is that terrorists are likely to attempt to use the territories under the oversight of the PA for attacks on Israel for the foreseeable future.

We were reminded of the ethnic tapestry that is Israel today on our visit to a Druze Arab town near Mt Carmel. The Druze are a non-Muslim Arab community which is deeply loyal to the State of Israel and whose menfolk serve with great distinction in the IDF and Border Police.  The enthusiastic greetings of “shalom” by local children attested to the goodwill this community has towards its fellow Israeli citizens. Also noteworthy is the German Christian community outside Zichron Yaakov, whose members are much loved by their Jewish neighbours for their generosity and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and help after terror attacks and other calamities. These committed Israeli patriots, both Arab and Christian, give the lie to the slur that Israel is somehow an “apartheid society”.

Steve says “It was a pleasure to visit a country that enjoys the most genuinely pluralistic society in the Middle East. It is the only country in the region whose Christian population is growing”. 

Simon and Steve also visited the settlement of Alfei Menashe, met Tel Aviv Mayor (Ron Huldai) at Old City Hall and had briefings with Gil Hoffman from the Jerusalem Post and with veteran journalist David Horowitz. At the Kenesset they had a briefing by MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima. They visited Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and the graves of the founder of the modern Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, former PMs Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin and (Belfast-born) President, Chaim Herzog. On a visit to Bakery 29 in Tel Aviv they met the bakery’s  founder, Netta Korin, and in Jaffa met with Israeli artist Frank Meisler. 

Interested in joining a Zionist Federation tour? Contact them via:  https://zionist.org.uk/

Interested in Anglican Friends of Israel: http://www.anglicanfriendsofisrael.com/